THE WIDOW. Directed by Siphokazi Jonas at Artscape’s Arena as part of their celebration of Women’s month. With Perpetual Gumbo, Faith Kinniar, Jess Stanley and Candice Burgess.
MEGAN FURNISS reviews
The blurb explains The Widow as an adaptation of a Dr. Nomfundo Mali’s support group reports, directed by Siphokazi Jonas. The Widow is a series of monologues representing a platform to investigate how widows cope after the loss of their husbands and loved ones.
I believe that The Widow was first staged as part of Artscape’s New Voices programme last year. I think that that would have been a good place for it to have been interrogated, deconstructed, restructured and reinvented. Unfortunately, I can only assume that what it was then is what it is now and what is presented on stage now is a first draft, an expression of intention, an idea that could become something, but it is not ready for an audience.
Voice-overs and style elements like the pretty coloured cloths that cover mirrors, that when exposed made me stare at my own face for the duration of the play, are nothing more than pretty band aids pulled tightly over massive theatrical holes that reveal a lack of experience, a lack of mentorship and a complete lack of technique by the performers. This makes for an hour of agonising live theatre that could have been improved if anyone had been on hand to help this team.
The central idea is a strong one
The Widow’s central idea; what it is like to be widowed, and how women experience the loss, alienation, anger and grief of their new, enforced identity, is a strong one. Unfortunately only one of the widows represented here is a strong enough character and personality to justify any investment, and that is Tawanda, the university security guard. Elizabeth, a middle aged, white, middle class mother is so shallowly drawn she is a stereotype of a stereotype, and Amy her daughter is an altogether unnecessary voice – not widow, but grown child who has lost her father. Winnifred, the vague and incoherent university lecturer is impossible to pin down, and other than being a mechanism to introduce the notion of betrayal – she discovers that her late husband was the father of a young child – she articulates absolutely nothing new in the arena of grief, identity, loss and anger.
Here’s the thing about creating theatre around and based on interviews and testimonials. One must choose stories, characters and situations that can offer something theatrical – something interesting, shocking, moving. Something that moves and changes an audience. It isn’t enough to watch other (boring) people’s pain.
Struggled in the space
Then there is the staging. The Arena has its own challenges, being a high ceilinged, sharply raked space. Having the stage literally cut in half by a semi-circle of coffin-like mirrors made the performance space shallow and flat. So, while there were some good ideas and style elements (the words and dates written in chalk on walls on floors) the piece struggled in the space and the performances didn’t read past the front row. I was sitting in the middle and struggled to hear everyone at times.
And finally there is Artscape. I am not sure what the “deal” was, but the thirty (at most) of us that huddled in the silent Arena theatre bar and then made our way up to the theatre, were a sad and miserable lot for an “opening” night. It was so bad that when we came downstairs and were asked to stay and have a glass of wine it was too depressing to do.
What: The Widow
Where and when: Artscape until 10 August 2019