After three million years of evolution, what have we achieved? If we’re to believe the premise of Little Foot, we’ve learned to hurt each other with words as well as with sticks and stones, that’s what. We’ve learned new ways to wound and betray our friends, because once our clothes are stripped off, modern man is really little different from the savages before us. By LESLEY STONES.
Little Foot, a new play by Craig Higginson, is performed on a startling stage set matched by excellent costumes and lighting that recreate an eerie cave in the Cradle of Humankind. A large misshaped cave wall rises from the stage, and begins to move as the earliest forms of man lift up from the rocks that disguise them so well. The six actors playing early hominin are dressed in body stockings in a mottled rock effect that blend perfectly into the background. When their lissom movements end and they lie against the sculptured rock, they melt into the background as they watch modern man descend into their territory.
The ‘civilised’ men and women have little to commend them over their ancestors, however. They’re a group of youngsters reuniting to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the caves, with Coco (Jenna Dunster) yearning to see her former lover Wizard (Dylan Horley), imagining that a night in a dark cave will rekindle the spark between them.
She’s devastated when he breezes in with Rebecca, a pretty, jolly Londoner whom Wizard has picked up on his travels. With them are Braai (Khayelihle Gumede) and Moby (Glen Biderman-Pam) who both once idolised the charismatic Wizard.
Phumzile Sitole is lovely as Rebecca, giving her an authentic accent and English insouciance as she delivers some of the funniest lines. But Little Foot is far from a comedy. It’s a dark, disturbing play with echoes of Lord of the Flies as the former friends bicker with snide remarks that graduate into savage verbal and then physical attacks.
The hugely atmospheric setting, designed by Neil Coppen, is perfect for the sombre tone of the play, a little too dark to always see what’s going on clearly, and menacing enough to give you the creeps as your imagination, heightened by the music, turns shadows into bodies, whistling wind into haunting spirits.
Embittered by the cavalier way that Wizard has dismissed her love, Coco plots a ‘practical joke’ that results in near tragedy. The mood of the group is vicious and volatile as they turn against each other, since former friends always have the power to hurt the most.
As they rake over their history, Wizard is revealed as more than a feckless and bewitching youth, with Horley playing him perfectly to reveal a callous double-crossing streak festering below from a wounded childhood.
“You drag people down into the heart of the mountain then abandon them there,” Rebecca tells him, as she sits where he has left her in the heart of a claustrophobic cave.
At times the movements and chanting of the prehistoric men are a touch over-melodramatic, but that’s balanced out by clever scenes where the heads of dinosaurs show the brutal pattern of life and death our ancestors faced.
The end of the play, where Braai and Moby realise mankind won’t have progressed at all if they don’t rescue Wizard, loses some of its impact through a weak delivery, and almost fizzles out instead of reaching the fitting climax the viewer has been led towards.
But that doesn’t steal too much from the overall impact of Little Foot as it strips away veneers of civility to expose the raw emotions and unsavoury personalities beneath.
Little Foot runs at the Market Theatre until August 19. DM
Photographs by Ruphin Coudyzer/ Review courtesy of www.lesleystones.co.za