Theatre review: Garry’s Retreat, by Saul Kemack, starring William Harding on at the vNAF, South Africa

What: Garry’s Retreat Performer: William Harding Script: Saul Kemack Director: Daniel Keith Geddes Platform: Virtual National Arts Festival – details correct Jan 2021- vNAF programme may change Duration: 25 minutes Age recommendation: Not recommended for under 16s Tickets: R25 Direct booking link:  

In Garry’s Retreat, a 25 minute play, filmed in June 2020, at Splitbeam Studios, we see Gary in his kitchen- his retreat. There is not much on the table – glass kettle, coffee plunger, cup, saucer, sugar bowl, spoon, paper and paper towelling to mop up spills. Gary regales us about a story of a “little boy”.  In telling the story, the kitchen accessories become props. The spoon becomes a spade as the little boy shovels sand on a beach in Durban, digging or vanquishing monsters. We don’t know. It could go both ways, because who knows what really happened; before. We all want to be happy and yearn to be with our loved ones. Sometimes, phobias and ghosts can be overcome and sometimes they cannot.

The saucer becomes a hat. Is it blue or orange? And does it matter. Who cares, snaps Garry. Yes, who cares- in days like these? There is Gary in his striped pyjamas – which look prison garb- striking up audience rapport with the audience at home. We must stay with him to hear about what has happened to the little boy – or what he thinks has happened – and the narrative that he shapes from his memories. How do we know that we are remembering what happened? Perhaps, as we sit at the kitchen table, narratives transcend ‘reality”. If we could, we would hitch a ride on a space ship and fly away or hope to find treasure on a beach- and not a monster. This may sound cryptic but I do not want to plot spoil and reveal more about “the little boy”. It is a play which has chilling moments or perhaps let’s say chilling possibilities because who knows where the truth lies about “the little boy”. Gary cites Stephen King who apparently said in his memoirs that if one wants the reader’s sympathy, one should hurt or kill a small child or as Gary says “something to that effect.” Gary wants to keep our attention and frequently does his audience/performer rapport thing: “Are you bored”, he prompt us. No, we are not.  This is gripping theatre – superb script by Saul Kemack with a mesmerising performance by William Harding. Gary is back-lit by a screen with animation and motion. Director Daniel Keith Geddes, seamlessly pulls in horror film, kitchen sink drama and confessional with thriller. We want to know the outcome with the little boy.

Many plays recorded for the digital stage come across as films or radio plays. Garry’s Retreat is an astounding manifestation of theatre alive on the digital stage. This production won a 2020 Standard Bank Ovation Award. The play came through the ranks of VR Theatrical’s Short Playwriting Contest- “to create a platform and develop new and emerging writing voices and directors.”

I somehow missed Garry’s Retreat when the vNAF was on and then when live shows resumed, I was back in theatres, mask on. Now, with the terrifying surge in Covid, it is back to the digital stage. The vNAF extended its Fringe and as of writing, January 2021, shows will remain up. The programme may change – as shows are added or removed.  One has six clicks to watch shows on the vNAF. I watched Garry’s Retreat, three times. On each viewing, additional layers were revealed. I love the use of objects of the commonplace – kettle, cup, spoon- transcending time and space – to imbue magical lyricism – as a man in striped pyjamas tells us about a little boy. And in the end? Watch and see.

Garry’s Retreat- production credits

Music: Wessel Odendaal Editing and digital background: Jaco van Rensburg Costumes and props: William Harding Sound: Fred Wilsenach Poster Art: Grant Almirall Recorded at: Splitbeam Virtual Studio, June 2020 Producer: VR Theatrical Executive Producers: Wessel Odendaal and Jaco van Rensburg  

Image credit: Screenshot – William Harding in Garry’s Retreat.