Theatrical work which won a Standard Bank Ovation Award is usually well worth seeing, thus it was a surprise to me that I did not enjoy Expectant when I saw it at The Market Theatre recently.
It is a one woman piece by Penelope Youngleson, starring Rebecca Makin-Taylor. It is uncomfortable theatre. Now uncomfortable theatre is not necessarily bad theatre, however this literally made me itch to get out of there. I wiggled and squirmed and scratched. I was incredibly relieved when it was all over.
It is an account of being a white woman. It felt as if I was enduring someone else’s nervous breakdown.
The set was dominated by red strings with red discs hanging from them. In the centre of the stage was our heroine perched on a transparent plastic chair. Every so often I get all puffed up with pride because I am sufficiently visually literate to be able to associate red strings with discs on them in a play named “Expectant” with periods, tampons, pregnancy, wombs, prostitution, blood, ties that bind, umbilical cords. I can even associate them with cheap, easy to transport sets. I can similarly extrapolate for transparent chairs,but will spare my readers my own rantings.
The text is a series of monologues and Rebecca Makin-Taylor dominates the stage magnificently. Her diction is clear and her voice attractive even in the higher registers where most women are simply shrill. As she asked about meaning I initially wondered along with her. Then my mind wandered. I grew increasingly bored and stop caring.
The soundscape by Joanie and Ben Ludik is appropriately unsettling and it really adds to the impact of the work. If one likes the work one will love the sound design. If one hates the work one will hate the sound design. I did not like the work, I did not like the sound, but I do think that it is a truly great addition to this work. Look out for it as a nomination in the sound category for next year’s Naledis.
These days it is common for artists to dismiss people who don’t like their work as “they didn’t get it”. Expectant seems very worthy but it failed entirely to entertain, enchant, challenge and absorb me. The truth is that I didn’t get it.
Expectant is running upstairs in the Barney Simon at the Market Theatre until 2 February 2014.