Celebrated playwright’s latest needs more laboratory time

Celebrated playwright’s latest needs more laboratory time

SHOW: THE IMAGINED LAND
CAST: FIONA RAMSAY, NAT RAMABULANA, JANNA RAMOS-VIOLANTE
DIRECTOR: MALCOLM PURKEY
VENUE: AUTO & GENERAL THEATRE ON THE SQUARE, NELSON MANDELA SQUARE, SANDTON, UNTIL SEPTEMBER 12
REVIEWER: PETER FELDMAN

Craig Higginson is one of South Africa’s most celebrated authors and playwrights and anything new from him usually raises high expectations.
His new theatrical offering engages the mind from the outset, containing wordy dialogue that touches on topics close to the heart of South Africans. He expounds on arguments about guilt, abuse, political uncertainty, and love and family ties.
The plot concerns a famous Zimbabwean novelist, Emily Blackburn (Fiona Ramsay) who is about to undergo brain surgery. Her daughter, Emily (Janna Ramos-Violante), a literary critic studying in America, is coming home to Johannesburg to take care of her.
A young biographer Edward Smith (Nat Ramabulana) – also originally from Zimbabwe – arrives at the front door, requesting to write the biography of the woman who changed the course of his life.

After some reluctance, Edward is given access to Bronwyn’s journals and the play sets about to explore the thoughts and feelings of this best-selling author, whose stories may or may not be true. Edward also discovers a passage that hints at child abuse and he is determined to discover the truth.
Higginson, who wrote ‘Dream of the Dog’ and ‘The Girl in the Yellow Dress’, does a sterling job in assembling the plot at the beginning, but as the play unfolds it becomes far trickier to sustain its initial impact, with characters becoming a bit hazier and the narrative’s thrust fizzling out at the end. A key character is left almost in a vegetative state during the climax and takes little part in the proceedings.

The play attempts to question how individuals represent themselves through narrative and how people represent each other – and gives few ready answers.
There is a strained relationship between mother and daughter which is hinted at, but never fully explored. Emily and Edward had become lovers and as their heady relationship unspools, the mother is battling to overcome a debilitating illness.

Directed by former Artistic Director of the Market Theatre, Malcolm Purkey, this production features a solid acting threesome of Ramsey and Ramos Violante (who are working on their third successive play together) and Ramabulana, who manage to capture some of the play’s essence but, for me, the abrupt ending is an anti-climax and something of a let-down.
Note must be made of Denis Hutchinson’s inventive drawing room set, dominated by dozens of hanging books against a black background.
An interesting production it certainly is, with plenty of food for thought, but I felt it doesn’t quite reach the intellectual standards and dramatic intent of Higginson’s previous work.
‘The Imagined Land’ probably requires further development as it leaves one feeling strangely unfulfilled.

* Book at strictlytickets.