Theatre Review: Tien Duisend Ton, Or Seeing The Forest For The Pleas

January 22, 2023




Tien Duisend Ton / Directed by Nico Scheepers / Mannie Manim Theatre, Market Theatre, Newtown, Johannesburg


Sometimes when we experience feelings we have not yet developed a language to express, we compensate by talking a lot. Sometimes, we talk too much, and in doing so meander and become distracted, losing focus on what we mean to say and how we want to communicate it.

Such is the lot of the protagonists in director Nico Scheepers‘ Afrikaans translation of English playwright Duncan Macmillan’s play Lungs.

Named simply Man and Vrou (Man and Woman), they are a young-ish couple who share a passion for environmental causes and who, as the play opens are at the beginning of a discussion about the possibility of having a baby. Unsurprisingly, given the impact such a decision will have on their lives, there is much to discuss and, not least because the topic is raised at an unexpected time in an unexpected place, emotions immediately run high.

A number of components are brought together to ensure that the full happy-sad, exciting-terrifying, passion-and-panic impact of this situation is brought across. Macmillan’s original concept and script provide a fantastic platform, providing passages of humour, thoughtfulness, anger, sadness, bliss and deeply reciprocated love. Scheepers’ translation of that text is arguably more important than the original writing in terms of the success or otherwise of this version. His work in this area is sublime, showcasing the richness of Afrikaans idiom and how it can be manipulated, juggled and massaged to help maintain the meaning, poignancy and clarity of the messages conveyed to the audience.

The craftspeople entrusted to work with these raw materials need to be able to do them justice, and it’s genuinely difficult to imagine two actors better able to do that than Albert Pretorius and Cintaine Schutte. Portraying a couple who need to hang on to each other to get through a brutal emotional time, the performers share the sort of powerful, tangible chemistry such a scenario would demand for there to be any chance of their relationship surviving. Individually and collectively, they are astonishing – sensitive, strident, sassy and sincere. Pretorius is given more of an anchoring role, with Man being the less naturally distracted of the characters, and perhaps also the less insightful of the pair when it comes to assessing the impact of becoming parents on their relationship. Schutte, as the candid and occasionally confused Vrou, is a blazing, focused, heart-wrenching revelation in her role: if you see a better performance on stage or screen (locally or internationally) this year, you’ll be lucky. There is a near-monologue (Pretorius squeezes in a handful of words when he can) near the beginning, when the reality of what is being proposed truly starts to land with Vrou, that is a deeply compelling a slice of theatre – mixing discomfiting hilarity with frenzied emotional processing. And both the intimate stepping stones of the characters’ journey and the beauty and depth which they are handled by Pretorius and Schutte make Tien Duisend Ton as an overall experience profoundly moving. You’ll laugh far more than you’ll think you should, given the subject matter, but ultimately that’ll be the padding around something more difficult but more rewarding to feel.

The final piece of the puzzle is Scheeper’s direction. The best directing either doesn’t show at all or – as is the case here – can be noticed in small gestures, movements and timing decisions that enhance dialogue and character interactions without ever seeming unnatural. And given that the set comprises nothing more than a rectangle of green astroturf that serves as shops, a car, a bedroom, a park and much more, such details stand out more than they might in a more cluttered space.

Tien Duisend Ton has already caused considerable buzz on the Afrikaans festival circuit and it’s impossible not to agree with the excitement of those audiences. A decent understanding of Afrikaans will help with an appreciation of the script’s nuances, but such is the quality of the package as a whole that you’d still be entertained throughout just by sitting and watching.

Rousing, affecting, witty and real.