There’s tragedy on stage and then there’s tragedy in real life, unfolding on stage. I felt I was experiencing the latter as I watched the masterful Lionel Newton immolated in Paul Slabolepszy’s The Return of Elvis du Pisani.
Late at night beneath a streetlamp opposite the old bioscope in Witbank our suicidal character Eddie tells his tale of loss, some love, and more loss.
Newton is suicidal from the moment he walks on stage in his battered suit, half-finished six-pack in hand, thinning hair slicked back and deathly desperation in his eyes. He comes on full-throttle and doesn’t let up, accelerating viciously into the dark loneliness of his character, acting as if his life depended on it. And Newton can act. There’s no doubt about that. If anyone could save his life through talent, he can. And combined with Slab’s intriguing, perfectly paced story, a suitably bare set complemented by suitably simple lighting, we have a recipe for a great play.
But the direction that would allow it to rise to the occasion is absent, so that Newton breaking his heart in public was like watching a car – not some Chinese cheapie that resembles a boiled sweet on wheels but a gleaming, glistening chromed and finned beauty from the glory days of Detroit – gathering pace on a steep downhill after the driver left the handbrake off.
Directionless, unguided and with nothing to stop him, Newton acts himself into oblivion.
That, is real tragedy, right there.
It was horrifying. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to cry out: “stop, stop. Just stop. Look where you’re going. Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t let someone else do this to you.”
Come back Lionel. Please. Come back.
Programme notes and bookings for The Return of Elvis du Pisanie here.
— Steve Kretzmann