NOCTURNE REVIEW. Written by Adam Rapp. Directed by Emily Child. Performed by Francis Chouler. Design by Niall Griffin. At The Alexander Bar, Cape Town until 21 September 2019.

Niall Griffin’s very sophisticated but simple set is surprising for the Alexander Bar theatre. It is reflective, black, angled Perspex that has a slickness about it. Beautiful and imposing. Certainly not the usual attempt at cheap transformation. It sets up an expectation of something other; bigger than the space.

Francis Chouler enters that space as the unnamed narrator and announces what will follow. The unfolding of the story is how, when he was 17, he killed his sister in a car accident in Joliet, Illinois. It is starting the story at the end really, and then sharing the minute details of how the tragedy played itself out right into his adult life until he was 32 – double the age.

This is a text that needs listening to. Every word, every phrase and how it is crafted is deliberate, chosen, constructed. It swerves from cutting imagery to poetic heightened speech, to broken fragment memory, to gentle remembered dialogue. The piano is a character. His mother’s hair an object. The detail of the accident is intense, the heartache sewn into the words.

Francis Chouler in Nocturne. Picture: Sarah Kate Schafer
Francis Chouler in Nocturne. Picture: Sarah Kate Schafer

Francis Chouler is the perfect storyteller

For the most part Francis is the perfect storyteller. He creates a focused intensity that is both unnerving and impossible to break away from. He masters the imagery. He is the picture of restraint, clarity and control as he wrestles with the material that is decidedly unsentimental yet heart breaking. His American accent is confident and smooth, gliding us to the place and time, and setting the scene of Illinois, and then New York with the lonely boy, then man at its centre. This too was the challenge.

There was something, something unnatural, deliberate and formal about the delivery and style that was chosen that gave the phrasing, the rhythm, a monotone and sameness. I felt like this trapped the performer sometimes, vocally and physically – it was a restraint, a created boundary to adhere to, rather than a place to springboard the story, the feeling from. Also, I think that with a bit of relaxing, the humour (there is humour in everything) would be more present, and this would allow the audience to find things funny and hilarious, even in the pain.

I love storytelling monologues. I love how they contain all the drama from a single person perspective. I love how the unexpected detail of that single perspective gives us the clues to the person, the personality of the storyteller. I love how the performer and writer become a single, twisted thing of desire and hurt, and then need to fill the space of expressing that. While I listened to and witnessed Nocturne, I thought of my own work and its neediness, of other work that has that (Jon Keevy’s beautiful Owl came to mind), and how we are all looking for the words, the ways to tell our story.

What: Nocturne review
When: Until 21 September 2019
Where: Alexander Bar & Café, 76 Strand Street, Cape Town
Book Nocturne tickets: alexanderbar.co.za/show/Nocturne, the bar Mon – Sat 5pm to late
Info: 021 300 1652
WS