Reviews I need of a short, sharp touch

I need of a short, sharp touch

Theatre has always struggled with the onstage treatment of sex. Either the act is portrayed as a disastrous comical farce, or a rigid mechanical act that is more suited to robots than humans pursuing a connection. The student production Behind Closed Minds falls victim to the usual traps of a play that deals heavily with sex and sexuality under the tutelage of an inexperienced hand.

Gabriel Miya and Anelisa Bele performing in Behind Closed Minds at the Rehearsal Room in Grahamstown on 8 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Behind Closed Minds is centred around the practice of hypnotherapy. (Photo: CuePix/Hlumela Mkabile)

Gabriel Miya and Anelisa Bele performing in Behind Closed Minds at the Rehearsal Room in Grahamstown on 8 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Behind Closed Minds is centred around the practice of hypnotherapy. (Photo: CuePix/Hlumela Mkabile)

Interestingly, this Durban University of Technology student production is about all white characters, yet the cast is all black. Whether this is a deliberate creative decision or a by-product of casting circumstances, is not really clear.

The play deals with the life of hypnotherapist Victor Duval, played by Gabriel Miya, who uses unauthorised techniques on his patients who are mentally ill or bipolar. He also has, as you’d expect, a sordid past which he is trying to keep a secret from his emotionally dependent third wife, Anita (Nozipho Mbele). The context in which the play is set is interesting, but that’s about as far as the intrigue stretches.

Behind Closed Minds has the advantage of young actors who are willing to go to unfamiliar places and challenge themselves in their portrayal of insanity and relationships. Miya is a born performer. His presence on stage and command of the space is endearing and Anelisa Bele, who plays the unstable patient Samantha, also has a strong grasp of her instrument.

One moment she can be lying flat on the floor limp and the next full-on crazy, but she is at her best when she is playing the role of temptress. She knows when to keep it on the surface and when to tip her hand.

Sadly, this raw acting talent is let down by a script that is overly wordy and lacks tangible emotional moments to really engage with. The production is too aloof for its own good and could benefit from a softer touch. Behind Closed Minds lacks humour and takes itself too seriously. I don’t remember a single moment where I laughed.

The production uses shock and awe tactics to lead us into falsely believing that it is pushing new boundaries. But after the third highly choreographed sex scene, where one couple is having it out on stage with their backs turned to us whilst shadows projected onto a screen also go at it, the whole things becomes a bit tedious. The sex is a distraction, a neat trick the production keeps returning to, in order to make us less aware of the shortfalls in the plot of the show. The twist at the end, as Victor’s secrets are exposed, is a bit too generic. The climactic dramatic showdown feels a little contrived.

The piece is also guilty of being too indulgent. Running for almost 90 minutes, the last half an hour of the show is monotonous and the play should be more refined.

Sihle Mthembu
Cue guest writer

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