Scene It: Sillage, heart theatre that lingers

February 23, 2017

Head notes…
Heart notes…
Base notes…
The fragrance of a person’s personality lingers as much as the perfume they wear.
Sometimes even when we are convinced that we are emotionally detached and thinking (headstrong) objectively, we are still being steered by our hearts, at the base of it all. Sillage, currently onstage at Alexander Upstairs, highlights these perfume notes perfectly in the context of relationships, specifically that between mother and daughter.


The onstage dynamic between mother (Michele Belknap) and daughter (Rebecca Makin-Taylor) is powerfully staccato in their rhythmic interaction, both verbally and non verbally, with one another, as they pack up their family home. A simple setting, exposing a complex relationship. A disquieting, yet very endearing story unfolds.


With both characters clearly convinced that they are objectively communicating through their head (note) thoughts only, it very soon becomes undeniably clear to the audience that there is heart in their misunderstanding and conflict, and the true message they long to reveal. They are so caught up in their personal opinions of the 'proper’ perspective of life and its expectations that they rather opt to justify their own insecurities through strong personal opinions, hiding behind anger and nostalgia, than do more than hint to the heart informed subjective subtext at the base of it all.  With no intentional malice, the mother and daughter combo avoid true communication through heated exchanges, with the mother already knowing the high price of the regret that will ultimately follow, as every mother is someone's daughter. In exposing their personal insecurities and opinions, Sillage also very cleverly introduces as topics the discomfort (even guilt, or denial thereof) associated with their South African identity and gender politics, while inviting the audience to witness this domestic drama.


At its base (note), Sillage shows that we all just want to be heard, but sometimes in our persistence to be heard on social and political issues from our own personal perspective, we forget to listen to and hear others, and so miss out on actual true connection with those who adds dimension and depth to the lingering fragrance of our heart notes, … the part that lingers in memory, long after the real fragrance of that person has evaporated.


Bring all these fragrantly staged notes together with the aid of exquisite prose ala playwright Penny Youngleson, and you get theatre at its best: moving, filled with feeling to the brim of the perfume diffusor. Under the direction of Youngleson, the acting duo (who could pass for mother and daughter in real life) highlights the struggle of connection through disconnection, not only through the spoken word, but also through gestural language and physical ritual.


The dynamics behind the verbose daughter and the longing (almost pleading) nostalgically driven mother is truly something to behold. A piece of theatre art that everyone should see. And if you don’t believe me, believe the fact that it won the Standard Bank Gold Ovation Award for best production on the Fringe Festival at the 2016 National Arts Festival and Penny Youngleson has also just received a Fleur du Cap Award Nomination for Best New South African Script for Sillage. Catch Sillage at Alexander Upstairs until 25 February 2017, nightly at 7pm. Book online.



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