Prague Fringe 2016
The South African Matchbox Theatre Collective puts on a deeply felt, intimately staged physical theatre performance. Built around the hurt that a brother and sister experience because of their parents’ lack of affection, the story’s pain is compounded by the frustration of waiting for love.
This physical theatre piece about love, loss and expectations unmet is compact but intense. Just half an hour in length, the play shifts gears, timelines and even realities very quickly, but the players’ performances keep up thoroughly engaged in their search for meaning as their characters cling steadfastly to dreams of intimacy.
The two actors (Bailey Snyman and Micia de Wet) starring as a brother and sister but also – in some comical gender reversal – as their unloving parents, among others, dig deep into the frustration of waiting for someone, or for something, that in all likelihood will never come. And yet, while the feeling one gets watching the performance is mostly of melancholy, the play’s final moments provide a deeply satisfying catharsis.
Before we see anything onstage, we hear waves breaking on the shore. This symbol of the passage of time, which also finds visual expression in the players’ blue clothing, is beautifully chosen and tells us a great deal about the characters’ emotional landscape. The blond-haired De Wet wears a smile on her face that obviously hides a great deal of pain, while Snyman’s nervous fidgeting as he anxiously walks back and forth in front of the audience, looking us squarely in the eye, clearly conveys his character’s jumpy state of mind.
One scene in particular is masterfully conceived: a flashback to the parents’ interaction around the dinner table, which manages to be both visually hilarious and emotionally devastating.
But while the scenes or episodes themselves are compelling, it is not always clear how they all fit together, and often we only get hints about the reasons for the hurt and are left wanting more. Onstage, De Wet ties wooden poles, arranged in a square, together with a piece of rope, but unfortunately the final product has as little a recognisable pattern as the play itself, save for them both being visibly complex and constricting.
The title is never explained, but given this is a South African troupe, one might logically assume it refers to the Afrikaans word for “poisonous”. The most likely explanation lies in how applicable the word is to the parents’ interaction around the dinner table, but generally speaking the connection to the material is not at all clear.
Tender, awkward and ultimately heart-breaking, this show will creep into your heart and stay there for a long time. Deftly balancing comedy and elegance around a harrowing core, all leading to a gripping climax, “Giftig” is thoroughly recommended to anyone with a heart.