THEATRE: Madness and its effect on saviours
Lara Foot has an interesting way of engaging audiences when her subject matter is painful, writes Edward Tsumele
Even the most battle-hardened theatre patrons will be rattled by award-winning writer and director Lara Foot’s latest production.
The Inconvenience of Wings, currently at the Market Theatre, cuts to the bone when dissecting a difficult condition in human existence – mental illness.
It challenges the conscience, and yet engages the mind in a way that makes you want to sit throughout the one-and-half-hour run, even though the subject is painful.
Curiosity and eagerness to understand the depth of depression of those who have relatives suffering from bipolar disorder will carry you through the production with eyes glued to the stage, absorbing every action, every word and the literal madness displayed on stage.
It has been written and directed by Foot, of Tshepang fame — a production that distinguished her as a playwright with a penchant for picking on stories that prickle the nation’s conscience. Tshepang highlighted the problem of child abuse and left audiences traumatised.
Foot has outdone herself in penning and directing another theatrical piece that is intellectually engaging, but is sometimes hard to watch because of the sensitive nature of the subject matter. However, she has always treated hard subjects with extra sensitivity, but never fails to send audiences home with a message.
She is doing the same with The Inconvenience of Wings as it looks closely at a sensitive matter few want to speak about.
The production premiered at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 2016 to sold-out houses, and achieved the same at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre where Foot is CEO and artistic director. The carefully selected cast comprises Mncedisi Shabangu (it is hard to imagine Foot’s plays without Shabangu); Andrew Buckland, respected for his energetic, iconic physical theatre style; and Jennifer Steyn (her debut with Foot).
The tragic deaths of health patients in Gauteng after their removal from the Life Esidimeni hospital into the care of unprepared NGOs makes The Inconvenience of Wings even more relevant and necessary.
The play brings bipolar disorder out of the dark, and tackles the issues of friendship, dysfunction, addiction and the interesting role of angels in people who are spiritually grounded.
The depiction of the pain and frustration that are often suffered in silence by families affected of those exhibiting bipolar disorder is beautifully displayed by the believable cast.
The acting and directing is so good it applies doses of relaxing humour at exactly the right times. The nudity that is part and parcel of the play is so neatly woven into the story that it becomes a necessary part of it.
Foot’s passion for creating fascinating works that challenge societal norms has become her artistic signature.
She has given the theatrical world a succession of great productions that have become classics, including Karoo Moose, Fishers of Hope, Hear and Now and, of course, Tshepang.
The Inconvenience of Wings is set in a landscape of memory and dreams, where Sara (Steyn) has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She is compulsive, animated and hates women who know how to make cupcakes.
Her husband Paul (Buckland) is determined to find a cure for her afflictions, while Professor James (Shabangu) quietly tries to save Paul from the inconvenience of his wings.
According to Foot, the dynamic drama was inspired by Abraham Twerski’s book Addictive Thinking, which examines compulsion, addiction, denial and abuse of self.
It was also developed through conversations about bipolar disorder that Foot had with celebrated psychiatrist Sean Baumann and inspired by a family member who has suffered from dementia.
Through this beautifully executed production, it becomes evident that mood disorders affect not only the lives of the victims, but also their world; marriages, relatives, friends, jobs and society.
The root cause is the victims’ reduced ability to "perform" in these areas of their lives. A seriously depressed person will become morose, incommunicative, withdrawn and unable to participate actively in events.
That places a heavy burden on family and friends to compensate for the loss of that "social" contribution, and to give them extra care, encouragement and supervision. All these complications are well captured by the exceptional acting abilities of the three cast members.
Steyn brings to life the bipolar-afflicted Sara and the burden she places on the shoulders of her family, especially her husband and two children.
When she is hyper, she talks openly and loudly about bedroom antics in front of her children, to the frustration of her husband, and the humiliation of her kids.
Buckland convinces as a man struggling to hold the centre of his family together.
• The Inconvenience of Wings runs at the Market Theatre until July 15.