Review – The secret life of invisible people

2012-07-05 14:59

While most South African theatre makers are concerned with issues with a big capital “I”, the international pieces that I have seen at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown are far more concerned with exploring inner lives.

Wacht!, Dutch performer Hiske Eriks’ wordless one-hander is one such piece. And it is laugh-out-loud, guffaw funny. Eriks wonders about the secret life of a person whose job description requires that they blend into the background.

Haven’t you ever wondered what goes on in the minds of blank-faced security guards? Those who sit beside priceless works of arts in museums? Those who stand motionless outside gates saluting cars?

Those who stand stony-faced behind politicians, hands on ears listening to seditious rumours?

Eriks’ character is perched upon a stool in an ill-fitting, industrial issue blue suit as the audience files in.

There’s a painting of a nude behind stylish keep-out ropes, the painting’s creator described in a plaque on the wall, and a bin in the corner. The audience sits – rustling, shifting, coughing, sneezing, whispering.

Eriks is motionless, expressionless, silent.

As the lights go down and the stage lights come up – nothing continues to happen.

Then – fidget, “squeak”, shudder – the stool starts acting up. This is the beginning of a very special day in the life of Eriks’ bored witless character.

Or is it the culmination of a series of days during which she gets more and more daring, emboldened by the thrill of getting away with it or with the fear of being caught?

Eriks’ piece – which gets progressively more animated and draws first smiles from the audience, then snickers, then the odd gasp and nervous giggle, before finally, eureka, belly laughs – tenderly exposes a secret part of her character.

A part that exists in all of us. The part that craves a break from the mundane, the part that wishes we were a little more courageous.

It is this part that laughs along with Eriks’, this part that celebrates her character’s ridiculous adventure with laughter and leaves the theatre with a knowing smile.

Eriks, a Dutch performer, has taken this production across the world to festivals throughout Europe and was most recently in Australia.

It is a piece of theatre that transcends language and speaks the universal lingo of mime and physical theatre.

Also, her popular culture references are immediately recognisable to anyone who has ever consumed media.

It’s just a shame about the venue, which does not have raised seating and so it is hard to see without craning you neck to and fro and many audience members ended up standing.

Wacht! is the perfect playful interlude for all festival goers, at a mere 20 minutes long it, it is a cathartic experience and a chance to work on your laugh lines.

Though it goes deeper too – it scratches at the surface to tenderly expose wistful longing, suppressed desires and dreams shivering with the anticipation of maybe being fulfilled.

» Follow our coverage of the National Arts Festival:

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» Wacht! is on tomorrow at noon, 7.30pm and 8.30pm and Saturday at 5.30pm and 6.30pm at Glennie Festival Centre in Grahamstown

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