Sometimes going to a show without any preconceived ideas as to what it is all about is the best way to go about things. So it was with Waiting for the Barbarians. I won a pair of tickets on a Tuesday to see the show on Thursday and the only thing I managed to find out beforehand was that it was an adaptation of J.M. Coetzee’s book of the same name. Had I known more I might have been a bit reluctant to go along but I was glad I went.
After working a bit later than I anticipated I raced through to the Baxter to meet my wife and had barely enough time to buy a quick coffee before being ushered into the Golden Arrow Studio. The age restriction sign about nudity caught my eye and I was left wondering what I had let myself in for. The studio itself is a small venue with great visibility of the stage from any of the seats with the stage itself being quite small and with not many props for this production.
This is not an easy play to watch, in fact if musicals or happy, vibrant productions are more your thing then this is not going to get you whistling a happy tune as you skip back to your car.
Although set in an unnamed town in an unknown country the references to State of Emergency, 3rd Bureau and “alone in his cell he slipped and hit his head” remind me of all the terms I heard as a child growing up in South Africa in the 80’s.
The actions and turn of events acted out however could have parallels drawn with a host of other events recorded in history.
The sparse stage and limited use of props and effects makes you concentrate on the story and the high calibre of acting really draws the audience in (audible gasps and laughs from the audience at dramatic and absurd moments). Grant Swanby is superbly cast as the magistrate, the likeable one good man despite his vices. The rest of the cast perform admirably (Nicholas Pauling and Ruben Engel displaying rather too convincing psychotic and delirious tendencies).
At a little over 2 hours the play has to be endured in some places but overall is one that I enjoyed.
I would recommend it but would do so with the caveat that it will make you think for a few days afterwards.
Need to know
Waiting for the Barbarians runs at The Baxter Studio Theatre until this Saturday September 1.
About the reviewer
Well-travelled dweller of the deep south.
Likes beer and wine in equal quantities and imagines himself outdoors more often than in reality.
Also writes bios in the 3rd person.
You can find Peter on twitter - http://twitter.com/pimrie