The Mechanicals do the Lunatic Fringe
I don’t know about you, but anyone who is prepared to allude to ‘lunatic’ as part and parcel of what they do deserves a closer look in my book. And this troupe of actors in particular.
In a time when South African theatre is feeling the squeeze, quite literally, and the time of repertory theatre (multiple plays rehearsed over several months and then presented night after night) is virtually dead in the country, The Mechanicals are reviving the very art that is lost.
This group of actors, directors, makers and practitioners came together in 2008 and this is their third season. They’re self-funded (as opposed to state-funded) and are managing thus far to pull off repertory season upon repertory season by sheer guts and determination, if their short history is anything to go by.
Their idea is to bring the country brilliant theatre, season by season, using the same troupe of actors for all of the plays. Their repertoire at the moment: Mephisto, Cosi, Highway Crossing and Endgame.
Usually the term lunatic fringe describes particularly eccentric, extreme or fanatical members of a political or social movement, coined to describe anarchists by Theodore Roosevelt when he was president of the US. This season it describes the 4 plays, 3 theatres, 2 months, 1 company season that follows the Mechanicals successful 2009 season entitled The British Lines Tour.
Mephisto by Ariane Mnouchkine and directed by Christopher Weare (who describes himself as the ‘lunatic oldie’ in the equally mad Mechanicals and his work with the troupe as 90% therapy and 10% craft) is based on the 1936 novel by Klaus Mann. It’s a modern classic story about artistic integrity and political commitment against a Nazi background.
The story is about the devil in each of us and is based on the real life character, Gustaf Grundgens. The play explores how easy it is for artists to sell out to the state and how impossible it is to be ‘only an actor’ when society is in political turmoil.
Cosi, by Louis Nowra (award winning Australian playwright) and directed by Scott Sparrow, who only entered the theatre world of Cape Town in 2006 but has since had a couple of Fleur du Cap best actor nominations and has worked in the UK on a number of television series, features a manic depressive, a drug addict, a compulsive liar, a pyromaniac, an obsessive compulsive, a comatose pianist, someone suffering from adjustment disorder and a lost director, all trying to perform Mozarts opera Cosi fan tutte. It is a comedy (obviously) with a warm human story, which brings home a number of truths, echoed in the opera.
Highway Crossing or Tale of a Golden Fish is by Jaan Tatte and directed by Guy De Lancey, who thinks that working with the Mechanicals, for free, is better than a stab in the eye with a blunt baguette. The play is intimate theatre about the possibility of love. It is a dark comedy about human nature and the choices we make. An apparently simple script and storyline deceives, however. Actually there are multi-level verbal misunderstandings and ‘mental air pockets’ that enveigle one into a net of deception.
Endgame, by Samuel Beckett, is directed by Luke Ellenbogen (who has no resumé on the troupe’s website) and follows Beckett’s use of non-standard, minimalist stagiing and experimental language and character development. The idea with Beckett’s plays, and this is no exception, is that by removing the physical aspects of the experience (the setting) one can far better illustrate the inner turmoil of humanity.
His influence is still felt in theatre today. Endgame focuses on two men, who appear to have survived some sort of holocaust. The two, who now have nothing, try to validate their lives using memories to justify their existence. Chess, the game, serves as a major metaphor in the play.
When The Mechanicals troupe of actors are not on stage, they are helping out with backstage, front of house and production management.
Support this group of actors, support local talent, go and watch exciting theatre!
Tickets range between R60 – R100
Address: UCT Hiddingh campus, 37 Orange Street, Gardens.