Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Theatre: Dirt

Written by Nick Warren
Directed by Jenine Collocott
Performed by James Cairns
Until February 23

I was talking with the all-pervasive Joe Lui, who almost seems to be holding alternative theatre in Perth together by dint of personal effort, about the South African shows at this year’s Fringe.
We were struck by the urgency of these performances. Even a relatively slight rom-com like Love @ First Bite had an edge; and Dirt, a vastly more considerable piece, was savage in its a febrile energy and intensity.
Much of this is due to the phenomenal power of James Cairns, who delivers the theatre performance of the festival thus far, but there’s something else besides. Joe and I thought perhaps, even though the characters Cairns plays in Dirt, like those in First Bite and last year’s Fringe highlight …miskien, are white, middle class, hedonistic and complacent ­– just like us, in fact – South African history is so different, and these characters’ place in its society so much less absolute, that it completely changes the torque of their theatre writing and performance.
Three men are travelling from Johannesburg to Cape Town for the funeral of a friend. They have his dog with them in the car. Like a good road movie, there’s revelation and conflict, tragedy (of the canine variety) and a psychic, as well as physical, destination to reach. The dirt of the title is manifestly that poured into the grave of their friend at the end, but it’s also that which gets dug up and spread on their journey.
Cairns has a terrific ear for voices, and each of his characters is distinct and memorable. As well as the three travellers and the dog – Cairns does him proud – there are incidental characters, especially a hilariously mock-obsequious Indian South African traffic cop, that he switches between without skipping a beat.
A word of warning: the two Parade Teatro tents are struggling to cope with our new summer paradigm (thank God global warming is a myth, hey), and the industrial fans being used as part of the solution can be an unfortunate distraction. If you’re going to Dirt – and I hope you will – it’s worth finding a seat where they are as unobtrusive as possible.

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian link here

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