Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Et tu, confused! Then onward performing arts.

(a review of Jay Pather’s Qaphela Caesar)

My wife and I were recently in Cape Town and there where basically two big live shows on. Mama Mia (which we had watched already and I highly recommend) and Qaphela Caesar. Below is my review of the show. What I did not include is the weird encounter I had with an elderly gentleman in the men's toilet of Cape Town's City Hall. To read more about that, read to the end (subtle attempt at getting you to read the whole article. For this to be a success, it would be great if you could temporarily forget how to scroll straight to the bottom of the page. Thanks)

I readily admit to becoming a very late bloomer when it came to the appreciation of the works of William Shakespeare. I chalk it down to a school curriculum that robbed me of the joy of a Shakespearian comedy or the chance to act out a play rather than merely read it in class. At University, a combination of chance, adventure and the unrelenting pursuit to procrastinate all things relating to study found me at the open space theatre for a student production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream and I have been an ardent devotee ever since. I returned annually to the UKZN student’s production (which remains my personal favourite), watched professional productions at the Durban Playhouse and most recently watched a live broadcast (via Satellite) from London’s West End at Cinema Noveau. A description of Jay Pather’s, “Qaphela Caesar”, therefore served to heighten expectation and promised to be a Shakespearian experience never before experienced (by myself). The experience was truly memorable but perhaps not for the reasons I had expected.

The show can best be described as a combination between “The Dark Knight”, “Dancing with the Stars” and (insert your choice of a movie/ production that really confused you here). If lucky, one even caught extracts from Shakespeare’s great historical drama, Julius Caesar! The audience moved from room to room as scenes changed but with no explanation of the characters or the context of each scene, the entire experience felt like a dream as each scene was filled with imagery and performances that captivated the imagination yet eluded understanding. Often, as you began to realise the focus of the scene or the relevance of the imagery, you were ushered into the next room/ scene. I would therefore like to list the following. Don’t watch this show if,

  • You want to watch a contemporary version of Julius Caesar,
  • are more a fan of drama, rather than dance,
  • are elderly or unfit, as physical discomfort may distract from the experience,
  • lugging around a heavy knapsack/ handbag, or
  • wearing clothing that would prevent you from either sitting on the floor or walking on concrete stepping stones (true story).

Having said all that, once the viewer relinquishes any intent on watching a modern rendition of Julius Caesar, the performance becomes very powerful and impressive. The dance sequences were well choreographed and the experience of moving from scene to scene was unusual yet refreshing. The highlights of the show were my Cape Town acting debut, where I was briefly asked to read the part of Brutus (an excellent execution of audience participation) and Helen Zille’s unique rendition of that famous speech, “Friends, Romans, Countryman”. I later realised that the other audience members did not concur with my highlights, but perhaps they were tired and therefore unable to see the diamond in the rough.

Although Jay Pather’s vision in the telling of this epic tragedy may have overshot the Cuckoo’s nest, her ingenuity in scene transition, choreography and sheer bravery should not be overlooked. The cast were brilliant and came together perfectly in a compelling performance. The dancers were passionate, the vocalists hauntingly brilliant and the actress who read out critical passages from the play simply outstanding. Another actress who deserves mention is the lady who played the role of Portia, as she managed to be recognizable as a character in the play, even in the absence of dialogue. I would highly recommend the experience to all who are fit enough to undertake it but would recommend re-acquainting yourself with the play before attending.

Interview with a Ghost

Before the show, I went to the men's room and as I entered I saw this elderly european gentleman, who had a glass of wine and was about to sit on a sofa (It was that kind of men's room).

This is better than sex”, he said.

I immediately replied that he obviously had not had good sex in a while ( I still don't understand why I said this), to which he responded that it had been 8 years since the last time. I concluded my business and on my way out he told me,

Rush home now, the Police are coming.”
I smiled politely so that he would think I got his joke. He then repeated the warning, looking at me directly and intently. It was at this point when I made the obvious conclusion that this guy was a ghost ( Spooky building + old guy talking weird = ghost) and walked, very briskly, back to the crowd. During the performance, I saw his again with his wife and finally admitted the experience to my wife. Lesson learnt: Do not make conversation with strangers in the toilet of Cape Town City Hall


  1. my eyes!
    change the font of this piece please :)

  2. Best I can do for now? Not sure what went wrong here