Waiting For The Barbarians

Par Alan Hustak le 2 février 2013


The North American premiere of Waiting for the Barbarians at Segal Centre until Feb. 17 is a highly stylized, strikingly  contrived  South African production of a play based on J.M  Coetzee’s  allegorical novel of the same name.  It explores the monstrous aspects of the human psyche, and  centres on the abuse of  imperial power.  The play  suggests  that nothing really changes when one  regime is replaced with another -  a persecuted  minority, once empowered,  finds minorities of its own to tyrannize.  Even in democratic and free countries can governments  manipulate public opinion to marginalize opponents.    Unless you are familiar with Coetzee’s book, the stage adaptation by  Alexandre Marine, may be occasionally dense and not easily accessible.   Words on the printed page that stimulate the senses sometimes end up as dead weight on the stage.  

That  isn’t to say  that  the  production  itself  is not worth seeing.   For starters, Marine, who directed the show,  has  liberated  his script with some surreal staging.   Craig Leo’s  spartan setting,  a low, whitewashed,  translucent wall  permits the imagination to  soar as choreographed  shadow players  enact the illusion of warfare and  brutal acts of torture behind it.  

Then there is the stellar cast.  The actors could not be better.   The exposition takes place in the mind of a slothful magistrate,  (Grant Swanby), the narrator caught up in a  kafeksque   situation.   He is responsible for a remote outpost of the empire which is threatened by a never clearly defined army of dissident voices known as the Barbarians.   A military commander,  Colonel  Joll who  is sent to  put down a threatened insurrection  resorts to torture barbarian prisoners  to gain the upper hand.  Taking  pity on one of the women who has been raped and beaten, the magistrate finds himself accused of aiding and abetting the enemy. 

Waiting_for_the_Barbarians.jpgGrant  Swanby  explores the role of the psychologically tormented bureaucrat in an appropriately introspective and convincingly  anguished  manner. He’s  always sensitive to his psychic ruin and to his divided loyalties between Empire and decency.   Nicholas Pauling as his nemesis,  Colonel  Joll  is witty in an offhand   vicious manner  and  Chuma  Sopotela   is poignantly  hypnotic  as the grossly disfigured, enigmatic  woman whom the magistrate protects and helps to escape.   Owen  Manamela-Mogane  is  a  charismatic and visibly intimidating as a sadistic lieutenant.   Kimberly Anne   Laferrière plays  Zoe, the prostitute and alternative love interest with broad unflagging energy.    The supporting cast, Ruben Engel,  Adrian Collins and  Khayalethu Anthony  are all to be admired. 

Edgy music by Dmitri Marine and the spectral lighting heighten the suffocating  mood.  The tension never flags.  It’s  Produced by Morris  Podbrey, who ran the Centaur for 38 years, before moving to South Africa.  The play, in spite of my  many reservations,  is  compelling  theatre  for the mind.  Only once it is over do you really begin to appreciate its depths. 



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