The beautiful and moving, An Evening in the Company of Grief was presented in a living room in Plumstead, as part of Theatre in The Dark which is taking place in Cape Town until this weekend – February 25. The season has been curated of Caroline Calburn, artistic director of Theatre Arts. An open call went out – with the invitation to create theatre in response to load shedding. On a physical level, this means that lighting would not be reliant on our tenuous electricity grid. Beyond being creative with lighting, the curatorial prompt invited theatre makers to use the dark – and light as -a medium – a space to gather in audiences and to explore dark/light metaphorically and symbolically – how it speaks to us- the conversations that it kindles.

An Evening in the Company of Grief features actress extraordinaire Robyn Scott sharing her story of grief – the recent-ish death of her beloved mom (she passed a year ago), her brother who died young, 27, the death of her dad; the generational grief of family on her dad’s side who died in the Nazi Holocaust Her Jewish dad was on one of the last Kindertransports from Germany. Her late mum was born in the UK. Her parents came to live in SA in the 1960s.

This beautiful piece was woven together by Scott, Lara Bye (director) and Karen Jeynes (writer). The presentation in a living room in Cape Town, heightened the intimacy of the piece. The ambient lighting- rechargeable lights candles and fire, shrouded the performance in a warm embrace where we gathered on Scott’s journey- pain, loss, grief; joy of celebrating life, friends and putting one foot forward to keep going. Scott poignantly charted her trajectory and with her wonderful humour, she outlined how important it is to honour the shape of one’s own grief. There is no primer or stages that must be adhered to. It is personal how we each cope- in anger, mirth, withdrawal, whatever. Scott finds tremendous solace in walking and hiking- communing with nature. Jeynes told me that the script was stitched together, largely from voice notes made by Scott while she was walking.

It’s not easy to pull personal stories together as theatre. Scott, Bye and Jeynes, have lovingly crafted and exquisite piece of theatre. For Theatre in the Dark, they ignited the living room space, with the placement of the lights and by creating a shrine on the mantelpiece, with family photos from Scott’s family. Outside, in the garden, fairy lights were hung in the trees and we were led on a pilgrimage in the dark. A ritual was also part of the piece but I won’t production spoil. Yes, it was very much a production. Everything was highly articulated, elevating it beyond a site responsive piece.

The script of An Evening in the Company of Grief, is exquisitely structured. I hope that this piece will be presented again. The living room as a container could be conjured up in a space like Theatre Arts, with the audience sitting immersed in the story. Scott performed with her adorable dog, Amy, who was her mom’s dog.

It was very special to be there. Beyond the moving text, Scott delights with her impressions of the accents of her parents. It is an emotionally drenched performance. People were moved to tears. Within the sadness, there is her terrific wit and sense of humour and refrains of song with Scott singing – such as – Moon River – the hauntingly elegiac theme song from the Audrey Hepburn film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s [composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer].

For this performance, the living room space was ignited– the coffee table became a stage, chairs became nesting spots. This is testament to the skill of Bye as director and the team and those involved in setting up the living room and garden.

An Evening in the Company of Grief is a homage, tribute to Scott’s family– those she knew- and those who are unknowable. She makes a reference to Kaddish – the Jewish mourner’s prayer. All that remains is us, here, doing our best, one foot in front of the other, in the dark, guided by the light we share and most importantly, each other.

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Passion project: From left Robyn Scott, Lara Bye and Karen Jeynes- the team behind , An Evening in the Company of Grief, was presented in a living room in Plumstead (February 16-19, 2024) as part of Theatre in The Dark which is taking place in Cape Town until this weekend- February 25, 2024. The season is being hosted by Theatre Arts in Cape Town.
Light peeks through. An Evening in the Company of Grief, in a living room in Plumstead, Cape Town and in the garden, February 2024. Pic: Robyn Cohen/TheCapeRobyn.

✳ Featured image: An Evening in the Company of Grief, in a living room in Plumstead, Cape Town, February 2024. Pic: Robyn Cohen/TheCapeRobyn.