The most emotionally moving part of a new play presented in a double-bill of Greek fare comes when the two characters argue over the seizure of land by marauding invaders.
Suddenly a play set in Cyprus has a direct relevance for its audience in South Africa, where the whites displaced the blacks as forcefully as the Turks displaced the Greeks.
It’s a moment of universal truth, but sadly it is only a moment as the play Soil quickly moves on instead of working those similarities more fully.
Playwright Renos Spanoudes could have explored the parallel more vigorously, I felt, to let the audience feel the shared history instead of letting that strongest moment pass too fleetingly.
Soil is being staged as part of a double Greek bill at Sandton’s Auto & General Theatre in the Square.
It’s a two-hander that pits young and blustering Nic (Ashley Dowds) against thoughtful and considered Eleftheria (Brenda Radloff). The play sees Nic returning to the land of his grandparents, who were forced to flee when the Turks invaded Cyprus. He finds Eleftheria living in the home he has heard so much about, and a clash ensures as he argues the right of former occupancy.
But Nic comes across as to rude and insulting too soon, and Eleftheria too meek in her tolerance acceptance of his unacceptable tirade. Yet despite those fiery outbursts the surrounding pace felt slow, although it got off to a shaky and no doubt unnerving start for the actors as the rambunctious audience filtered in late and talked despite their presence on stage.
Soil is a great premise for a play that could have reached more climaxes than it did, and times it annoyed by relying on phone calls by the characters to fill in the background rather than two-way dialogue.
It ends nicely with reconciliation and a meeting of minds, but it could have been more powerful in the journey.
The second play, Meze, Mira and Make-Up by Irene Stephanou is the stronger of the duo. On paper Soil sounds more compelling, as an exploration of history and identify and rights and wrongs, while Meze is a breezy one-woman reminiscence about the angst of growing up as a Greek girl in Roodepoort. Yet the script delivers plenty of humour, a little sympathy and dozens of cultural insights that had the Greek-tinged audience laughing heartily.
Actress Taryn Louch is spirited and bold, not tremendously skilled at vocalising the men who flit in and out of the script, but with a great sense of comedy that brings the cast to life.
That may remind you of the Porra trilogy staged more recently by Sonia Esgueria, but Meze predates those shows by several years.
It does drag a little towards the end when it recounts the author’s days as a drama student, and I wondered whether it was supposed to be funny social commentary or a study of the pains of being an actress. Both, I suppose, since the overall theme was of finding your identity and roots.
The sets for both plays are designed by Sasha Ehlers and are simple but effective. A door swings around to let us in and out of the disputed Cypriot house, while Louch has a beanbag chair to loll on and a table from which to learn all-important Greek girl skills like peeling an onion.
As a non-Greek both plays felt something like a history lesson and a cultural education. But not so heavy-handedly that the entertainment and enjoyment was diminished.
Soil and Meze, Mira and Make-Up run individually on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and as a double bill on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at Auto & General Theatre in the Square in Sandton until 23 November. DM
Photos: Suzy Bernstein & Philip Kuhn
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