African Gothic
By Reza de Wet.
Directed by Derek Bond.
White Bear Theatre, London, UK.

1st-20th May 2007

African Gothic is an Afrikaans play, written by Reza de Wet, focussing on the psychological effects of isolation and child abuse. The production showing at the Great White Bear has an unimpressive start, but gets progressively better and is quite captivating by the end.

The play is set in the bedroom of an old shack on a drought ridden farm in South Africa. Two white bodies, both dressed in dirty white clothes, lay curled up on a bed. The two bodies are those of brother and sister, Frikkie and Sussie, both living in penury having had to sell most of their worldly goods to survive.

Sussie played by Kaisa Hammarlund, with tatty blonde hair soldered together by sweat and dust gets out of bed to piss in a pot, and immediately her part childish and part neurotic behaviour hints at an uncomfortable history, one that unravels during the next two hours of the play.

Frikkie, played by Tom Robertson, who has the kind of chiselled looks befitting a young British prince, seems less perturbed. Robertsonís school boy English voice and relatively civil manner seem incongruous with what you might expect from a character in Frikkieís situation.

The play takes a while to get going, there isnít a great deal of synergy between Hammarlund and Robertson, but the entrance of Mr.Grove, a balding legal man in a suit seems to glue everything together. Brother and sister are both naturally fearful of their uninvited guest, and Mr.Grove, played by Samuel Lewis, feeds their fear by pressuring them to depart with their farm.

The play cleverly alternates between the uneasy relationship developing between Mr.Grove and the brother and sister, and Sussie and Frikkie re-enacting various occasions of abuse meted out to them by their mother and father. The ease with which the child-like Sussie switches into the strident and confident tones of her mother is one of the most disturbing aspects of the play.

Mr.Grove leaves having failed to prise the farm from brother and sister, and resorts to insults suggesting the pair should be locked up. Things get interesting when he returns grovelling for refuge after his car breaks down.

The play culminates in one final tale of abuse, the penultimate piece of the jigsaw, before the shocking finale.

Mike Williams