In Shakespeare’s time, his audiences would come to a show with a prior knowledge of the events described, being so often rooted in classical tragedies or loosely covered allegories of political situations of the time. In this Shakespearian tragedy for our time, the situation is similar; everybody knows what happened in Oscar Pistorius’ story of fame and murder, giving playwright Isaac Mayne the liberty to explore the literary potential of the narrative. This piece works as an experiment into the nature of playwriting, referencing the Bard both explicitly and obliquely as it does so.
The language used in the script is a mixture of Old and Modern English, which slightly obscures the meaning of the words, but keeps the text sounding ‘Shakespearean’. There are also pronounced references to famous Shakespearean speeches and tropes. Obviously, it makes you wonder what the point of writing a ‘Shakespearean’ version of Pistorius’ story is. Certainly, there is a lot of beauty in the writing, which is well done and flows generously. Perhaps the tragic element of Pistorius’ downfall is also highlighted, increasing the culpability of the character. Something is also lost, I think; this play does not (and maybe cannot) explore the most controversial elements of what happened; the misogyny and racism inherent in defence’s arguments, for example. There are many ways to skin a cat, though, and the beauty of storytelling is surely its potential for multiplicity.
The well-written script was presented slickly and smoothly by a talented cast. Stand out performances came from Karin Sofia Johnson as Pistorius’ Aunty Arnella, who played the character with steadfast integrity and Carla Jenkins as Lady Steenkamp, who had a real stage presence and heaps of emotional realism in her portrayal of the grieving and angry mother. Louis Catliffe as Pistorius himself also excelled, and Joey Baker as Pistorius’ aide Van Der Stern delivered his lines beautifully; it was in his expression that the text shone particularly.
All in all, this was a very interesting watch; it is of course a fantastic story and this means of exploration is bold and exciting. We had the devices (e.g. meta-theatre “unlike you and I, he lives on a stage”), the language, and the characters of a Shakespearian tragedy, with the context and technology of our age. An impressive feat and an intriguing test.