Blythe Stuart Linger and Kathleen Stephens’ adaptation of Athol Fugard’s People Are Living There showcases the slow unravelling of a mind. The play is filled with beautiful monologues and dialogue, but its circular structure revolves around an axis of mundanity as a means of exposing that tedium.
Milly, a slovenly landlady, is authentically portrayed by Imke du Toit, and though her accent tends to falter, her facial contortions and general demeanour make her a convincingly bitter 50-year-old woman. Du Toit expresses her character’s struggles through her idiosyncrasies, and her pained expressions are evidence of the difficulty of holding together a mind as fragmented as the derelict boarding house she tries to create and sustain for residents Don and Shorty.
The set is simple, comprising only loose, whitewashed floorboards that echo the run-down home, the colourless existence of the characters, and the fragmented relationships that are exposed throughout the play.
Don (Kiroshan Naidoo) struggles to create a sense of self. He appears to be an intelligent man yet clings to the ideas of others, relying heavily on quotes and theories. He also expresses a general fear of happiness, describing the process of seeking it as dangerous. However, Don was the most believable of the characters; Naidoo executed his role well, seamlessly doubling as a cynical youngster and Milly’s psychologist.
A recurring theme in People Are Living There is the eternal fight for happiness; an issue that haunts humanity as a whole. In the play there’s a sense that happiness cannot be found if we are always actively seeking it to such an extent that we attempt to force it. As Don states “Your good time is an illusion, it does not exist.”
Shorty, a poor, dim-witted Afrikaans man who is almost childlike in his innocence, is excellently played by the red-cheeked Izak van Zyl (Almar Müller took on the role in the second performance). The character’s vulnerable traits are exploited by his emasculating, verbally abusive wife, Sissy (Danielle Botha). For the audience though, Van Zyl’s soft-hearted performance is a welcome contrast to the harshness of Naidoo, Botha and Du Toit.
Delusion and deterioration are ever-present in the play, with scenes jumping from everyday mundanity to psychologist sessions fraught with frantic emotion. Milly is convinced that she has faced a great tragedy and has an awful secret that is hidden from others, but upon psychological examination it becomes apparent that this great horror never happened. The vast nothingness of an existential crisis is exposed and Milly’s fear that life has nothing more to offer overcomes her, while the fight for happiness consumes her.
Although the Cape Town Fringe actors wilted slightly under the weight of the script, they succeeded in bringing their characters to life and creating a sense of total absurdity.
People are Living There ran on 28 and 29 September 2015 at Cape Town City Hall as part of the Cape Town Fringe Festival.