A long time ago, I attended the first reading of this new play by Myer Taub. Only years later has it seen the light of day in a format far removed from the early reading.
It has been created in such a way that it is very challenging for the actress who portrays both the ghost of Florence herself and an actress who is portraying Florence (yeah, it’s as complex as it sounds), it is directed by Greg Homann. Leila Henriques stars.
So the work is messy, with a mishmash of recollections by the ghost and thoughts of the actress. Of course, the work is not chronological as one might expect from a ghost recalling her life. The director, Greg Homann, has allowed this messy mush to bloom by not demarcating the two characters in any way outside of the text itself and the interpretation of the immensely capable Leila Henriques.
The story is that of Lady Florence Phillips, the benefactor of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. It is the tale of the era, of Johannesburg, Kimberley and London. It evokes the smells used to disguise the smells. At one point when the family were still living in Noord Street long before Coco Chanel made her iconic perfume, the smell is that of Chanel No 5, an anachronism which doesn’t bother the author or the actress. That is part of the charm of the work.
Of course, it is easy to get distracted by the difficult nature of the script, and mildly irritated that the director for his refusal to help the audience, but once one overcomes these problems, Florence unfolds in the portrayal of this remarkable woman by Leila Henriques to allow the viewer the same pleasure as one examining an a visual artwork up close and intimately. The viewer will see wonderful details and some knowledge of the era and the subject matter adds to one’s enjoyment. It is then that the skill of the scriptwriter and director in not diluting the message comes into its own.
The gorgeous and clever set by Richard Forbes is appropriately evocative of the contemporary Johannesburg Art Gallery and the fencing obscures the work visually the way the rest of the play does in the choice of format and interpretation. The fence is referenced in the work.
Lighting is by Nomvula Molepo and it contains strobe lighting during the Highveld thunderstorm. Sound design is by Ntuthuko Mbuyazi and stage management is by Malebo Mokoto. Costume design is by Karabo Legoabe & Nthabiseng Malaka.
Florence is being presented in the Barney Simon Theatre upstairs at The Market Theatre until 26 August 2018.