Poor Harry. He simply cannot get it up when it counts. A sensitive, neurotic soul caught in the wasteland between artistic ambition and lack of talent, he spends too much time fantasising and not enough time applying himself, to living.
Structuring his life around rituals such as eating breakfast amidst the working class whose daily usefulness he envies, his heroic vision of himself as master of his world is undermined by the banality of his existence.
In the ironically titled Master of the Café Society, playwright Steven Berkoff cast a scathing eye on petit bourgeois mediocrity and reveals the ridiculousness of modern man’s ambition being hampered by his desire for security and comfort, juxtaposed with his vanity. Self-promotion vs. actual accomplishment. A bit like Facebook personas really.
In this adaptation by Peter Court, Durbanites Darren King and Clare Mortimer do a magnificent job of displaying the comedy of Harry’s sad existence. King is a completely believable Harry, engaging our empathy and drawing us to this impotent character to the point where we laugh in recognition of our narcissism and the petty concerns that inhibit real achievement.
Mortimer, in turns foil, narrator and object of Harry’s thwarted desire, displays the brilliant skill I have come to expect from her. I do believe she could spend an hour sweeping the stage and she would still be entrancing. These Durbanites would do us all a favour by gracing stages elsewhere in the country more often.
Despite a tiny audience of six at the NG Church hall at 10pm last night, the pair conjured enough energy for a full house, which they richly deserve.
The music for this play, performed by Christopher Duigan, also deserves mention as it provides a backdrop that is integral to the poise and pace of this piece, with King and Mortimer’s emotions subtly choreographed to every note.
Due to the tyranny of geography this was the first time I’ve seen King perform, but I have made a point of watching Mortimer at every festival ever since she turned me into a complete wreck in Wit a few years ago. There is no doubt she stands in the front ranks of South Africa’s generation of 30-something actors – and one of very few women among them – who are so ably putting their stamp of excellence on contemporary theatre.
She appears to lean toward the classics – perhaps because she excels at sharp-tongued dialogue – which is no way a fault, but it would be interesting to see her also collaborate on new work that pushes some of the boundaries her contemporaries are exploring.
But whatever her preferences, any lover of theatre would be seriously remiss if they did not make a point of seeing her whenever she takes the stage, and judging by King’s performance last night, his appearances should likewise be noted. — Steve Kretzmann