Life, etc

Theatre: A vigil you’ll want to keep

By Lesley Stones 29 May 2014

It may be a play about death, but Vigil – which is so universal it’s been translated into nearly 20 languages – is a play pulsing with life. By LESLEY STONES.

It’s hard to say which of the two characters we meet on stage in Vigil is the better actor: The man who rarely shuts up as he laments his sad and lonely life, or the woman who barely speaks, but says volumes in a disapproving thin-lipped scrunch.

You have to conclude that the pair are both superb, then sit back and enjoy this immensely entertaining piece of theatre that makes us laugh about death.

Vigil by Morris Panych is such a universal story that it’s been translated into 19 languages. That must have been a doddle for the role of Grace, a dying aunt who mainly communicates in sighs, grunts and body language. Vanessa Cooke is superb in the role, with a face that can silently condemn or forgive more eloquently than a sentence ever could.

She has a lot to endure with Kemp, her misfit nephew who arrives to make sure that the aunt who was disappointingly absent in his life finally abandons him for good.

Graham Hopkins is so brilliant that you want to hug him and slap him simultaneously. He recalls his childhood as an odd boy with girly tendencies, brought up by odder parents to become the socially inept character who blusters in on Grace’s final moments.

But Grace is a feisty old bat, so those moments go on for more than an hour of high-class comedy, with lashings of irony, some cutting insights into human nature and a streak of black comedy so thick you could tar a road with it.

Vigil relies heavily on timing and lighting to capture each moment in a series of short scenes, and director Christopher Weare has sculptured the show to perfection. The set and costumes by Julia Anastasopoulos are also wonderful, with a bedroom scene as quirky as its characters.

Hopkins delivers some absolute gems from a witty script that boasts mood swings of menopausal proportions. A sentence starts with comedy then peters out to leave you gulping. A sad and poignant observation about human behaviour ends with a hearty laugh.

While there are loads of giggles, Vigil also delves deeply into the character of Kemp and, by association, exposes the flaws in all of us. The desire to fit in, or at least not stand out too far. The instant pain and the lingering scars that neglect or apathy from others can inflict.

The script keeps your attention riveted, while the tricks and foibles delivered by Hopkins are beautifully creative. He whips out a tape measure to double check the coffin size. He rigs up a contraption to help Grace depart speedily, then inevitably falls victim to it himself, adding slick visual humour to the sophisticated verbal comedy.

An unexpected twist to the plot adds another layer of glory to an already hugely entertaining show.

With its superb actors and a script as varied and unpredictable as life itself, this play about death is the liveliest show in town.

Vigil runs at Sandton’s Auto & General Theatre on the Square until 21 June. DM


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