Jungfrau: A glittering bait ball

Ameera Patel is in my face, getting undressed. She is utterly mesmerising. This is our introduction to Jessica, Jess, and as per the play note, “Jez”.

And what a Jezebel she is! Morphing from the virgin into the whore repeatedly, and imbuing Jungfrau with its discourse on coloured identity with her own skin. It is olive-brown and shiny and there is the most transfixing hint of what lies below when her left breast starts appearing from under her woollen bikini underwear.

In the background, Jaques de Silva as Stephen is flickering ominously between the benevolent woollen-clad patriarch, offering tea in a parody of colonial civility, an inherited, internalised politeness, and licking his mustachioed wolf lips. His costume, colourful crotchet, clings to his sculpted, powerful, backside as he prowls the set like it is his emotional den, to rule and plunder with a cold, ravenous eye.

Carla Claasen, is porcelain doll with an electric-shock of crazy hair. She is an extraordinarily beautiful “child”. You may look, but do not touch.

Tracey-Lee Oliver, as Annette, is the singer, the liquid lament, the seemingly strong mother figure grasping for normality and humanity, in this cage of hungry knitted lions.

It all starts with tings and tines, spoons being tapped out on cups and pots by composer-musician Yogin Sullaphen, who then loops it right there and starts to build a soundscape for this urgent, building, knotted and gnarled, elastic, stretched-out, kitchen. It is amazing and totally plucked.

So yar, those of you who studied psychology, there might be the reference to Jung in Jungfrau, but for the rest of us, we are left to understand that this is about the emotional guts of us, as we are, lashed and beaten into eternal damnation by the Devil’s own whip, sex.

For sex is the subterranean piston which clanks and moans like a Climax windpomp in this fraught woollen-wasteland.

There is a moment in Jungfrau which turns your head into a warped sword-in-the-wind wintry coppice. It is when Stephan, the wolf lunges forward on all fours, his powerful shoulders and haunches dig into the soft, interstitched (did I say woolly?) blanketed floor. Like a Coriolus force, this entire set so cleverly woven by designer-director-producer Jade Bowers, is sucked almost from from the enormously draped walls, over the raised box, threatening to drag, us, cups and chops chattering, all the way down the drain with him.

This is not easy theatre, and audiences are unlikely to understand what is going on if they have not read Capetonian writer Mary Watson’s award-winning short story before going in. It’s 11 pages and easy to find on Google.

Guilt, probably Roman Catholic, and a very, very clever child are the central themes in the story, along with father and mother  issues. It was read to me by the fireside at midnight, and it eased my frantic distress over not “getting the story line”. This has all settled in the frigid light of a blustery Grahamstown dawn. But, damn, if only I’d read it earlier.

After the show I asked a seasoned festival administrator and her friend if they had “got it” and the answer was: “No. But someone really did a lot of knitting…”

So what. This has always been an arts festival where audiences have been asked to work harder, to delve in.

It is all there in a bait ball of silvery, glittering splendour.

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