SOUTH AFRICAN DRAMA Valley Song
Touring it *
The most surprising thing about Athol Fugard's 1996 play about an aged, coloured South African farmer and his restless granddaughter is its lack of sophistication. It is Fugard's attempt to portray the political and economic reality of the post- apartheid experience using an intimate setting and a personal tale. And don't we, the audience, know it.
It is not that Valley Song browbeats, more that it spoonfeeds. It seems Fugard’s intention is to tell a character-led story around which the larger social picture will unfold, but there are , signposts all the way in case we fail to get The Point, and the story itself has the naivety of a 405 melodrama - without the actual drama.
The tale is this: Abraam Jonkers (Thane Bettany) has spent a lifetime farming in the valleys of the Karoo region. He is affectionately tied to the land, whereas his sparrow-like granddaughter Veronica (Wendy Baxter) feels shackled to it and wants to use her supposed new- found freedom to pursue a singing career in Johannesburg. So she bursts into song whenever the emotion is right: though the refrains are basic, sung a cappella or to the backing of David Young's understated acoustic guitar, rather than full orchestra and angelic chorus, like you'd get in the movies.
Unfortunately, her beloved Opa objects - she's all he has, what will he do without her? etc. The authorial figure (also played by Bettany) plays Devil's Advocate - realise your dreams; no, don’t leave your grandfather. We have to take Fugard’s word for it that this old- fashioned fable is in fact a realistic reflection of a people
‘ ‘* " '2-“
d. . 1.17.,“ . v». .1 ’.-' ' "_ (I, -- g1: :0 ’- . a a ,1. w f v v “r
‘ $3.3; “ﬁgs, 4;? ' a}, t “I,
Sing something simplistic: Valley Song
in identity crisis, getting used to the idea of democracy, then discovering that some are still more equal than others.
Baxter is endearing (a horribly patronising term, but somehow appropriate) as the daydreaming schoolgirl on the cusp of adulthood, and her songs help to create the brief atmospheric moments running through what is otherwise a dull drama. Bettany doesn’t quite seem to have settled into his dual role, but really it is not the acting which is at fault - even an old ham like Jack Nicholson probably couldn't invest much character into the piece. Using the intimate to suggest the universal may be a common device but it requires dynamism to help draw you in and, aside from the peaceful, reflective mood which prevails at the end of the play, Valley Song is an uninvolving experience. (Fiona Shepherd)
m For tour dates, see page 68
Murder, he wrought: Robert Lindsay (left) and Colin Baker
character, he is perfectly cast as Mazzini, the snubbed poor relation of an aristocratic family who murders his way to a peerage. Without once leavmg the stage, he Sustains the plot beautifully, bringing arch pOise to his delivery of lines which — at their best — have a subtle effervesence reminiscent of Coward
Colin Baker has fun as SIX members of the ill-fated - and mostly harmless — d’AsCOyne family, but fails to emerge from the long shadow of Alec Gumness, who established a career landmark in the film’s multiple role.
to have him keep re-appearing to Mazzini, Banquo-Iike, in silent condemnation.
Yet the allusion to Macbeth is almost
Kind Hearts And Coronets
Edinburgh: King’s Theatre, until Sat 16 May it: it it
A stage version of a classic film or novel is almost guaranteed to bring in the punters, and sure enough, here they are in their droves. But adapter/director Giles Croft has been cherishing this project for twelve years, and has aspirations beyond a simple screen-to-stage conversiion. He begins
64 rue usr 14—28 May i998
the show with a post-modernist framing device — a Video protection of the famous Ealing film’s Opening, then an introduction from the tale’s narrator and protagonist, who namechecks the film, the novel on which it was based, and two radio versions, before promising to get 'closer to the truth'. It’s one of several smart touches in this intelligent amOrality play, which takes the tone a notch darker than the film, but remains safe and strangely unsatisfying. Its savmg grace is Robert Lindsay: despite being (whisper it) about twenty years older than the
spurious, for Mazzmi's Villainy and charm are b0und up in his absolute negation of remorse. Manipulative and ruthless to the last, he laments only the clumsy mistake which leads to his conviction. Here is the heart of the play, yet Croft fails to bring enough focus and intimacy to bear on it. Too many scenes are played upstage, remote from the audience, and the scent of danger and moral ambigUity never reaches the nostrils A competent reproduction, but frustratingly little more
Another coup of Croft’s slick staging is :
Diamond Dogs Touring * ‘k *
Just a year after its formation, Ross Cooper's dance group is touring with a programme featuring music from Meredith Monk to David Bowie. This preview at GoMA was limited by technical constraints and an injury, but still managed to whet the appetite for anyone with a taste for quirky, thought- provoking contemporary dance.
Cooper’s choreography combines ClaSSICal strength With attention- catching shifts of balance and an intensity that makes it stand out from most dance seen in Scotland. If he sometimes seems to run out of steam and not know qune how to end a piece, it’s still good to see streams of fluid movement put across by energetic, committed dancers.
Popular Songs ties together disparate pieces by Piaf, Marilyn Monroe, T-Rex and Run DMC. To take Piaf’s 'No Regrets’ and capture the strength instead of the camp is a novelty; but Cooper and the lithe Soraya Ham sway through the song lyrically, seeming to create rather than consume the small performance space. Next to 'Walk This Way', full of sassy energy and limbs whirling like propellers, it makes for a varied and witty little DIGCG.
When Disturbed, Then Disturbed, a duet set to minimalist Meredith Monk, has compulsive movements and clashing limbs at its core, yet leaves an erotic, ambiguous mood behind after just eight minutes. Cooper’s skill here is throwing in unexpected body combinations that could have many interpretations — you're left asking whether the dancers are showing adoration or aggression.
The new piece, Diamond Dogs, still looks a little rough round the edges, but touring WI“ doubtless tighten it up. Here the distinctive tWists in the balances lift it above the ordinary, and the eccentric crab-like movements performed by Fergus Jacobs are original and skilled. Cooper has an eye for sculptures of intrigumg movement and sound, an enthusiasm clearly shared by his sparky dancers. (Don Morris) at For t0ur dates, see page 68.
Legs is more: Soraya Ham