SELWYN AND GABRIEL. Written by Richard Kaplan. Directed by Tara Notcutt with Mbulelo Grootboom and Kai Luke Brummer. Alexander Bar/Theatre.
MEGAN FURNISS reviews
I didn’t get to see the first incarnation of Selwyn and Gabriel when it premiered at the Alexander Bar last year, so I was happy to get a chance now, for its second run. Disclosure: I have a special relationship with Richard Kaplan, the playwright, because I played in his first play The Finkelsteins are Coming to Dinner, which I loved.
Selwyn and Gabriel is a delicious hour spent at the theatre, and if I didn’t have to think about it, I would have walked away smiling and warm. It is the story of a young man who is visited by a stranger one night, and because of spoilers I can’t really say more, other than it is a pretty final kind of surprise.
I loved the set and lighting, which were completely suited to the intimate venue, and I thought that the performances were good and solid. Kai and Mbulelo are gorgeous and charming, and funny. There is fabulous repartee, and Richard has a special gift for dialogue that is real, hilarious, fresh and flowing. Richard’s sense of the poetic in the banal, and the banal in the poetic makes for really interesting opportunities on stage.
I loved the construct, and the concept of this piece; the meeting of two complete strangers in unusual circumstances, and the discovery of what it was that brought them there.
But I wanted more.
We find out a little about Selwyn as the play unfolds, and there are clever devices for the exposition of information, but we don’t find out why that information is so important. Which is okay; Selwyn is an ordinary bloke, with ordinary stuff going on in his life, in the main. But, we find out virtually nothing about Gabriel, who ends up being a foil for Selwyn. I was deeply curious about him, and who he really was, and what his back story could be. So, I was left with so many questions here.
I kept on wondering what the stakes were. Why did this man come into this guy’s house? Was it just routine? Was he armed with foreknowledge and did he have to wait for the moment of enlightenment? Did he hold the power, or was he also investigating what was happening? Was there really a race thing happening, or was it banter? These ideas all had threads of possibility that were never pulled through or explored, so it felt like the stakes kept getting lower instead of higher.
And then there was the kiss. The kiss that changed everything also filled me with questions. Why wasn’t it the biggest, most special kiss in the world? So big and powerful it could do the magic? There are hints at the possibility of maybe physicality between Selwyn and Gabriel, but they don’t manifest, or aren’t in any way charged. So, the kiss. Is it a favour? Could Selwyn’s argument for the magic the kiss brings be stronger? Why was Gabriel prepared to give Selwyn the kiss at all? Was he breaking a rule? Would he be punished? Was that ultimately the work he was sent to do?
So many questions.
I had more questions about style too. Right at the beginning there was a hint of a move towards a slightly heightened style, a poetry of movement, but the rest of the piece was deeply rooted in the realistic, with attention to detail, and accurate props, and those heightened moments didn’t reappear. Why? I loved them, and they were so interesting.
This feels like the beginning of something great and special. It feels like another few weeks of rehearsal, and writing, and discussion, and interrogation and exploration could turn this delightful little play into a really powerful, meaningful and shattering piece about life, the universe and all who play in it.
What: Selwyn and Gabriel
Where and when: Alexander Bar/Theatre until 7 April 2017