Complexities of domestic abuse unflinchingly depicted on stage

Complexities of domestic abuse unflinchingly depicted on stage

SHOW: PORSELEIN
CAST: PHILLRU VAN ACHTERBERGH, VIANNEY HENRY FARMER, TIAAN SLABBERT, LECHELLE LERM, LEE VISAGIE, CARLA BELMONTE, LIZA DU PLESSIS
DIRECTOR: QUINTIN WILS
VENUE: ARENA AT THE SOUTH AFRICAN STATE THEATRE, PRETORIA UNTIL OCTOBER 8
REVIEWER: PETER FELDMAN

‘Porselein’ is a bold, abrasive, in-your-face Afrikaans production that doesn’t hold back on its punches and hammers home its message in no uncertain terms.
As a member of the audience you will certainly feel uncomfortable because of the proximity of the players. Director Quintin Wils has staged his play so close to the players that you can feel their breath.

Though the Arena Theatre has a reasonably big auditorium, Wils has only utilised a small section of the stage with seating arranged in a triangle. Facing the audience on each side is a microphone. The two key protagonists, a gay couple played with a fierce intensity by Philliru van Achterbergh (as Andre) and Vianney Henry Farmer (as Samuel), address the audience, looking intently ahead, as they describe their side of a story about love and domestic abuse.

The floor is littered with broken plates. It’s an unholy mess. A red table and a chair are the only other props. The rest of the cast, with players slipping into different roles as the play unfolds, serves as a kind of Greek chorus. They move around in the background, adopting suggestive poses, and help the narrative along as various characters in the story.

The actors, clad all in white, are already on stage by the time the audience has filed into the theatre and are arranged in various freeze positions. Music and sound effects add to the atmosphere.
Andre, in a white vest, has a belligerent nature. His partner, Samuel, is more docile, subservient, and is prepared to accept his lover as he is. Andre lost his mother to cancer and spent time in an orphanage, an experience that seems to have had a major effect on his psyche.

Andre works in a porcelain factory, but his retrenchment only adds to his already scarred and fragile state. A fractious relationship with Samuel is beginning to take its toll and what was once love is now slowly turning to a level of hate and abuse.
Samuel accepts Andre for who he is – but is that enough to sustain their relationship?

The simplicity of the story does not detract from the deep, underlying seriousness of the play, describing horrific situations that are all too prevalent in our society today; be it in a relationship between a man and his wife, or in spheres of gay and lesbian couples.
The cast is young, yet they manage to convey the pain and angst inherent in the story and the denouement is striking and intense.
Van Achterbergh and Farmer both shine in their respective roles, introducing the necessary shadings to make their flawed characters believable entities. The support cast, an integral aspect of the production, is solid, too.
An interesting facet of ‘Porselein’ is that it was originally written by learners at Brackenfell High School, in the Cape, but director Quintin Wils changed characters and the dynamics of the play.
It makes for searing theatre!

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