Theatre Review: Cat And Monkey – Creature Discomforts, Or A Tale Of Two Testimonies

May 4, 2023

 

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

Cat & Monkey / Directed by Karin Retief / Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg

 

A compact two-hander, Cat & Monkey packs a load of snarky verbal fencing into a dialogue-driven narrative. The concept of the piece, if not the particulars of this version, are based on a centuries-old fable written by Jean de la Fontaine and previously interpreted by Charlotte Court in a much shorter play.

Jess (Danielle Retief) and Martin (Rowlen Von Gericke) are a couple whose competitiveness is evident in pretty much everything they say and do when together, not least because they appear to be airing grievances in a relationship counselling session and strongly stating their individual cases. As layers are revealed and built up, the dynamic of the couple’s connection becomes a little more established, but never completely understandable. It turns out this is by design, as a twist late in the play turns expectations on their heads and more conventional interactions would not have allowed for such a shock.

The idea is clever, and some of the building blocks of the script are supported by a collection of props on a set of shelves at the back of the stage. This is interesting, as once you notice that an item has come up in conversation, you expect the next item, and the next, to be focal points of a scene still to come, which creates a certain compelling flow to proceedings.

There is a shortfall, however, in the precision with which the piece is presented. The edgy nature of the idea and the moral it’s designed to convey suggests a cut and thrust in delivery that isn’t quite there on stage. These characters are unlikeable (again, by design), but in many instances where that is the case, the protagonists inspire other emotions, like grudging respect, perhaps. Here, there is not sufficient scale when it comes to the nastiness you are made to believe Jess and Martin are capable of, and while the developing of the story and the possibilities of who these people really are is pleasing enough, it’s not snappy and polished in a way that truly ingrains the characters in your mind or guarantee laughs at moments of black humour.

This run comprises just a few performances. Expect further stagings and ongoing sharpening of the wit and deepening of the darkness as the production grows.

 

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