EVENING STANDARD - September 2000

Paradise lost in Africa

Young Vic Studio
Patrick Marmion

Nineteenth century South African wild child Olive Schreiner renounced religion at the age of eight, went on to become an Olympian sexual enthusiast, always hungered for education and had written the epic novel on which this play is based by the age of 26. However, Astrid Hilne's production of Marion Baraitser's adaptation of the 1883 saga only patchily communicates the author's free spirit and beliefs. Elsewhere its grand narrative sweep lacks a cohesiveand engaging authorial voice

This is particularly true of the first half which assembles a collage of the three principal characters' childhoods: Waldo, a black farm hand; Em, a daughter of Dutch settlers; and Lyndall, (the Schreiner character) who yearns to take on the world. But amid the children's games and speculations on the universe, the first half presents only dislocated epithets and sentiments.

The second half is more promising, as the characters act out their dreams: Waldo takes off to the sea, Em finds a husband and Lyndall goes to Europe to combine liberation and education as a prototype feminist. But in their pursuit ot happiness each also discovers loss, disappointment and betrayal. As a result they seek to retrieve the vanished paradise of their childhood.

To match the play's diversity, Astrid Hilne's workshopped direction favours Brechtian alienation devices, spinning a wheel of fortune between scenes and pinning up titles on telegraph wires. The cast also perform the music and relay voiceovers while mixing physical and naturalistic acting, However, this fragmentary approach scatters a sprawling nar rative that really wants unifying.

Nonetheless, Guy Hoare's lighting is peculiarly melancholic, suffusing the theatre with a soft orange glow. Meanwhile, Jens Cole's spartan design bounds the stage with a luminous white horizon In this simplicity there are also moments of ingenuity, but these prove too isolated to provide a compelling or moving sense of Schreiner's vision


- 2000 Evening Standard

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