Vaults, London – until 19 February 2017
Guest reviewer: Terry Eastham
In most patriarchal societies, it is taken as fact that the men rule the proverbial roost. Of course, the truth is totally different. The reality is that in most heterosexual couples, whilst the man believes he holds the power, the woman knows that she does. For example, when a chap retires, he may think he is going to potter about, a bit of gardening, some golf, a few jars with his mates. But many a wife will have made plans for his retirement well in advance of the day it actually happens. If you don’t believe me, then go check out Robyn Paterson’s one woman show The South Afreakins at the Vault Festival.
Gordon and Helene are having a problem. All the lights in their house seem to have gone off at once. Helene is agitated whilst Gordon seems quite calm and in control. Eventually, they manage to get some illumination working and the two of them settle down. Gordon to read his paper and enjoy his first day of retirement and Helene to have a chat with him about her plans for their future. Helene is actually happy with their life in South Africa.
There are problems with the maid and concerns that the multiple layers of security on their house may not be enough to protect her and the family home. The family has also been personally affected by lawlessness and Helene feels that, now Gordon has retired, it is time for them to up-sticks and move to a new country. Although normally quite reticent on things, Gordon puts his foot down and informs Helene that they will not be moving to New Zealand and that is an end to the subject. When they finally arrive in New Zealand, Helene and Gordon find their lives changing in unexpected ways as they get used to a new way of living. The problem is now, where do the two of them call home?
Robyn Paterson wrote, directs and stars in The South Afreakins playing both Helene and Gordon, and using voice and posture she makes the husband and wife team come alive as easily identifiable individuals. No mucking around with hats, coats or other props is needed. Just a look and a change in voice and the audience knows immediately who is speaking. This is one person acting at its best. Robyn manages to create two people in Gordon and Helene who are instantly familiar and, on the whole, extremely likeable.
Though I have to say that I would have had trouble living with Helene and would probably given in to her ‘requests’ a lot quicker than Gordon does. Robyn also creates some really funny little scenarios – such as the trip to the aquarobics – which combine a gentle humour with a lovely story-telling style painting a picture that was so easy to visualise in my mind’s eye. I have to be honest and say that it took me a few minutes to fully understand both Helene and Gordon’s accents but once I did I was with them for the whole of the around an hour running time.
The story itself is interesting in addressing identity and more importantly what love means in a relationship. Would I be able to give up my safe and stable life here in the UK and move thousands of miles away to start another life? Quite honestly, I have no idea but, thanks to Robyn, I have started thinking about it. I think, for me, the one element of the story that was slightly confusing concerned a person who was no longer there and without giving anything away, I would have liked a bit more of a back story on him and the effect that his going had.
Summing up then The South Afreakins is a nicely written story that covers a surprisingly large number of topics over a short period of time and does so with style and grace. Robyn tells the story beautifully and really brings her characters to life. No, I wouldn’t like to live with Gordon and Helene, but I could see myself having a drink with them on the veranda of the 19th hole as the sun sets over our ‘gated development’.