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The Sewing Machine*** and Normality***


The Sewing Machine***

Translated and directed by Hennie van Greunen

Cast includes:  Sandra Prinsloo


Directed by Shirley Ellis

Starring Pedro Kruger

The Baxter Theatre, Cape Town

Until 10th November

Time: 19:00

Review by Tabitha Breese 

Last night presented an exciting opportunity to see two sell-out Edinburgh shows on their home stage. 'The Sewing Machine' was a big hit at this year's festival, while 'Normality' was well received there in 2009 and is now headed to Broadway.

'The Sewing Machine' stars Sandra Prinsloo as 82 year old Magdaleen, in her nursing home bedroom, preparing to sell her old sewing machine. The set design accurately captures the cramped nostalgia which can pervade such situations. Knick-knacks and bone china are wedged next to an ugly modern kettle while old photographs abound. The play is centred around such contrasts; Sandra's performance reaches its apex when, on recounting her son's death from AIDS, she sobs uncontrollably, shattering our image of her as a steely matriarch.

Unfortunately, the script let her down in places. Magdaleen is at her most fascinating when given space to reflect on her shortcomings as a mother and wife. For every rumination, however, there is a racist comment or a clichéd octogenarian remark intendedd to remind us of her age and conservative upbringing, but mainly designed to make us laugh. The hilarity that greets lines like “Jesus was white wasn't he? Well .. off white, anyway” detract from the play's otherwise thoughtful tone. An instant when this sense of humour is successfully balanced with sincerity is during Magdaleen's description of her grand-son's well-meaning but dutiful phone calls on her birthdays. Accompanied by much eye-rolling and clever asides, it is a great scene.

The play is at its strongest towards the end, as Magdaleen addresses God, asking him to, on her arrival in heaven, give her a sewing machine “..and I will make exactly what you ask of me”. This brilliantly exemplifies her guilt, rooted in her lifelong inability to reach her gay son and estranged daughter, in favour of standing by her husband's side until it is too late.

'Normality' is a play which also embodies the confessional tone often found in one-actor productions. It is an angry love story told by Alex, a disabled man with juvenile arthritis. The performance is sadly punctuated by many lazily written bizarre musical interludes, which is a waste as a couple of 'Flanders and Swan' style songs could have complimented the play's witty and sarcastic tone perfectly.

Pedro Kruger is undoubtedly both disciplined and talented although there are too many colliding elements here which displace attention and make for a surreal hour. The liberal use of strobe lighting and electronic music, combined with a song every five minutes feel forced and agitated. Kruger's performance, by contrast, is measured, realistic, and a pleasure to watch. 

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