THE INCONVENIENCE OF WINGS. Written and directed by Lara Foot. With Jennifer Steyn, Andrew Buckland and Mncedisi Shabangu. The Theatre on the Bay and Baxter Theatre.

KAREN RUTTER reviews

There are plenty of reasons why The Inconvenience of Wings picked up numerous Fleur du Cap awards and reaped high praise at the Edinburgh Assembly Fringe Festival last year. Its sensitive, intelligent narrative, the fluid direction of three of the country’s finest actors, and a superb delivery by the cast all converge into an exquisitely presented success. One can equally understand why a new season of the play – at both the Theatre on the Bay and the Baxter – has been mounted. Many people, myself included, missed out the first time around as the show was speedily sold out. It’s an absolute pleasure to finally get to see this production.

'The Inconvenience of Wings'

Symbolism of angels

Informed by her own experience of dementia in her family, and inspired by Abraham J Twerski’s book Addictive Thinking as well as conversations with psychiatrist Dr Sean Baumann, Foot has created a work about an immensely tricky – yet surprisingly common – subject: bi-polar disorder. More than that, she has managed to weave a number of complementary topics into the central theme – friendship, the effect of mental illness on families, addiction, love and hope. The symbolism of angels – as rescuers, or as flawed saviours – forms a floundering, flapping leitmotif throughout.

Sara (Jennifer Steyn) is a feisty, progressive woman with an adoring husband (Andrew Buckland) and two kids. The tuckshop-and-tupperware brigade is not for her, and she sparks with an infectious, vivacious energy. But as a person with bi-polar disorder, the gap between her highs (manic) and her lows (depression) is pronounced. And confusing. Hilarity turns to hatred, friendship becomes sexualised, body movements morph from flowing to contorted. Sara rages against her condition. But she is also exhausted.

Paul (Andrew Buckland) is Sara’s husband, desperately in love with her and determined to find a cure. Bewildered, stoic, hopeful and finally hopeless, he has his own obsession to deal with – that of being Sara’s enabler, of never wanting to leave her, of loving her at all costs.

Professor James (Mncedisi Shabangu) is both a friend and a medical professional to the couple. An academic psychiatrist, he responds to Paul’s request for help in finding a “cure”, but his real connection to the couple is driven by his own loneliness. He is a loyal confidant – with his own addiction (to alcohol) and his own relationship tangles to deal with.

The play moves anti-chronologically (if that is a word), beginning with an end and ending with a start. We witness the progression (or regression) of Paul and Sara’s relationship from older married couple to star-struck student lovers, and the trials and tribulations they face along the way. And it is on this journey that the most remarkable performances take place.

The Inconvenience of Wings

Powerful performances

Shabangu’s portrait of Professor James is measured and subtle, yet powerful in its understated strength. As an academic foil to James and Sara’s volatile relationship he provides the voice of reason – but as a companion to the couple, his reactions are more emotional. It’s a finely drawn balance that Shabangu turns in.

Buckland brings his vast repertoire of physical and facial expressions to a role that is complex and ridden with conflicting feelings – guilt, relief, shame, pain, loyalty and love. He cuts a heart-breaking figure as a man watching his wife disintegrate before him, unable to stop the process. And eventually being destroyed by it. A masterful rendition, one that is almost too hard to watch.

As is Steyn’s portrayal of Sara. Her mercurial presence on the stage is as vulnerable, as raw, as intimate as it gets. Leaving nothing behind, Steyn’s gut-wrenching habitation of Sara’s mind and body fully captures the volatile essence of bi-polar disorder in all its creativity and chaos. This is hectic stuff, and Steyn takes it on in a display of skill so remarkable it’s chilling. And to do it night after night …

The Inconvenience of Wings is brilliant theatre on all levels. Harrowing, engaging, thought-provoking, heart-rending and tragic, it’s equally hardcore and rewarding. Don’t miss it this time around.

And well done to the Theatre on the Bay for presenting this Baxter production, and for the Baxter for bringing it back.

What: The Inconvenience of Wings

Where and when: Theatre on the Bay from 30 January to 10 February 2018 / Baxter Theatre from 13 February to 3 March

Book: Computicket or 021 438-3301 (Theatre on the Bay) / Webtickets  (Baxter)

WS