South African company Mouthpeace Theatre have something to say, and their current offering, The Well Being, proves less is definitely more. A stage covered in paper, a watermelon and a couple of buckets are the simple tools the two inventive performers use to engulf the audience in their tale of community or lack of it.
With frogs as narrators (not unlike those from the Budweiser ad), we're introduced to the inhabitants of the valley. They're a gossipy lot, from a pair of British drunks to preening women, school kids and OAPs sipping tea. Everyone's talking about the strange creature who lives in the forest, the ironically named Flo Deluge, who apparently retreated there after being raped. Now all she does is dig, and since she started digging, it's been raining. An ensuing flood drives out the townspeople until the downpour turns to drought. The Reverend's wife, dripping with malice, blames Flo's for the disasters - she's trying to dig down to you know who. And the witch hunt begins.
Actors Andrew Buckland and Lionel Newton effortlessly hold the audience for the full 80 minutes. With identical bald heads and green outfits, the two are perfectly in tune with one another - they even share some parts but, thanks to simple and effective identifying gestures and voices, there's never any question who's who. The actors move between each character with an impressive, almost filmic speed. Both approach each persona knowingly and invite the audience to be complicit in their game. This is simple story telling at it's best.
But the story, based on a short by Buckland and devised with the help of director Lara Foot Newton strays a little in places. A few sections are overly long and, after the piece's climax, everything ends rather abruptly. And it's never fully explored whether the meteorological phenomena are in response to the community's unnatural behaviour or just a coincidence. This is a wasted opportunity.
Nevertheless, the imaginative use of simple props - you've never seen paper used in so many ways - and the fantastically energetic and animated performances make The Well Being a joy to watch.
- Hannah Khalil (reviewed at London's Riverside Studios)