There should be a six-star exception to the five-star theatre production standard of excellence for Hemelruim currently onstage at the Fugard Theatre. Exquisite PERFECTION is what you will find in this intimately woven cosmic love story of a physicist and a beekeeper. Hemelruim explores the idea that we can never truly have too little or too much time with our loved ones, as the time we are destined to spend together can never run out… somewhere in the universe it is fixed and ever present.
The first time I saw Hemelruim was at the 2016 Woordfees, and it is a great privilege to see it find its way to the Fugard Theatre for a longer run. The energy of an established theatre elevates what was already a breathtaking play into something even more astonishing. Walking down from the Fugard Theatre rooftop bar, after having just sipped champagne under a starry night sky, I walked into an inviting and (at the risk of sounding gushy) magical, starry theatre space. The perfect paring! The setting and the ambiance all adds to creating the perfect mindset for this play that transports both you and the actors to another time and place without losing touch with reality.
Often in great plays, it is but small technical or timing niggles that become the bugbears that dull down an otherwise amazing experience. In this instance, no niggles or bugbears even threaten to spoil Hemelruim for one single millisecond. It is flawless! Translated by director and designer Nico Scheepers into Afrikaans from Nick Payne’s Broadway and West End hit, Constellations, it elevates an already marvelous narrative into something mesmerising and relatable for South African audiences.
Hemelruim is a symphony of lights, verse and emotions that collectively sweeps you into the soulful journey of physicist Mariaan (Tinarie van Wyk Loots) and beekeeper Roelof (Paul du Toit), as their relationship(s) criss-cross over parallel universes, each with a separate destiny unfolding. Although there is a fair amount of scientific thought at play, with the convergence not only of universes but also ideas and perspectives, both actors through their mannerisms and delivery relate this all in the most elegant, down to earth, fashion without ever being condescending or removed. They respect the text and the butterfly-effect awareness it requires of them in their performance, and it shows. In fact it highlights the humanness and vulnerability of the characters in the obstacles they face in finding each other.
You may wonder whether a play about a couple who keeps meeting time after time would not become too repetitive and lose the audiences attention? No, in this instance definitely not. There is something new, different, and captivating in every connection they make. It is in their search for truth – through their actions and reactions towards one another and their circumstances – in every variable reality that you find the relatable appeal.
Under the gentle direction of Nico Scheepers, Van Wyk Loots and Du Toit give an enchanting performance, as they loop through time and space completely in sync with one another, bringing just enough quirky laughter and lightheartedness to their performance to subtly balance the endearing love, longing and loss that their characters experience. You catch your breath as you realilse this acting match could not have been more perfect; these two were born to play the roles of Mariaan and Roelof. Together they are a tour de force! In fact, Van Wyk Loots on opening night brought such a heightened energy to her character that she was the shooting star that lit up the stage.
The staging itself is as exquisite as the performance. The strikingly minimalist set, merely a beautifully lit stage with dangling lights that come alive as the story unfolds, subtly transports you into the world(s) of Mariaan and Roelof. With Van Gogh type vision, Scheepers in fact 'draws' a picture of the night sky for you. Both the constellation design and the story left me completely ‘star struck’, to such a degree that at the end of the performance I was so emotionally caught-up in the delicate hope and truth of it all that I was not steadfast enough on my feet to give them the standing ovation they truly deserved.
In a universe of atoms and molecules, the Hemelruim question still lingers, days after seeing it for the second time: can one love too much, too little… and in the grander scheme of things is love always waiting in another parallel version of ourselves? And if you fear that the depth of this all may not grab your heart to the same degree if Afrikaans is not your theatre language of choice, I think it is safe to say that Hemelruim, apart from the English subtitles, speaks an emotional language that transcends. You don’t listen to the narrative, you feel it.
Hemelruim is a world-class production that can hold its own on any theatre stage. With much respect to the beautiful vision Nick Payne created in his award-winning Constellations, the theatre fates ordained it so, so that one day a young South African playwright would notice it and give that vision a voice to soar to even greater heights in expressive Afrikaans prose. I have said it before and I will say it again, Hemelruim is beautiful theatre on a galactic scale.
Don’t hesitate or delay when it comes to booking. Hemelruim has a very limited run at the Fugard Theatre until 20 May 2017, with tickets available at Computicket.