Theatre Review: Dusk – Isolated Incidents, Or Feeling Down On The Farm

August 13, 2021

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Dusk / Directed by Palesa Mazamisa / Mannie Manim, Market Theatre, Newtown, Johannesburg


Dusk is sort of half light and half dark. Which, superficially, echoes the fortunes of Tessa (Michelle Douglas), a one-time actress on the up who turned her back on her career to relocate to a remote farm to be with the man she loved and to raise a family. Family traditions, politics, and the complexities of various relationships conspire to make her situation considerably less happy than she had hoped it would be and, after a tragic event has a brutal impact on her family, Tessa is left in a brittle, twitchy state – both mentally and physically.

Into this scenario arrives KG (Loyiso MacDonald), a young man who grew up on the farm before moving away to go to university. He has now returned to the town because he is starting a job in the area, and has come to visit to try and find some clarity about what happened to Tessa’s family: her son Christiaan was a close friend (the boys grew up together on the farm).

An older white woman who had privilege and has lost much of it; a younger black man who had very little but is now realising his potential, both traumatised in their own ways and linked by history and overlapping relationships. It’s an excellent foundation on which to examine a number of weighty themes, and playwright Mark Scheepers does well to balance and interweave topics that could otherwise overwhelm a narrative in a way that feels relatively natural (though obviously dramatised for effect).

Scheepers takes in trauma, the shattering of dreams, land ownership, sexuality and dysfunctional families – not a recipe for joy and party tunes, to be sure, but full of sentiments and perspectives many can relate with. With artists having suffered as much as they have due to the COVID-19 lockdown, Tessa’s explanation of how giving up her passion and vocation to invest in something that initially seemed as valuable but which left her feeling hollow and underappreciated lands with particularly heartrending poignancy – particularly delivered by a South African actress in a new play that has had its opening delayed three times by the pandemics.

Douglas and MacDonald both do an excellent job of propelling their characters’ conflicting agendas through a story played out in a claustrophobic space – a kitchen and dining room designed with fine attention to detail by Karabo Legoabe-Mtshali – during a storm. Both are totally committed to their roles, with both literal and emotional messiness involved, and for audiences who will likely have had an enforced break from watching live performances, seeing this level of craft and dedication will be a convincing reminder of the skills involved and the power of storytelling live on stage.

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