National Arts Festival 2016: The Graveyard

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Bo Petersen and Gideon Lombard in The Graveyward #NAF2016 Photo: CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala - National Arts Festival 2016
Bo Petersen and Gideon Lombard in The Graveyward #NAF2016 Photo: CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala – National Arts Festival 2016

Frederick Douglass once said: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men” and this is a truth I was left with after watching The Graveyard. Set against a black background with a couch, a scattering of Lego pieces and strewn alcohol bottles, the piece opens in what seems like random monologues recited by the three actors.

It is clear from the onset that Tommy (Gideon Lombard) is a troubled man and this manifests itself with his incessant drinking and slurred speech with the slightest inflection of a Pretoria Afrikaans accent. You want to dismiss him as an asshole until his opening line tells you that there is more to his story than meets the eye: It still smells the same. It’s weird how a smell can cling to an empty room. It must have crept into the floors and the walls – he wants to forget, needs to.

CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala - National Arts Festival 2016
Bo Petersen in The Graveyard #NAF2016 CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala – National Arts Festival 2016

“A potted plant, a vase; one of many – a wine glass, a boot, a boot, a boot – a book from my night stand, a bible from his night stand – an alarm clock, a pillow, a slipper – a belt from my gown and so on and so forth – toothbrush.” – Elize, Tommy’s mother (Bo Petersen) lists what seems like random household items, but the unnerving look on her face again speaks volumes. The scene intercepts with what obviously seems like a happy memory from Tommy’s past with his estranged girlfriend, Emma (Sarah Potter – also portrays the role of the sister).

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The narrative watches like a book with brilliant prose and brings to the fore the many layers of emotions around domestic violence situations. Each moment is arresting but more so when the mother explains what the graveyard is, metaphorically and literally. It is in the intricate description all the performers give of the physical that arrests the emotional. It is all interconnected, how each one doesn’t want to feel yet are heavy all the same.

The troubled Tommy portrayed by Gideon Lombard in The Graveyard. CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala - National Arts Festival 2016
The troubled Tommy portrayed by Gideon Lombard in The Graveyard. CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala – National Arts Festival 2016

It is debilitating to watch Tommy spiral into a well of self-loathing that turns him into the man he grew up actively hating. It is heart wrenching how Elize holds your hand through her feelings of inadequacy and deep regret over failing to protect her children. And it is somewhat encouraging seeing Emily’s strength of character that presents itself as abandonment.

Throughout, the performances are strong and emotionally charged without being dreary. It helps that the script is brilliantly written in its detailing of the pathology of domestic violence. I imagined the performance to be emotionally taxing as the tale rolled out to the shocking climax and this was confirmed when I caught a moment to chat to Bo and Philip Rademeyer (writer and producer); both confirmed the need to step away after each show, understandably since I was reduced to tears (thank goodness for dark theatres). Definitely worth seeing (just be sure to grab a drink afterwards because it is that heavy) and undoubtedly my pick as one of the best of NAF2016!

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