Con­ver­sa­tions with Aunty

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODTHEATRE - ROBYN CO­HEN

DON’T fret if you didn’t make it to Gra­ham­stown for the National Arts Fes­ti­val as many of the pro­duc­tions head for Cape Town. Vigil, by Cana­dian play­wright Mor­ris Panych, which is on the main pro­gramme at the fes­ti­val, will be at the Fu­gard Stu­dio from July 13 to Au­gust 3. Catch it to­day at the fes­ti­val, in the Vic­to­ria Theatre, at 4pm and 8pm and to­mor­row at noon. The two-han­der stars Gra­ham Hop­kins and Vanessa Cooke with di­rec­tion by Christopher Weare.

In Vigil, a man (Hop­kins) is sum­moned to the bed­side of his dy­ing aunt (Cooke). Kemp is a neu­rotic loner who chucks in his job as a bank clerk to be at her bed­side. They haven’t seen each other for 30 years. What he ex­pects doesn’t hap­pen and it all es­ca­lates into a tragi­com­edy. The end doesn’t come quickly for his aunt and we watch their in­ter­ac­tion over 18 months.

The play was first staged in 1995 and it con­tin­ues to be widely per­formed around the world. As far can be as­cer­tained it is the first time that it has been staged pro­fes­sion­ally in this coun­try. Crit­ics have pointed out that Vigil re­mains rel­e­vant and hugely pop­u­lar be­cause it is so univer­sal.

“It raises so many ques­tions that touch your con­scious­ness – par­tic­u­larly if you have ag­ing par­ents,” re­flects Weare. It touches on how peo­ple be­come dis­con­nected from each other – through dis­tance or cir­cum­stance. “I didn’t know that you were still alive,” says Kemp in Vigil. Sadly, that hap­pens a lot. Peo­ple for­get each other.

There are mo­ments which are hys­ter­i­cally funny, says Hop­kins: “It al­lows one to laugh about things which you would take very se­ri­ously. It’s the funny side of a se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion. It’s funny, whacky and ab­surd.”

For in­stance, Kemp asks his aunt what he should do with her den­tures when she is gone. He tends to talk with­out cen­sor­ing his thoughts but at the same time he says things which need to be said.

Weare adds: “Life is full of in­con­gruities that make it very funny. Panych has taken a tragic sit­u­a­tion and taken a comic lens to look at it.” The set de­sign by Ju­lia Anas­ta­sopolous am­pli­fies the fact that things are off kil­ter.

Vigil is a dif­fi­cult play to write about as there are de­li­cious twists which I can­not re­veal. Grace – the aunt – doesn’t have much dia­logue but she con­veys a world through ges­tures and non-ver­bal re­sponses. We haven’t seen Cooke since the

Vigil. early 90s and it will great to see this vet­eran ac­tress again.

Born in Hill­brow, Joburg, her fa­ther Roy Cooke was a set de­signer, who also man­aged the Alexan­der Theatre for years and she just about cut her teeth on stage. Her first gig was at age four in Madame But­ter­fly when she was four years old. She worked ex­ten­sively with Bar­ney Si­mon and Man­nie Manim and with other ac­tors formed the Com­pany which sub­se­quently found a home at The Mar­ket Theatre – which was co-founded by Si­mon and Manim.

It is also won­der­ful that we are get­ting the op­por­tu­nity to see in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed plays like Vigil in Cape Town. Hop­kins is pro­duc­ing the play, along with ac­tors Su­san Dan­ford and Stephen Jen­nings and that is tes­ta­ment to his be­lief in the ex­cel­lence of this play.

● Book­ings for the National Arts Fes­ti­val and for the Fu­gard, from Com­puticket on 0861 915 800 and for the Fu­gard run, also on 021 461 4554.

co­henry@ne­tac­tive.co.za Twit­ter: @TheCapeRobyn

PIC­TURE: JESSE KRAMER

IN­TER­GEN­ER­A­TIONAL TRAGI­COM­EDY: Gra­ham Hop­kins as Kemp and Vanessa Cooke as Grace in

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