Theatre A curious quintet

A curious quintet

Productions like Jaco Bouwer’s Waansin are difficult to review because of their refusal to conform to the conventions of a single genre. The show, which is billed as part of this year’s Main theatre programme, is a medium-bending mix of opera, dance and dramedy that will linger in your mind long after you’ve left your seat. Poised is the perfect adjective for how the whole thing unfolds.

Henk Opperman and Magdalene Minnaar perform in Waansin at the Transnet Great Hall. Photo: CuePix/Kate Janse van Rensburg

Henk Opperman and Magdalene Minnaar perform in Waansin at the Transnet Great Hall.
Photo: CuePix/Kate Janse van Rensburg

There is no narrative thread in the work, except that it is a piecing together of five opera numbers. The only connection between them is that they are about a character who, owing to their circumstances, goes mad. The stage design – which consists of a collection of busts in varying stages of drowning – is haunting but not distracting. Each one of the heads is expertly placed to play its own part as a prop or a stage marker in each of the five sequences.

Soprano Magdalene Minnaar’s concentration and voice management in the production is breath-taking. She does not miss a cue or falter a note, which is quite the feat, considering that sometimes she has to do so in mid-flight or while she is giving sexual favours to a character dressed like Mickey Mouse. (Yes, there is some debauchery here, too.)

Minnaar is at her most buoyant when she must cut though the high notes in the songs. She strikes each one with a kind of precision that leaves you

questioning how such a powerful voice with so much range can come from such a petite body. There is a beautiful sequence where Minnaar and flutist Louisa Theart play a game of one-upmanship: each time Theart adds more riffs and passages, Minaar is able to follow perfectly.

Minaar’s male counterpart, who remains masked for the entirety of the show, is the perfect foil to her fragile lucid self. Masculine and moving with a deliberate clumsiness, his presence gives the show an unexpected edge. You are always waiting for him to fall or drop her but it never happens. The excitement is only in the waiting.

The final number in the show, Bernstein’s Glitter and Be Gay from Candide, is the ultimate kicker. If the first 50 minutes had been a tug of war between light and dark, here the dark side wins and it’s a beautiful mess. Minnaar throws the kitchen sink at this number and her delivery is operatic with cabaret sprinkles, oozing sexuality. An appropriate full stop to a wonderfully controlled performance.

Sihle Mthembu
Guest writer

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