By Athol Fugard
Directed by Douglas Hodge
Venue: Donmar Warehouse
Date: Thursday 16th April 2009
This was disappointing. The performances were fine, but neither Steve nor I could find much of interest in the play itself. I dozed a bit in the first half, it was so soporific, but Steve confirmed that I hadn’t missed much. Even though we were well round the side, we don’t think that affected our enjoyment that much, although we would prefer to be more central in future.
The story is absurdly simple. Dimetos is an older man, an engineer, who has left “the city” to live in a remote village. He does very little these days, although the opening of the play is a scene which shows him, with the help of his niece, rescuing a horse which fell into a well. Dimetos’ knowledge of pulleys and the like allows him to construct the necessary equipment to winch the horse out, while his niece Lydia, stripped to her skimpies, is lowered down to put the ropes round the horse, played by Alex Lanipekun. It’s an effective scene, though too long, and after that it’s all downhill.
Dimetos has a housekeeper, Sophia, and the quartet of characters is completed by Danilo, a visitor from the city, who tries to persuade Dimetos to return to help out with all the engineering challenges the city dwellers are facing with an ever-growing population. Dimetos gets him to stay by agreeing to consider his proposal, but then arranges for him to be alone with Lydia a lot, and the inevitable happens. He falls for her (she’s an attractive young lady), and that leads to a clumsy attempt to have sex which she repulses. After Sophia has been unsympathetic, and Dimetos reveals his own passionate feelings towards her, Lydia chooses to hang herself rather than go on living.
Finally Dimetos is tracked down to his even remoter hideaway by Danilo, and after their confrontation, Dimetos suffers a mental breakdown, which resolves itself into a story about a man dreaming he’s a horse who gets trapped down a hole, etc. In the process the few props get thrown around the set, leaving quite a mess for the stage crew to clean up, but without actually creating anything interesting to watch. The final image is of Dimetos holding out his hands, waiting to receive whatever the universe, or the gods, give him.
This is an attempt to do an updated Greek tragedy, but it doesn’t work on so many levels. The language was uninspiring (soporific, as I mentioned earlier), the characters didn’t involve me at all, there were no interesting discussions of any of the issues raised in the play – incestuous feelings, the overcrowding and excessive use of resources in modern societies, etc – the plot was predictable and dull, and only the performances made it remotely watchable. The relationships between the characters came across clearly, and I got the impression that the actors knew what the piece was about, but sadly the production didn’t include us in that awareness. Not one I’d rush to see again, although I wouldn’t completely rule out another viewing of a different production.
© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me