A supposedly ordinary event is thrust into the realm of the mysterious and the magical in Missing, a tale about girls who go missing at the same time as the arrival of the circus. Uprooted from its deeply Calvinistic, Afrikaans roots and placed in a more traditionally African context by director Mdu Kweyama, the performance focuses on the dull life of a young girl doomed to stitch burlap sacks and handle dung.
Faniswa Yisa as Miem fills the stage with her matriarchal power and stern, bellowing voice. Her intense presence provides the appropriate contrast to the young, doe-eyed Meisie, (Sonia Buqwana) who is a timid mouse skittering across the stage beneath her mother’s domineering feet. Her oppressive home life leaves the audience wondering if her eventual departure will lead to debauchery or if she was, in fact, released to live out a magical existence in the circus.
The whimsy of the play is accentuated by Clyde Berning. As the Constable, he enthrals with his eloquent and charming persona (apt for a slightly sociopathic character), hypnotising and seducing us with his buttery voice. I was almost ready to don a white confirmation dress, toss my shoes and run away with him too.
As in the original script by Reza De Wet, sound effects play a large role in the play. The performance is lined with haunting circus music, played each time the door opens as a reminder of what lies outside, as well as a nod to the mysterious and magical. The sound of wind, played at key moments throughout, further adds to the ominous feel. Music also feeds the African flair, with traditional music and drumbeats providing a backdrop to the powerfully performed physical pieces.
Daneel van der Walt as Gertie juxtaposes the dark mood of the play with humour, her energy and enthusiasm lightening the performance. Her humour, however, does not define her character; she performs a monologue regarding the freak show flawlessly, engrossing and exciting the audience.
I was pleasantly surprised by the preservation of the original script, as I expected the African approach to drown out De Wet’s magical realism. The Africanisms, however, were not overpowering, and instead transported the performance to a more relatable, contemporary South African context.
An unusual insight into South African society in the 1930s, Missing offers a taste of both magic and mystery.
Reza De Wet’s Missing runs from 14 to 24 October 2015 at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio.