Theatre review: Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice in Cape Town – a mind blowing adaption by Kanya Viljoen and Qondiswa James in a gutted abandoned swimming pool

Eurydice – adaption of Sarah Ruhl’s text/play (2003), based on the Greek myth, Orpheus and Eurydice- translated by Kanya Viljoen and Qondiswa James   

What: Site-specific performance, outdoors, in a swimming pool
When: March 9-12, 2022 at 7pm
Where: Cape Town High School, 96 Hatfield St, Gardens, Cape Town- City Bowl Park  Tickets: R140 and R120 for concessions (students, seniors)
Bookings: For cast and creatives, see:  

I went to see Eurydice- a Cape Town adaption of the 2003 play by American writer, Sarah Ruhl and expected a piece of site-specific performance art/theatre. The production is being presented by Unusual Bones., in association with Kanya Viljoen, Qondiswa James, Theatre Arts Admin, The Drama Factory, Jan van Riebeeck High School, and City Bowl Park. Instead, I encountered an impeccably crafted play with knockout performances by Qondiswa James (Eurydice), Ydalie Turk (Orpheus) and Francesco Nassimbeni (King of the Underworld), accompanied by a fabulous chorus of heckling high school learners from Jan Van Riebeeck School in Cape Town. James and Kanya Viljoen adapted the script from Ruhl’s text and have localised it with a mash up of isiXhosa, Afrikaans and idioms which are very Cape Town. James is a sassy millennial Eurydice who demands a Continental Breakfast, when she is buffeted into the underworld. Ydalie Turk is an urbane and romantic Orpheus, courting her love. Francesco Nassimbeni evokes a creepy, leering King of the Underworld who tries hard to tame Eurydice, as he wields his manly charms. The sound design by Diffie Bosman is a stunner. The sound quality – the music and dialogue – is outstanding. The setting is in the city, with the noise and rumble of traffic. Cape Town’s South Easter was making a racket on opening night but we could hear the dialogue – and it is delicious dialogue.  I think that this play has legs and could be developed to be staged in a theatre setting – with a pool – and an ensemble of on-stage musicians. I feel that it is a tad too long and could do with some cuts but it is an exciting piece of theatre – which straddles a timeless universality of everywhere and contemporaneity of now, Cape Town 2022. It taps into love, being loved, the quest for eternal love, the tussle between reality, dream, nightmare. We can all relate. There is a lot of fun and laughs in the script. We can do with larks, within the madness of our world and the dystopian times we are living in.

The setting for this site-specific production is freaky and hyper dystopian. The production was conceived around a discarded Olympic size pool (50 metres) on the grounds of Cape Town Highs School. Once it was part of the school’s facilities. At some point, it was left untended, empty – an Apartheid era swimming pool with glorious mountain views- left to crumble. It has been trashed. The pool has been used as an informal skate park and from what I can ascertain it is currently being demolished, to make way for City Bowl Park – a fully kitted skate boarding park in the city. The producers of Eurydice got permission to present their play. It appears that this will be the last hurrah for the pool as the structure will soon be gutted to make way for the new skate park. It is, as one of the onlookers mused, a great shame, that the children at the school, do not have access to a swimming pool. They need to swim and socialize.

Anyway, moving along, as it stands the site looks like ruins. It reminds me of Greek and Roman ruins – but not in a good way. These remains are not being cherished; the fragments are not being put on pedestals for us to contemplate. The site is in a liminal stage of transitioning from discarded pool to skate park. Chunks of the mosaic from the pool are scattered on the periphery. The spectator seating is still intact. It reminds me of a stadium, an amphitheatre for gladiator fights. Here we are in the amphitheatre of hell, watching a play in an underworld plonked in the beautiful suburb of Gardens. The walls are covered in graffiti and the barbed wire pings of neglect and loss.

Perhaps the new skate park will bring renewal to the area but to me, it resonates in terms of rupture and decay. They are paving a swimming pool and putting up a skate park. So, this Eurydice, on until March 12, is a site-specific piece of theatre. It has been conceptualised with the context and space at its core and this is played out as the actors tumble and slip and slide in the hollow of the pool. However, what I am saying in this review, is that beyond this site-specific iteration, the superb script and characterisation, has the potential to be taken further. The pool could still be at the centre, in a theatre setting. It would be a pity for Eurydice in Cape Town to end here. Yes, it is a bizarre experience to sit on the periphery of this empty shell of a pool. It is a mind flip of theatre under the stars- rupture within a breathtakingly beautiful city.  Beyond simply being an intense piece of site-specific performance, I would like to see it being taken further into a theatre setting. This script (and performance) is too good to be a once-off.

Spectators in a pool stadium: The hull of the wrecked pool is the setting for Eurydice, staged by Unusual Bones © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen, March 9, 2022.
Unfathomable underworld. Qondiswa James  (with suitcase) as Eurydice in Eurydice, staged by Unusual Bones., in association with Kanya Viljoen, Qondiswa James, Theatre Arts Admin, The Drama Factory, Jan van Riebeeck High School, and City Bowl Park.© TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen, March 9, 2022.
Ruins: Rubble and decay – site-specific presentation of Eurydice, in Cape Town.
© TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen, March 9, 2022.

❇ Image credits: © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen, March 9, 2022, Cape Town.