When a grand mother fails to welcome her grand daughter – no matter how unexpected the visit – and goes so far as to be hostile and suspicious, there is an immediate sense that the natural order of things has been twisted.
This is the case in Wynne Bredenkamp’s At the Edge of Light, as the distraught ‘girl’, played by Sarah Potter, drops in on ‘gran’, a character Margot Wood fills with a range of anxiety, paranoia, imperiousness, nostalgia, and reluctant hospitality.
Her lack of welcome is an affront to expectations and the want of an embrace, an invitation to sit down or offer of a cup of tea keeps us hanging. We remain hopeful of a return to normality despite being warned by the prior entrance of the bedraggled creeping creature that is Emma Kotze whose distorting limbs slithering across the stage in the half-light conjure an imaginary trail of slime, like a bipedal sea snail.
The sense of being underwater created by the seaweed-like trailing of the Creature’s dress, the beach sand covering the table at which the gran slumbers, the dim light, is enhanced by the sounds of a downpour and Sarah’s drenched clothes.
Similarly, the dialogue is a riptide washing us out of our depth. All we can do is float on its current and see where it takes us, try figure out what rocks we’ll be dashed against as we realise this sea sighs against no sibilant shores.
The ol’ lady is crazy, but retains her wits, which indicates the terror that plagues her, that accounts for her hostility toward her drenched and distressed grand daughter, is rooted in an external cause rather than a dementia. Her fear is, however, transferred to mythical beings who wander outside her seashore house. For this, Wynne weaves a fantastic fairytale of the drowned people who never made it to the Ark, doomed to roam beneath the waves. Like Sarah, who we see convincingly attempting a nonchalance to cover her own fear, we dismiss this myth as tall tales for small children. Except there’s the very present phenomena of the Creature prowling about. The answer, of course, is in the metaphor; that which lies beneath consciousness is no less real for not being recognised. In fact, the very act of suppressing seeing, makes what we fail to see all the more present, which is the prescient vision of Wynne’s text.
Suspense is the very essence of drama, but horror is difficult to stage, and here Wynne succeeds despite the odds of the cramped Alexander Theatre stage. Having said that, the direction in this space is not quite as accomplished as the text. There are a few questionable choices, one of them being the creation of two ‘outsides’. There is a natural ‘outside’ from which the characters enter, but there is also an interior ‘outside’ which necessitates a very clumsy miming from actors who have no facility for it and even if they did, it would probably still seem out of place. It is a problem which could possibly be solved by a good scenographer*. However, the strength of the acting – which includes Andrew Laubscher toward the end – and text allows us to recover from the slight stumble of our suspension of disbelief.
There is also a layer of choreography which maintains the flow and offers wonderful tableaux. I’m tempted to describe them but that would tell too much. This is an inverted world you should go see for yourself in order to rediscover just why it is so important for our worlds to contain the normalcy of love.
At the Edge of Light plays at the Alexander Theatre from 1 – 3 November. More info and bookings here.
Writer and director: Wynne Bredenkamp
Cast: Margot Wood, Emma Kotze, Sarah Potter, Andrew Laubscher
*Declaration: my partner is a scenographer.