One of the key strands in Nicolas Kent’s long-running tenure at the Tricycle has been his presentation of new work from South Africa, and Lara Foot Newton’s Karoo Moose is a good example of a recent trend to mix traditional story-telling with magic realism and social comment.
The author also directs this Baxter Theatre Centre production, played by six actors in many roles, though Chuma Sopotela sticks with Thozama, the village girl in the Karoo whose mother was killed by a farmer and whose father is in trouble with gambling debts.
We are right down on the Eastern cape where unemployment is high and the dignity of women low. The moose of the title, a gift from the Swedish ambassador, has escaped en route to the zoo and this has unleashed a sense of fear and uncertainty in the community.
There’s a symbolic relationship between Thozama and this moose, which she kills at the height of the frenzied hunt; but this comes after her own entrapment by her father’s pals, who drape her in a football net and take turns to fire football shots at her. Is she possessed by the moose; she certainly cooks the beast, serving moose of the non-chocolate variety.
It is all staged with wonderful fluency, the cast manipulating huge moose horns that are like paddles with straw, while Thozama is born aloft on a surf board, or Beetle boat, on her way to the kill. Narrative jolts are smoothed over by this pictorial efficiency: Thozama gets pregnant, gives birth to herself (that’s poetry for you) in a drum, loses her baby in a kidnap then reclaims him before leading the children of the village, and her docile lover - is he a man or a moose? - to a better land, ie somewhere else.
The village is seen in retrospect as a place of forgotten stories. There’s something forced about the authenticity of all this, though the African actors - who play elders, small children (kneeling down with tiny costumes held up), comic policemen and the dancing moose - are delightful, and the chanting and music of Bongile Mantsai irresistible in small doses.