Theatre review: 'Wit'

2009-07-21 00:00

EVEN if you see no other theatrical performance this year make sure you don’t miss Wit at The Playhouse Loft Theatre from today until July 26.

I was lucky enough to catch the premiere of KickstArt Theatre Company’s drama at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and it is, in a word, superb.

Clare Mortimer, who has shaved her head for the role, holds the audience in the palm of her hand for the best part of two hours in a performance which is at turns funny, poignant and truly engages both your heart and mind.

Mortimer plays Professor Vivian Bearing, a literary scholar and university lecturer with expertise in the works of John Donne, whose life is turned upside down when she is diagnosed with aggressive, late-stage ovarian cancer and agrees to take part in a research project to try halt its progress.

But, before you start thinking “there’s no way I’m going to see something so depressing”, I’d like to assure you that it’s anything but. It is, in fact, quite life affirming.

I loved the fact that instead of collapsing in a heap when she hears the news from her oncologist, all Vivian can think about is the terms he uses. Words, you see, are her life and she feels compelled to scrutinise each and every one.

But you soon learn that her desire for knowledge and witty asides are simply props, which help her deal with the reality of her situation, and when the cancer, and the treatment for it, brush aside her defences, she is left deeply vulnerable.

Mortimer’s performance is aided by Greg King’s simple set design and a multiaward winning cast, which includes Neil Coppen and Jimmy Lithgow as doctors who see Vivian as a specimen rather than a human being; Olivia Borgen as a caring nurse; and Alison Cassels as Vivian’s mentor Em Ashford. Karen Logan, Clinton Small and Sean de Klerk round out the cast playing a variety of small roles.

Wit, which was penned by Margaret Edson and directed by Steven Stead, played to sold out houses in Grahamstown — a coup for the first KwaZulu-Natal production in 15 years to be staged on the main festival.

Edson, an American playwright and pre-primary teacher, was among those attending the premiere and had nothing but praise for the way Mortimer and the rest of the cast presented her work, which has won many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1999.

Her praise is deserved. Wit is theatre out the top draw and deserves packed houses for its run back home in KZN.








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