Scene It: Subtle humour and heart in the masked 'The Old Man and The Sea'

August 18, 2019

Contagious Theatre’s The Old Man and The Sea, currently onstage at the Fugard Theatre, is an intimate, imaginative, compact adaptation of a classic tale with subtle humour and heart.


If you loved their previous heart-felt production, The Snow Goose, you’ll be well acquainted with Contagious Theatre's unique style of story telling. They bring to life narrative with expressive masks and emotive acting, equal parts pathos and comedy, with which they draw the audience into the world of their vibrant characters.

The Old Man and The Sea sees this much-loved theatre troupe combine chorus, masks, puppetry and physical performances to tell an epic tale with minimalist flair. With a revolving set and three actors (playing numerous roles), audiences are invited to ‘sit on the beach' as tourists and listen to the Cuban small-town fisherman tell of the legend of ‘The Old Man and The Sea’ —an adaptation by Nick Warren of Ernest Hemingway’s tale.


Directed by Jenine Collocott, James Cairns, Taryn Bennett, and Jacques De Silva step into their characters with ease. They delicately explore the themes of life, death, goodwill, and survival. Bennet gives expression to her characters (of which the most memorable is the sultry tavern mistress) with true caricature exaggeration, while Da Silva brings a refreshing energy to the stage. But it's Cairns and his portrayal of Santiago, the old man who's fisherman adventure drives the story, that captivates. His moments of battling and bonding with the marlin who tests Santiago's strength and will is the charm that holds this staging of The Old Man and The Sea together.   

The only element that takes away from what would otherwise be a cohesive staging is the choice of songs used to facilitate scene changes. Although beautifully performed by De Silva, I struggle to find a clear context-link between the songs and the tale being told: The music selection jolted me out of the small town fisherman feel of the Cuban setting, rather than immersing me further in the tale.


To get the full impact of The Old Man and The Sea, audience members must come willing to unleash their imagination and escape into the depths of this modern adaption of Hemingway’s novella —alike to how youngsters live themselves into a bedtime story. 


This may not be a high-octane show, but it is a colourful exploration of human connection that pleases. You have until 24 August 2019 to see The Old Man and The Sea at the Fugard Theatre. Tickets can be booked online at




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