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SCENE IT: Ghostly lanterns and campfires promise a haunting theatre experience at Spier

Barbara Loots

 

Inquisitive patrons are called to follow Guides along a riverside trail at nightfall to experience CONSTELLATIONS at the Spier Wine Farm where they encounter six diverse artists at campfires and lanterns for a surreal, intimate theatre experience this November.

CONSTELLATIONS, the brainchild of Brett Bailey, is in its fourth year. It invites audiences to experience atmospheric encounters exploring haunting tales through movement, melody and prose in the dark woods under a starlit sky.


Patrons are split into six groups. This split allows for an intimate theatre experience, but also provides an opportunity for Guides to separate you from your loved ones to minimise the impulse to talk amongst yourselves in between performances. The sense of silence so observed while moving along the dark path between sacred theatre circles is part of the experience you need to buy into. Each of the six performances lasts about 15 minutes. Over the full run of CONSTELLATIONS audiences will be treated to journeys performed by a diverse group of eight performers: Blaze Zimba, Gaetan Schmid, Gita Galina, Laurie Levine, Megan Choritz, Moodship (aka Gary Thomas), Siphenathi Mayekiso, and Sky Dladla.


The theme of this year’s CONSTELLATIONS at the Spier Wine Farm is The Garden of Good and Evil. On opening night, our group of twelve’s first encounter was with “Canaries” performed by the multi-talented Sky Dladla who, with an uhadi bow and nyunga nyunga, gave us a musical glimpse into the soul of a forest abandoned child-turned-adult, wild and ‘possessed’.


Next up was “Balderdash”, with the versatile Blaze Zimba. It's a snapshot from a man’s memoir of sadness. A glimpse into the life of car guard Steve who had big dreams but lost himself in a spiral of hopelessness when ambition turned to despair. Now he roams the woods aimlessly talking to anyone who will listen in return for cash or caring.


“Voices”, a movement piece performed by Gita Galina, quite paradoxically has not a word spoken. It gives you a glimpse into the inner turmoil of a highly strung girl, Katy, who mostly keeps to herself during the day, but at night is driven from her bed by the whispers in her head. Galina’s movements are fluid and captivating, and with the sound of the river running in the background left me thinking of the sisters in Reza De Wet’s play Drif (also known as Crossing).


From the voiceless Katy we went in search of the voice of Josiah, who finds himself bound to a graveyard existence. Perhaps he too sold his soul in exchange for the life of a music man? In “Spinal Cord” Joshiah is said to be harvesting the key of E in the dead of night, exhibiting the incomplete emotional characteristic associated with that musical key. Much like your physical cord running down the centre of your spine, his musical chord trickles down your back with eerie discomfort.

With “Ashes” Megan Choritz invites you to enter the ‘witching hour’ as it is story time for urn dwelling Bob, a man whose wife, Charlotte, pretends to miss him after she pushed him down the stairs. But in story time for Bob, storylines become blurred as women and children run from the filthiest clutches of abusive men who perhaps deserved Bob’s end too…


From there the phenomenal Siphenathi Mayekiso ended off our journey on a haunting high with “Hanging Out”. This performance oscillates between the story of the ‘ghost’ of a jilted bride and the man who has never truly experienced love but stole her veil, with the latter stepping into the character of Cindy to ‘revel’ in the emotion of both in a loves-me-loves-me-not styled macabre soirée.


This CONSTELLATIONS experience, as was the case with the previous iterations, is conceptually driven. I would have liked the performances to delve deeper into the depths of the good and evil theme, pushing the boundaries that the riverside setting at Spier invites it to do. Interestingly every story brings with it elements of good and evil (or at a minimum darkness), with the lines blurring a little or a lot, depending on perspective and personal experience. From the smorgasbord that is CONSTELLATIONS, my favourites on the night were “Voices”, “Ashes” and “Hanging Around”, possibly the ones about the most tormented souls, that stuck with me as we circled back towards the lights of The Riverhouse at Spier where the journey started.


Apart from the blurring between good and evil that I experienced from the stories on this night-time meander, logistically the dimly lit intimate circles of the six performance pieces also blur into each other as sound travels: The circles are far enough from each other that you feel the sense of isolation, but the silence of the night (and the patrons) allow the harrowing sounds of one scene to drift into the dark and bleed into the space of another, adding that extra layer of ominous magic.


You have every Friday and Saturday night until 18 November 2023 to see this year’s version of CONSTELLATIONS, directed by Brett Bailey and produced by Barbara Mathers, at Spier Wine Farm. Tickets are available online through Webtickets, starting at R250. When you book, remember to consider the snack and wine options too. Or go that indulgent step further and book to stay over at the luxurious Spier Hotel and turn your theatre night out into a true staycation.


Please note that CONSTELLATIONS carries an age restriction of 16. The experience requires a lot of walking on uneven ground, so come wearing comfortable shoes. Don't forget to bring along a jacket too as it gets cold at night next to the river. Also, if mosquitos like nibbling on your legs and arms I would advise bringing some Tabard or alike repellent to provide protection against these unwanted companions.

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