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African Gothic review at the Park Theatre, London – ‘unsettling but underbaked’

Lesley Ewen in African Gothic at the Park Theatre. Photo: Boris Mitkov Lesley Ewen in African Gothic at the Park Theatre. Photo: Boris Mitkov
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The late Reza de Wet’s apartheid-era play takes popular Afrikaner fairytales – idyllic farm, loving parents, friendly maid and benevolent God – and twists them into a disturbing horror story. While De Wet’s extraordinary voice shines through, her script is let down by an underbaked production.

The play burrows into South Africa’s torrid history: orphaned brother and sister Sussie and Frikkie live a feral existence on a drought-ridden farm, looked after by their maid Alina. When sharp-suited lawyer Grové arrives he threatens to destroy their insular life. It’s a powerful metaphor: the civilising force against perceived savagery.

But Two Sheds’ production doesn’t do justice to the complexity and slipperiness of the play. Janna Fox as Sussie tries too hard to act like a child, and a lack of subtlety abounds. The play’s many layers aren’t given room to unfold.

Still, what the production has in fistfuls is atmosphere. Haze fills the studio until it’s hard to breathe. It’s easy to believe that this is a desolate place and, with everything playing out in squint-inducing light, that the night is setting in.

De Wet suggests that violence and brutality – whether in the form of Calvinist puritanism or outrageous colonialism – repeat in an endless cycle, with no discernible remedy. It’s a harrowing, remarkable piece of drama, but underserved by this flat production.

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A creeping, unsettling script, underserved by an uninteresting production.