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Theatre review: Waiting for Jack, a melancholy war story

Theatre review: Waiting for Jack, a melancholy war story

Sandton’s Theatre on the Square is doing a great job of giving space to smaller productions from new voices, making each visit a venture into the unknown. By LESLEY STONES.

This week Theatre on the Square is running a touchingly melancholy story from a time of war, Waiting For Jack. It’s a new play by South African writer and director Lidija Marelic, set in Paris in 1939. Jack, a medic in the English army, meets Lola, a hooker. Being a shy and morally uptight Brit, Jack doesn’t take the opportunity to acquaint himself with Lola’s body, but falls in love with her anyway. His company moves on, and all they have are letters to keep them connected.

It’s engaging story-telling, giving us glimpses into the hearts of the lovers as well as the events of the times, with World War II storm-trooping across Europe.

The first part of the play is the strongest, with the pair of them interacting as they read their letters to and from each other, but never quite meeting. It’s very cleverly done, and heightens the sense of loss with that feeling of being so near, and yet so far.

Duane Behrens brings such starchiness to the role that I’m not sure if it’s deliberate stiff upper lip British soldier of the 1930s style, or if he just hasn’t settled into the role yet. Assuming it’s an idiosyncrasy of the character, then, he plays the role well.

Aimee Goldsmith seizes her role as Lola the prostitute with gusto, really bringing her vivacious, carefree character to life while showing the vulnerability behind the painted face.

The set by Karabo Legoabe is massively cluttered, with letters scattered everywhere, and suitcases forming the main props that pop open as clues by showing flags as the soldiers move around. There’s a bar and a chaise longue, kit bags and coats, giving everything a sense of being in transit and impermanence, depending on which way the wind blows as the war sweeps through.

You can argue that the writer is the person who best understands what they’re trying to say, so directing their own production makes sense. But this is a great example of where a fresh, impartial eye would tone things up a little. The musical scenes, for example, could be more powerful if we heard a shortened version of the song, not every last note, which slows down an already unhurried play.

As it continues, its powerful first impression falters a little, with some of the symbolism not quite clear and the tone not as sharp as the early stages. A Cabaret-style scene feels incongruous, designed to show things unravelling in Lola’s life, but jutting out oddly rather than fitting in as a piece of the jigsaw.

Overall it’s a soft and tender, well constructed piece that unfolds at an unrushed pace, so settle back and let it absorb you.

Waiting for Jack runs at Sandton’s Auto & General Theatre on the Square until August 13. DM

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