An unmissable performance

2012-03-09 00:00

DAISY Spencer is a wonderful comedienne and regularly delights audiences with her singing and impeccable comic timing in shows like Alice in Wonderland , Neil Coppen’s Marvellous Mixtures and Juliet and Her Romeos , so I was interested to see how she would fare as a director of serious drama.

The answer is superbly — and the performances that she draws from her three actors in Athol Fugard’s classic, Boesman and Lena , are astonishing.

Rory Booth, better known for singing, comedy and children’s theatre, was a revelation as Boesman, showing an entirely new side of his acting canvas.

From the moment he enters the stage, weighed down by his and Lena’s worldly possessions — a mattress, a sleeping bag, a blanket, some fabric and a pile of wood — you feel his anger at the world and the hand he’s been dealt.

Lagging behind him is Lena, played by Maritzburg-born actress Caitlin Kilburn carrying a box of utensils, food and despair that once again she finds herself homeless and walking in the muddy wastes of the Swartkops River, near Port Elizabeth.

The pair have been tossed out onto the streets, like rubbish, and their home bulldozed by the white authorities.

As they set up camp for the night, Lena’s words — “Even after you’ve put your bundles down, something stays heavy” — reflect the emotional burdens that she and Boesman carry.

Tired of being dragged from pillar to post, Lena rebels, and invites an elderly black man, Outa, played by Mthokosile Zulu, to share the fire and her meal, much to the annoyance of Boesman.

Zulu’s role is almost entirely non-verbal, and the young actor, sporting greyed hair, never misses a beat.

His emotional connection with Lena sparkles and encourages her to smile, dance and experience a little joy, if only fleetingly. But her attempt to leave Boesman comes to nothing.

She cannot escape their shared history, the death of their children, and her need to be acknowledged by at least one other person in this world.

Kilburn’s performance is beautifully nuanced — using a mix of body language, facial expressions and words, she doesn’t simply play a character. Rather, she becomes Lena, and in doing so, draws from the audience a deep empathy for what she has and will probably continue to experience before she makes her exit from the world.

Fugard’s work may have been penned and first performed in the sixties, but the play retains its power because it’s easy to find parallels in today’s South Africa. People continue to live in poverty, in shacks, and in despair of ever escaping from the drudgery of their lives.

Boesman and Lena is being staged mainly as a study aid for high-school pupils, and I highly recommend that your child’s school go and see it – but you should make the effort to catch the three remaining public shows too. The play and the performances make this drama unmissable.


• Boesman and Lena can be seen at the Catalina Theatre at Wilson’s Wharf in Durban at 11 am on weekdays for schools, with public performances on Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 6 pm. Tickets are R45 (one teacher free for every 10 pupils), and R75 for the public performances (R60 for pensioners). To book, phone 031 305 6889 or log on to

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