This review is part of the LitNet | STAND theatre review workshop. The ten participants each submit a review to the workshop mentors for feedback. The participants will then be able to edit their submissions, receive additional feedback from the mentors and finalise their reviews.
This is the second version of Klara van Rooyen’s review.
Droomkraan-kronieke is a mesmerising memory machine
Walking into Droomkraan-kronieke, one is welcomed by the ensemble greeting the audience members informally while jovially interacting with one another. It sets the scene for a theatre experience that promises to be authentic, welcoming the audience like an old friend. Droomkraan-kronieke is the second theatre production created by the Karoo Kaarte project, an initiative facilitated by artists Neil Coppen and Vaughn Sadie that seeks to drive transformative change in Oudtshoorn through community participation in various art projects. The Karoo Kaarte project also acts as a living archive of Oudtshoorn, constantly collating and reconsidering its past and present through their creative projects.
The Karoo Kaarte project’s first theatre production, Op hierie dag, was a verbatim theatre piece that debuted at KKNK 2022. The production and project were welcomed with acclaim, praised for highlighting and uplifting local voices. Instead of the festival introducing only an influx of outside artists, the town was now represented at a grassroots level, with some performers being local Oudtshoorn members. Droomkraan-kronieke premiered in Oudtshoorn at KKNK 2023, but the version I watched was at this year’s Woordfees. Plucked out of the ostrich capital of the world and placed among the lush winelands of Stellenbosch, Droomkraan-kronieke was set to bring a community’s rich experience to a new audience.
Like previous initiatives of the Karoo Kaarte project, Droomkraan-kronieke uses childhood memories from local Oudtshoorn people as a source of inspiration, creating a cabinet of breathing childhood vignettes. From the get-go, it is clear that the text is drawn directly from the town’s inhabitants. When the lights dim and the production officially begins, voice clips from real interviews are played. Some ensemble members were involved with the creation of the production, and sometimes echo clips from their own interviews throughout the show.
The production is visually stimulating, using a variety of different disciplines to web together memories. However, at times, the experience can be overwhelming and overstimulating, causing the mind to stumble between the show’s different beats. Perhaps this is an element that can be improved by structural changes of the text, but one hesitates to interfere with a piece that is of a verbatim nature. Some moments could have possibly packed a stronger punch with some trimming, but one wrong edit could cause its driving spirit to tumble like a house of cards. Instead, I’d advise audience members to allow themselves to be swept away, tumbling between different moments as if in a dream.
Oudtshoorn is a place sticky with memory and dreams, demonstrated by the area’s rich folklore of mermaids and giant water snakes. It seems to lie on ley lines, a nexus where mythos and otherworldliness meet the Karoo’s unforgiving landscape and unassuming population. Droomkraan-kronieke conveys this atmosphere with strong images produced by multidisciplinary elements. Scenes using physical theatre create strange tapestries akin to the moments of absurdism when dreaming. The use of puppetry introduces an ancient elemental magic that captures the folklore and embedded oral storytelling of the Karoo people, which is exemplified when they tell folk tales using shadow puppetry via an overhead projector. It is precisely the shadow puppetry that gifts this production its dreamlike quality. The simple genius of the overhead projector shadow puppetry allows the production to play with scale and transformation. Once one’s eye is awakened to the use of shadows, the shadows cast by the ensemble’s bodies throughout the production become significant and beautiful.
However, it’s not all sweet dreams. The production explores the wide range of childhood experiences – from the hilarious to the heartbreaking. The ensemble recreates the experience of going to the cinema as a child using sound and simple props, creating a delightful comedic moment. There are also strong emotional moments in the production, conveying the complexities of childhood that can haunt us during adulthood. This is exemplified when the show lingers on the question: “When did your childhood end?” The cast stands across the stage and invites the viewer to consider their own loss of innocence, and what it means when childhood transitions into adulthood.
The entire ensemble needs to be commended, as they convey these moments of pathos with equal expertise and stamina, blurring the lines between the local cast members and the professional performers. They move together with an instinctual fluidity, as if they’ve all been long-time childhood friends themselves, allowing for smooth sailing between the production’s many transitions and tonal transformations. This is exemplified during their movement sequences, particularly the sequence inspired by Christmas memories, which transitions between emotional highlights and more serious undertones. The ensemble performs with authenticity, which allows one easily to get lost in the world of the play, transported to both the actors’ childhood memories and one’s own. They deliver a genuinely mesmerising theatre-going experience that captures highly specific vignettes of childhood – and as the old adage goes, universality lies in specificity.
Droomkraan-kronieke and the Karoo Kaarte project is an exciting moment in South African theatre. It serves as a breathing archive of captured history, honest and authentic, reminding us of the power that art helms in a community. Droomkraan-kronieke is recommended for audiences who seek to be enraptured and desire a dynamic theatre-going experience. The production’s images and mise-en-scène will linger in the mind for a long time.
Theatre review: First version
Mentor feedback: First version
Theatre review: Second version
Mentor feedback: Final version
Theatre review: Final version