DIRECTED BY AND STARRING: Wessel Pretorius
VENUE: The Barney Simon Theatre at the Market Theatre until September 20
REVIEW: Peter Tromp (this is a review of the Cape Town run of ‘Undone’, which showed at Artscape – who are presenting the show in Joburg)
‘Undone’ is definitely one of the most unconventional family dramas I have ever seen, and without question among the most affecting. Although performed by only one man, the production has an almost Greek tragedy level of scope. I’m not just saying that because Dionysus, the god of wine and theatre in Greek mythology gets referenced throughout, and is seemingly a figure of obsession for one of the characters. There is true grandeur in this tale of domestic strife, because Wessel Pretorius’s evocation of the complex emotional undercurrents that often underpin even the most seemingly well balanced family setups is so harrowingly on point.
The word “poetic” is one that is often used in criticism as a failsafe, because it can be so broadly interpreted, but I challenge anyone who sees ‘Undone’ to come up with a better descriptor. Language is robustly employed as an emotional weapon, or donned as armour in this production and the way Pretorius sashays between the two modes is mesmerizing…and disquieting.
Pretorius practically made a clean sweep of the Afrikaans festival awards circuit in 2014, walking away with just about every prize in the categories the production was nominated in, and it’s not difficult to understand why. His performance is one for the ages; something we will be talking about and reminiscing fondly about for years to come. The actor has always shown promise in a variety of roles, but nothing could have prepared me for the emotionally sweeping tour de force that unfolded before me.
‘Undone’ is Hennie Van Greunen’s translated version of Pretorius’s original Afrikaans production, which was entitled ‘Ont’. Having not seen the Afrikaans original, I’m not sure how much of that production’s quintessence was lost in translation, but Van Greunen being one of local theatre’s best scribes, I can’t imagine much.
Like many Afrikaans productions of recent years, most recently (and perhaps notably) Jaco Bouwer and Saartjie Botha’s ‘Balbesit’, ‘Undone’ has a definite preoccupation with Afrikaans identity, but that is not the production’s raison d’etre. This story of the invisible barriers that can form between members of the same blood will feel shockingly familiar to anyone who sees it – whatever their background may be.
* ‘Undone’/’Ont-‘ will be performed in English on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; and in Afrikaans on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The Market Theatre has often presented shows in various languages, but has now formalised this multicultural commitment.
Book at Computicket.