Woordfees: Buite Land

March 11, 2018

’n Dokter emigreer na ’n koue plek, maar dink met sy aankoms eers na oor die onlangse gebeure wat hom tot daar gebring het. 

In this beautifully filmic offering, written and directed by Neil Coppen, Jacques, a South African anaesthetist (Jacques Bessenger), arrives in a cold new destination with the aim of restarting his life, but not before he reflects on the events that brought him to this starkly decorated foreign hotel room. 

That Bessenger’s character has many demons to exorcise soon becomes apparent. His relationship with his strict mother (Elize Cawood) is no less reserved and frosty than his relationship with Sizwe (Kopano Maroga), a choreographer brought into Jacques’s life via an app for those seeking fleeting, anonymous physical contact. Complicating matters even more is the probing presence of Mitchell (Marvin-Lee Beukes), a colleague who’s taken a liking to Jacques (and whose endearingly inept attempts at flirtation are quite something to see).

Jacques and Sizwe’s interactions highlight the contemporary struggle between traditional cultural practices and modern medicine, and between parental expectations and reality. When Bessenger’s Jacques rails at Maroga’s Sizwe, it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to understand that he’s really confronting his own shortcomings and cowardice. Maroga delivers a compelling, energetic performance as his character keeps prodding at his surly companion in an attempt to coax some kind of truth out of him.

Cawood’s character is the quintessential firm but loving mother. She delivers her sardonic lines with devastating precision, and the emotion behind her words hints at so much history and pain that one leaves the theatre very much wanting to see more of this woman’s story. 

The play’s preoccupation with cultural tension is beautifully realised —especially in the magnetic performances of Mpume Mthombeni and Ntombi Gasa, a patient’s mother and an ancestor, respectively— with a haunting soundscape and well-conceived lighting design to match. While the production is mostly successful, it does suffer from some unfortunate translation blunders that hamper one’s willingness to buy into the Afrikaans-speaking characters’ authenticity. The ultimate ‘big reveal’ also doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but this doesn’t necessarily diminish the play’s impact in terms of those philosophical questions mentioned above. 

Buite Land was part of the US Woordfees. No future Cape Town production dates announced. 


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