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A CurtainUp London Review
Sarah Niles takes two contrasting roles. She opens the play in scenes set almost forty years before, as a young black boy, who was pursued by the apartheid police, caught and tortured to death. Later she plays Beauty, the maid and psychic who has been asked to use her healing to help Jenniferís (Pauline Moran) terminally ill husband.
Jenniferís early scenes are on her own as she reminisces about her life: when she first met her husband at age 13, and he was ten years older, their courtship and the early years of their marriage. As Jennifer confides in Beauty, it emerges that Pieter, Jenniferís husband has an unsavoury past. In Jenniferís rose garden, while her husband is on his deathbed, the police are digging up some shallow graves with the bones of people interred many years before.
What makes Kay Adsheadís writing very special is the slowly emerging revelation that Jennifer had followed her husband one night because she was jealous and thought he was spending time in bars seeing other women. What she discovers is much more disturbing and her knowledge of his secret, makes him withdraw from her. Bones is about shame and guilt and projection.
Jenniferís pact with Beauty changes as the truth is elicited. Beauty is no longer expected to cure Pieter but to save his soul. Jennifer offers her money, and eventually the house and all the land. The metaphor is clear here. South Africa was ruled by a cruel regime based on race and now the oppressed shall inherit the land. In the closing scene, Jennifer is telling Beauty about the plants in her garden and how to care for them. Redemption is possible but only by giving back what was held onto through a cruel and unjust regime.
Adsheadís writing is like poetry on the page — short lines, evocative and economic— but very powerful and full of graphic impact. We are given the minutiae of Jenniferís life, and her selfish existence strikes a shallow note as she prattles on about the nuisance of those bodies being dug up. Pauline Moran manages to be quite unsympathetic as Jennifer, who is portrayed as a silly woman but by the closing scenes, we see the unhappiness she has endured for decades and her actions by way of reparation.
The set has a small earth grave surrounded by plants in black plastic bags awaiting re-internment. Joe Legwabeís singing and drumming is very atmospheric. Ms Adshead is also the director of this piece and she gets amazing performances from the two women. Sarah Niles not only takes the role of the boy and the maid, she also is called upon to behave in a sťance as if she is the spirit of the murdered boy. Pauline Moranís Jennifer is brittle and very sad.
Bones is co-produced by the Bush Theatre, and Mamma Quillo, a women-led theatre company which concentrates on the female perspective on political issues involving human rights. It is an excellent example of how to make a political point effectively and sustainedly through allegorical drama.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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