By Emily Corke
If light-hearted old school clowning around is what you are looking for, then The Homeless Orchestra is a must-see piece of student theatre. With quick dialogue, jumps, rolls and silliness the drama students of the University of Cape Town pulled off a comedy that drew claps and laughs from the audience and even a standing ovation at the end.
In an exclusive interview with The Oppidan Press, the actors revealed that the concept, characters, script, choreography and costumes were done by themselves, with the help of their director Joanna Evans as part of their Theatre Making course at UCT.
“We came up with the concept through discussion, improvisation and research and with the help of the other actors,” said Katherine Ten Velthuis, actress in the workshopped play.
The homeless characters, who were named after musical notes, worked incredibly well together. The audience ate up their clowning around and fell in love with a few of the more optimistic and sweet female characters. According to Dean Kriel, another member of the cast, the characters that the actors workshopped into their basic story line beared quite a bit of resemblance to themselves which is what, according to him, made them unique. However, the characters still came across as stereotypical.
The actors were not too fazed about this effect. “At first we wanted the characters to be a chorus-like group with the same characteristics but then we decided we wanted to show how the individual within the group is better than the individual on their own like the conductor,” said Shariffa Ali, another actress.
According to Ali, the group wanted to show the battle between the community and the individual: “It’s about this mob mentality and the idea of group sacrifice to achieve hope.”
This kind of idea was also communicated through the movements and choreography.
Daniel Richards, an actor and the show’s choreographer, said, “We wanted to create one body, one movement for all the characters but still show the individuals.”
The human car and the man-made sound effects fitted wonderfully with the style of the piece but I couldn’t help feel that at times it was over done. The Beckett-esque movements and dialogue was impressive but too long. However, the show was a favourite because of the slapstick comedy and movements that were, it has to be said, well executed and brilliantly staged. Special mention must be made of the women in the cast who all played their parts with unique comedic characteristics and physicality.
The show was incredibly minimalistic with only the conductor’s baton and the art work sewn from the clothes of the characters used on stage.
“We thought it would be more practical to go to fest with minimal set and we would rather rely on the body and the voice to have n effect on the audience, it is just how we do thing at UCT,” said Ten Velthuis.
It was very Beckett and worked beautifully with the characters strife. Their human made car, well-staged crash and witty dialogue painted the setting for the audience from the very beginning. This flowed through into the costumes which were well pu together by Ten Velthuis.
Although the plot was unique, it was at times confusing and too much happening at once. This is the result of a work shopped play. Screaming is a brilliant stage element but when all eight characters are screaming in a small venue it becomes tedious. The 15 minute long fight between all eight characters was realistic but far too long. It was saved by some brilliant acting on the part of the female actors.
The exploration of the idea of community and family and the triumph of human spirit over mishap and preconditioning is the essence of this play. It is definitely refreshing next to the other student productions in the Student Theatre Festival.