Shakespearean tragedy is plausibly transplanted into the sinister gangland of Mitchells’ Plain in this dark musicalm Danger in the Dark, reworked with skill and sensitivity by David Kramer, adding to its relevance in the context of contemporary South African society. The reinvented structure of the story has not entailed any sacrifice of Taliep Petersen’s evocative music, as poignant solos are featured cheek by jowl with foot-stomping, upbeat ensemble numbers reminiscent of New Year Carnival parades through the Mother City.
A major change to the original version of this show, which was titled Poison after its lead character, is in the different perspective on the drama as this shifts from the malevolent drug-dealer to the concerned friend of one of his victims, the young woman Pamela, thereby feminizing the narrative. Analogies with Othello are obvious, but never cheaply contrived: the powerful drug-lord Michael has all the insecurities and jealousy of the Moor, his lovely young wife Juanita is as vulnerable as Desdemona, and Poison might be the offspring of Iago in his vengeful spite. The dog-eat-dog world which these protagonists inhabit could just as well be that of countries in a state of permanent war, the world of Othello where wealth and power are assigned and ruthlessly forfeited on whim or suspicion. Violence rules…
Patrick Curtis has excelled in creating an arena for the action (of which there is plenty): murky, monochromatic, and suggestive of clandestine doings, the set offers the performers all the support they need to evoke gangland while giving them adequate space in which to execute brilliant choreography by Oelf and van Ster; the indefatigable five-piece band providing accompaniment is discreetly tucked away but partially visible behind the left-hand section of the set.
The opening number from full ensemble sets the tone, ablaze with angry energy and wild dancing; this is not for the faint-hearted. Contrasts (always a factor in powerful drama) abound – for instance, amid all this aggression there is the sweet-voiced duet of Pamela and Mrs Joseph, the mother of an apprentice drug-peddlar. Elton Landrew (Poison) is outstanding in his grasp of persona as he conveys toxic seduction laced with menace. Equally arresting is Alexis Petersen as Pamela in a complex role that requires an amalgam of saintliness, stout-hearted courage and understated feminine allure. In addition to meeting this challenge, she has a remarkable voice heard to advantage in solo and duet performance.
Vocal prowess is not wanting in the cast in general, but their singing on the whole suffers from excessive amplification which makes it too strident.
Loukmaan Adams brings his considerable experience to the part of Michael and generates the requisite nastiness of this bullying anti-hero, at the same time inspiring some sympathy in a mournful aria as he ponders on the failure of his marriage and need for Juanita’s love.
“Hungry for love” is a leitmotif of Danger in the Dark, a key to understanding what motives underlie the viciousness and frustration of this beleaguered society. Secondary characters Shawn (Chad Baai) and Chicco (Eldon van der Merwe) are on the fringe of that society, drawn into it with unhappy consequences, and both young actors impress in their approach to these roles. All credit to David Kramer for astute direction of his cast.
As the convoluted retribution central to the narrative plays itself out around the possession/loss/acquisition of an expensive scarf, the audience comes to share the apprehension of the victims who know that this will not end well. A highly rewarding, if stygian, musical.
Danger in the Dark
Written and Directed by David Kramer
Music: Taliep Petersen
Choreography: Shaun Oelf, Grant van Ster
Cast: Alexis Petersen, Loukmaan Adams, Rushney Ferguson, Elton Landrew and large ensemble
Accompaniment: Band conducted by Grandall Vlotman
Venue: Baxter Theatre, until November 2