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SCENE IT: Herb’s got a friend in a lamp called Pixar

Barbara Loots

 

What would happen if the cute couple from UP did not have a long and happy life together or if the emotions in INSIDE revealed themselves through grungy '90s music sequences? In EMBER, Herbert’s life is more or less a collision of those questions at one key moment in his life where reality and manic grief wrestle for his attention while all he wants to do is fix his new friend, the lamp called Pixar…

EMBER is the first production by the Control Room Creative Company (a production company established by Michiel Bester) and sees four young performers (Miguel De Sampaio, Anna Olivier, Léa Blerk along with Bester) bring to stage a new work that was envisioned over the course of two weeks.


EMBER is as ambitious a production as the four are talented. At its most simplistic it is an intimate play about loss and the effect that has on one’s subconscious. Herbert (De Sampaio) has parted ways with the love of his life, Olivia (Olivier) in an unexpected manner. The impact this trauma has on Herbert’s psyche is revealed through conversations with his conscience in the form of his best friend Billy (Bester) and manic episodes characterised by emotive ‘90s songs such as Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit (performed by Blerk as lead vocalist).


I find the character of Herbert rather endearing in the manner he justifies his isolation as a “choice” driven by his friendship with an inanimate object, while it’s clear that he is trying to find ways of filling a void in his life. The moments where the loss Herbert feels is given expression through dance (as performed by De Sampaio and Oliver) aids that sentimental note that is the heart of the play. The duo also cleverly plays with light in one dance number that ties in well with Herbert’s obsession with Pixar and its refusal to switch on no matter how hard he tries to fix it.

As a new work, I suspect EMBER will grow as the performers test its various key moments and influences on audiences: The show is on its way to being a fully developed production, but it's not quite there yet. Still, EMBER has something rather special to offer audiences as it goes through that growth process. To stand witness to such a process is not something audiences are often privy too and with the emergence of new work and new voices as our independent theatre community revives itself, this excites me.


The idea behind EMBER is a good one: life is as fleeting as embers and this production has found a novel way of reminding us of that. The cast has also grabbed my attention with their clear commitment and verve in bringing EMBER to life onstage. They must now just learn how to hone their collective ambition to present one clear vision with the show.


I do think EMBER may need a bit of tweaking, perhaps even a rethinking of the order and flow of scenes, to make sure that the play allows for the manic element of Herbert’s mind to reveal itself as part of the narrative in a more progressive manner. Revealing the fact that Herbert is losing his subtle grip on reality with a dramatic music number before the audience has had the opportunity to really engage with the character results in the manic element being thrust upon an unsuspecting audience just a tad too soon. If you start at manic you don’t really have anywhere to go with a character’s energy.


As EMBER is an intimate play in style and in theme, the team may want to consider pairing back some of the incorporated movements and numbers to reflect that intimacy. At the moment EMBER showcases all that the talented cast is capable of through an array of theatrical elements, but I don’t think that showcase always serves the story, which should be the ultimate aim. Pairing some things back and focusing on the heart of Herbert’s tale may aid the growth of the production.


Having already followed the evolution of these talented performers through their LAMTA training years, it was a great treat to see EMBER. I am excited to see where the future takes both them and EMBER as they grow into their own identity.


If you want to join me on that journey, go see their creativity on display in EMBER at The Outlore Base until 1 April 2023. Tickets are R150pp and bookings are via email: bester.controlroom@gmail.com. Please note that the production uses strobe lighting.

 

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