Edinburgh Fringe 2013
One man weaves the mythology of his childhood, conjuring aggrandized images of a shattered youth and a lost future through poetry, movement, mime and stylized language. Starring Wessel Pretorius, this desolate, beautiful solo show will leave you gasping for breath.
The room is quiet. A young man bathes himself in an old fashioned metal basin, taking no notice of the audience filtering in to find seats in the dusky space of Assembly’s Three. Scattered props litter the stage: a gramophone, a battered trunk, a packet of cigarettes. Wessel Pretorius’ form is bent and contorted into a series of jagged lines as he washes himself while we watch. Without warning, he starts speak-singing to himself out loud… And once he starts, he never stops.
The language is stylized, formal – a mix of rhyming couplets and modern speech, shocking couched in this oddly classical context. There is no preamble, no disclaimer. No one tells us to turn off our mobiles or keep our belongings close. Pretorius’ body is as interestingly stiff as his words – he slaps his hand through the air, spraying droplets of atomized water across the stage to hang, a vapour, in the air before evaporating. There is something ephemeral in Undone, something that defies description; a haunting, familiar itch. A personal tragedy for us to scrutinize.
At first, the strangeness of the speech and the rigorous physical exercise is off-putting, distancing. Pretorius weaves the young man’s history, a series of mundane tragedies, into a modern Greek tragedy, mythologizing the trivial and making an everyman of the anonymous figure agonizing before us. And the words fairly fly out of the young man’s mouth, bombarding us; piercing us and paralyzing us. There is an uncomfortable shifting in the seats in the darkness around me. Pretorius blurs gender lines, slipping from mum to dad and back again repeatedly and instantly. His use of mime is exceptional, putting on eye-liner or pulling a pint. Women’s shoes become telephones and bathtubs become baptismal pools.
He is nearly naked, dripping with sweat and after-birth, and perfectly sculpted as he dances, flits, crouches, and inches himself across the stage, slipping back and forth across the pages of his own history over three acts. His physicality is impressive, intimidating, alluring, and off-putting all at once. The use of oblique lighting and well-crafted staging ensures that Pretorius’ form dissolves into a series of stark contours that are as desolate as the world he inhabits. But more unsettling than the impossible extensions and sharp angles of the form onstage is the story the young man tells with them; the way he uses myth and exaggeration to protect himself from the banality of his personal tragedies, no less tragic for their mundanity.
Watching Undone is like seeing the whole sorry litany of your own private tragedies made sacred. Cathartic, uplifting, disturbing, and fascinating, this is a show that transports its audience, gripping them and pulling them along on a journey to the underworld and back. Wessel Pretorius’ performance is immaculate, and the minimal design perfectly counters the expansive, expressive range of physical and vocal communication he offers with non-stop, exhausting persistence throughout the piece.