Lara Foot Newton
Baxter Theatre Centre, Cape Town, South Africa
If you were to take a story that contains elements of both Greek myth and revenge tragedy and immersed it in an African storytelling tradition, the result might be something like Karoo Moose, a production first created by the Baxter Theatre Centre, Cape Town.
Writer/director Lara Foot Newton is particularly good at embellishing darkly humorous stories in productions of the highest quality, which utilise African song, dance and physical theatre to achieve their goals.
Patrick Curtis employs an open design with minimalist props of the type that Peter Brook favours and frequent minor costume changes to indicate character. However, it is the actors that make this production something special.
In this case, the tale centres on Thozama, a 15-year-old girl from a Xhosa family on South Africa's Eastern Cape, played by the very athletic Chuma Sopotela.
The story is told by six talented performers playing as an ensemble, swapping parts with alacrity, playing men, women and children regardless of their own age and gender.
What builds up is a picture of life amongst the poor Black inhabitants of the Karoo, represented by the family of Thozama. Her grandmother keeps hearth and home together by acting as a cleaner for a kind White woman.
Thozama's father Jonas is a good for nothing drunkard who fritters away money that the family does not have with truly tragic consequences. He has the kind of friends that will get you murdered for a few pence and would not know a moral if it jumped up and bit them on the ankle.
This familial trio from different generations lives from hand to mouth with an assortment of little children, whose future promises nothing but deprivation and early death.
When it seems that nobody can help them out of their desperate straits that get worse and worse through the 90 minutes, hope is offered from the unlikely source of Brian, a White policeman who takes a shine to Thozama at just the right time.
An element of mystical redemption is introduced with the symbolic tale of an escaped Swedish moose on the loose. It is mainly sighted in exciting dance but eventually killed prior to a triumphant resurrection that brings this affecting play to an uplifting conclusion that eventually takes it closer to fairytale than the genres that had held sway up to that point.
Karoo Moose is an opportunity to get a real feeling not only for what is proving popular in South African theatres today but the culture of that country. As such, it is very welcome and deserves to prove popular throughout the duration of its run.
Playing until 11 July
Reviewer: Philip Fisher