SYLVAINE STRIKE’S FIREFLY AND KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN MARK STUNNING RETURN TO LIVE THEATRE

Sylvaine Strike, director/actor/playwright and any other creative word one can dream up, currently has two major plays running – the one, Firefly,  at The Baxter’s Flip Side Theatre until April 9 and the other, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees with the last show on April 1. DIANE DE BEER reviews: 

I was blessed to see both productions with the one at the start and the other at the end of a run. Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre heralded a strong emergence of theatre in this period where many of us are still holding our breath, and the Strike double whammy is a theatre-starved public’s salvation.

The bewitching Firefly, which as one of the first Covid-19 impacted productions saw light of day as a Woordfees digital production, made a magically mesmerising transition. I had lost my heart earlier to the filmed production and was excitedly inquisitive at how that particular story – with many filmic tricks up its sleeve – would translate and transform on stage.

But this particular creative quartet (Strike, Andrew Buckland, Toni Morkel as director and Tony Bentel on piano) are the perfect combo. This is their theatrical landscape. Give them a stage and they will start telling stories in such an imaginative way, it becomes a visual feast.

Firefly with Sylvaine Strike and Andrew Buckland. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht

Because they have all worked together, they understand each other’s strengths, and Morkel could stretch that piece of string intuitively with fantastically imaginative and explosive pyrotechnics.

Buckland and Strike are a brilliant blend of artistry with an instinct for detail that holds your attention gently yet persistently. Storytelling is their forte, aided by the fact that they have an endless supply of tools to draw on to embellish a wink or the final lift of a foot to express and underline the tiniest emotion.

It is theatre at its best when it has you smiling from start to finish because of the artistry, the wizardry of the production, the perfection of the coupling, and just the sheer audacity of the storytelling.

Firefly with Sylvaine Strike and Andrew Buckland. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht

No matter how or why, just immerse yourself and see what happens when Saartjie Botha commands two artists to give her a production in the purest style of theatre.

If you have seen the digital version that’s  a bonus, because to witness how one story can be told in such magnificent splendour in two completely different approaches is truly special and quite rare. The one had all the bells and whistles and worked like a charm. But here, with Strike and Buckland live on stage with just themselves to grab hold of their audience and cast that spell, the essence of theatre comes into play – and again I willingly lost my heart.

Add to the two artists on stage, the magnificence of Wolf Britz’s set and props as well as starstruck-inducing lighting and the keyboard genius of Bentel’s soundtrack that holds every emotion so thrillingly in a familiar yet completely Bentel-constructed composition.

If you want to see how the best make theatre with their instincts, intuition and imagination, don’t miss the sparkling Firefly. Yet don’t think for one second that the miracle unfolding on stage didn’t come with buckets of blood, sweat, tears and ENDLESS talent. Part of the theatrical trickery of this foursome is to present something that is this skilled as seemingly effortless.

It’s brilliant and personally I hope to see this travel around the country casting its spell throughout. We are desperately in need of this kind of adult fairy tale in these tumultuous times.

And then there’s Strike the director in Kiss of the Spider Woman, a play she has always wanted to do and again, perfect for these times.

Casting the vibrant acting duo Wessel Pretorius and Mbulelo Grootboom was genius in itself and created fireworks from the start. Their styles suit the different characters of the two men trapped in a confined space which doesn’t only inhibit their bodies and movement, but also their minds.

And with the same impact that theatre has on our welcome release from the strictest lockdown rules, these two escape into an imaginary world to release their anguish, which is difficult to avoid in this cruelly confined and claustrophobic space. If they want to survive this ordeal, they have to find a way to caress their minds in a mindful yet almost mysterious and magical way. Storytelling is the obvious solution and with Pretorius’s Molina someone who has long ago created a world where he can live out his fantasies, he is the perfect conduit for playwright Manuel Puig’s escapist fantasy.

Watching these two men in a dance of deliverance in a fight for a freedom that can only be obtained through their imagination is enchanting and with these past few years still part of our daily minds, we understand what is missing in our lives with the total absence of this kind of artistry. Puig’s Kiss masterfully underlines the impact of the theatrical when lives could become meaningless.

Molina has a few props as he cunningly fabricates feminine style with anything he can find but more than anything, it is his feline movements and the visual aphrodisiac that in this instance is the result not only of their imprisonment but also the way that Molina penetrates the more stoic Valentin’s being.

How could they not turn to one another, reach out and finally hold and nurture the other’s vulnerability in a space that is relentlessly cold? Nothing matters, our prejudices dissipate and the only thing that gives meaning is the humanity of the other.

With Strike’s razor-sharp eye and precise direction, Mbulelo and Pretorius’s complementing acting styles as well as their individually contrasting physical presence hit all the right boxes.

While the play runs without interval for two hours, it is mesmerising, never letting go.

I was transfixed.