This review is part of the LitNet | STAND theatre review workshop. The ten participants each submitted a review to the workshop mentors for feedback. The participants reworked their reviews after two rounds of feedback from the mentors.
This is the final 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 audience members informally. It sets the tone 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, which seeks to drive transformative change in Oudtshoorn through community participation in various art projects (Saterdaght, 2023). The production premiered in Oudtshoorn at KKNK 2023, but the version I watched was at Woordfees 2023. 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 Karoo Kaarte projects, Droomkraan-kronieke uses childhood memories from local Oudtshoorn people as a source of inspiration, creating a cabinet of breathing childhood vignettes and a living archive of Oudtshoorn. 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 lush atmosphere with strong images produced by multidisciplinary elements, such as puppetry and physical theatre. The scenes using physical theatre create strange tapestries akin to the moments of absurdism when dreaming, while the use of puppetry introduces an ancient magic that captures the folklore of the Karoo people. Specifically, the scenes using shadow puppetry gift this production its dreamlike quality. The simple genius of an overhead projector casting shadow images allows the production to play with scale and transformation while telling iconic folktales from the area. Once one’s eye is awakened to the use of shadows, the shadows cast by the ensemble’s bodies throughout the production become significant in and of themselves.
Consequently, the production is visually stimulating, weaving together surreal sequences. However, at times, the experience can be overwhelming, 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 the show’s 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.
However, it’s not all sweet dreams. Droomkraan-kronieke explores the wide range of childhood – 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 montage. There are also moments that carry an emotional punch, conveying the complexities of childhood that can haunt us in adulthood. This is demonstrated when the show lingers on the question: “When did your childhood end?” In this moment, the cast stands across the stage and invites the viewer to consider their own loss of innocence, and what it means when a child transitions into adulthood.
The entire ensemble needs to be commended for carrying these moments of pathos and transitions with equal expertise and stamina, blurring the lines between the local cast members and professional performers. They move together with an instinctual fluidity, as if they’ve all been long-time childhood friends themselves. This allows the audience to get lost in the world of the play, transported to the dreamy world of Oudtshoorn and even to their own childhood memories.
Droomkraan-kronieke and the Karoo Kaarte project are an exciting moment in South African theatre. They serve as a breathing archive of the area’s history, honest and authentic, reminding us of the power that art holds 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