28 May 2012

South Africa: The Space Between Truth and Deceit - Enter Hamlet

Photo: Cue
Stare if you dare


ONE might think an SS officer charged with interrogating a young woman about her father's defection behind American lines during the last days of WWII would simply throttle information out of her rather than trip around double entendre.

Even if she is a former lover and he is little more than a glorified pen pusher, he has surely been brutalised by five horrific years of war?

And she, would she not break down in distress, use all means at her disposal, to attempt a chance at escape rather than spinning a web for him to unravel?

Yet the truth that could possibly save them both does not emerge through torturous interrogation.

It emerges as if drawn from a domestic couple grown apart and now forced by crisis to grapple with long held secrets.

Anger spills drops of truth from the tongue, only to be swallowed and later revealed during the intimacy of defeated reconciliation.

There's a nagging sense that there is not enough menace in the relationship between James Cairns's SS Captain Gerhart Busse and Taryn Bennett's Anna Klingsmann. She doesn't seem as afraid as the situation would demand even though her flippancy is well portrayed as a thin veneer which may give way to panic if pushed too hard.

However, it is a mark of the play's excellence that what goes on in the room Cairns creates wanders around the imagination so long after viewing. A lesser work would not reward such levels of engagement.

For although one never really believes that Busse is capable of wreaking violence on Klingsmann, watching them tiptoe a tightrope between trust and mistrust is an absorbing spectacle.

Cairn's growing sense that she is hiding something and his inability to prise it from her, juxtaposed with Bennett's uncertainty over whether she should reveal all or nothing, whether she reveals too much, and the wiles she employs to cover her insecurity, are acted with rare nuance. Cairns and Bennett manage a perfect interplay of emotions between these two characters thrown inadvertently together as the Russians close in on doomed Berlin.

There is also an answer available to quell the aforementioned criticism: the Russians are coming. Death is imminent. What would be the point of these two people playing by the rules of power and fear?

Better, surely, to use this last chance meeting to rekindle their humanity.

Director Tamara Guhrs deserves credit for crafting this space in which Cairns, who is a superb actor, delivers a superb performance.

Standing up to him in a two-hander is a task Bennett, whose character gathers momentum as the plot develops, proves herself quite equal to.

Their talent is matched by the extraordinary depth of Cairns's script, in which the 'Get thee to a nunnery' scene in Shakespeare's Hamlet acts as metaphor for their own uncertain situation and skilfully provides opportunity for intelligent humour and double entendre to leaven a grim scenario.

Like conversation with a person whose mind holds intriguing ideas and opens windows to worlds of knowledge - but does not take them self too seriously - watching Sie Weiss Alles is a pleasure that is well worth repeating, even for critics finding themselves likened to Nazis.

Bookings for the Sie Weiss Alles run at the Kalk Bay Theatre until June 2 can be made through www.kbt.co.za. The play is also on stage at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown from 28 June to 8 July.

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