Sonder Jou: Without Direction

Abi & Cobus Wiese in Sonder Jou.
Abi & Cobus Wiese in Sonder Jou.

Clearly all heart and soul was poured into this production; it oozes from the performers’ faces as they give everything they’ve got to the audience. Sonder Jou is presented by husband and wife team, Cobus and Abi Wiese. The production is part of Abi’s research – she is completing her Drama Masters at UCT – and this is their first time bringing a show to the festival.

There were a number of good moments; sadly too few and far between. Abi has a strong singing voice – her rendition of “Blackbird” was great. And I would be remiss to omit that Cobus is a wonderful mover with excellent technique, and the opening scene of his gentle dancing in silhouette creates a beautiful image.

But after that, the production deteriorates, bordering on am-dram at times. I simply couldn’t ignore the overwrought performances and lack of cohesion, to seek beyond for any redeeming qualities.

It’s a major challenge to direct and perform in a show, and with Sonder Jou, it hasn’t worked out well. The show needs an outside director’s eye. Someone to plough through the sentimental gooeyness of sending a message about love and peace and understanding, and cut to the grit of why those things are important in the first place. They’re in there – in the stories of the little farm boy who wants to be a dancer; in the lonely odd girl rejected at school. Trust that the audience can figure it out without the explicitly explained ‘message’ in the end.

The explanation might not be necessary if the characters are more developed. It’s not enough that the kids are bullied at school, or that the bird woman had her child taken away, or that the man is driven to suicide. These are their stories but not who they are. So it’s not enough that we pity their being in pain. Where are their character flaws that make them dramatically interesting enough to care about? For us to identify with them.

Theatrically, it’s all a bit easy. Everything on stage must have more of a purpose than simply being a clue for the audience. It shouldn’t be necessary to have old brown suitcases to signify school children; that’s an easy way around embodying evocative physicality to characterise a young child. The bundled jacket for the baby, the whimsical umbrellas – these are add-ons and don’t carry any significant meaning into the themes of the work.

A director will work with phrasing and rhythm and editing unnecessary text down to the bare minimum. Too many ‘scenes’ felt to be filler – the explanations of how each bird was injured, the hot air balloon, and the over-extended telling of the well-known trope of the boy who rejects masculine activities but is scared to be thought of as ‘soft’. Much of the storytelling throughout, becomes just that, telling the audience the story rather than showing it to us in creative ways – so that we might feel the message rather than hear it.

Sonder Jou is disjointed and one-dimensional, and lacks atmospheric quality. Perhaps with a director and some unflinching editing, and more rigorous risk-taking, it might have the potential to develop.

– Sarah Roberson

Sonder Jou is on today 01 July at 16.00 at Glennie Hall. For bookings & more info click here.

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