A theatrical case of foot in mouth

2012-07-20 11:39

“Lord, make it stop!” I find written in my notes at the end of The Market Theatre’s world premiere of Little Foot, directed by Malcolm Purkey.

Flicking back a few pages, I see it had started off very differently.

“At last, a real set in Grahamstown,” I had noted. “Rich and evocative, smoke and insect sounds.”

Neil Coppen’s production design is a thing of great joy – leading the audience to a farm in the Cradle of Humankind, and then down into a mysterious and ancient network of caves where our hominid ancestors once lived.

Although I’m sure the staging and physical execution of Little Foot will work even better at The Market, the script, I’m afraid, will continue to torpedo the production.

Little Foot plays off between two forces – ancient hominids singing, breathing, chanting and creeping from the rocks, and a gang of thoroughly modern and decadent university students.

The intention is to unite the two metaphorically – to show that modern man is an ancient force of nature.

Instead, they clash and divide the production.

The dark and twisted New Year’s Eve camping adventure offered uneven performances (with good work from Glen Biderman-Pam and Phumzile Sitole).

But a bigger problem is the lack of psychological development in Craig Higginson’s often stilted and overblown characters.

Like inhabitants of a slasher horror flick, they start off silly and sexy, and then too rapidly descend into weird and intense.

The members of the prehistoric chorus, in their spectacular masks, with their songs and menace, seem to further undermine the play’s cohesion.

Instead of an ancestral voice and a visit from the abyss, they become a jarring African “other” and a colonial cliché.

The cave, philosophically, is a space ripe with meaning in the contemporary age. It’s a womb of memory and ancient dreams, a lost continuum.

What Little Foot probably meant to address was a sense of humanity’s fragile place in the cruel world of nature.

What it ended up being, to borrow from a friend, was the Hardy Boys finally getting to have sex with Nancy Drew while working on the case of the African ghost.

»?Little Foot is on at The Market Theatre in Joburg until August 19

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