A gripping theatrical presentation of Damon Galgut’s novel The Promise which was awarded the prestigious Booker Prize in 2021, opened last week in the Market Theater in Johannesburg.
The Promise is about a white family, the Swarts, who live on a piece of land outside Pretoria.
The story revolves around a wife and mother’s wish on her deathbed – in the 1980s – to her husband, the patriarch of the Swart family, that a portion of the land, with a small house on it, be given to Salome, the Sotho woman who works for the family all her life, is given.
The story spans several decades, past the transitional years around 1994 and into the early 2000s, and still the mother’s wish has not been fulfilled. Amor, the youngest of the three Swart children, was the only eyewitness to her mother and father’s verbal agreement. The fact that she remembers the moment and constantly reminds her family of the promise leads to the unraveling of events.
Whether you have read the book in advance or not (like me), Galgut and Sylvaine Strike’s text processing – who is also the director – provides a theatrical production that puts you on the lips of some of our country’s for two hours and forty minutes. leading actors hold.
I prepared myself for a piece that was going to be heavy and remorseful, but it was unnecessary.
It was initially a bit overwhelming to keep up with the jump between different scenes, spaces and the characters’ respective storylines. However, it is not difficult to follow the story, even as someone who is not familiar with the story.
The cast consists of Rob van Vuuren as Anton, Kate Normington in the roles of Ma and Maman, Frank Opperman in the roles of Pa, Rabbi and Moti, Chuma Sopotela as Salome, Cintaine Schutte in the roles of Tannie Marina and Desiree, Jenny Stead as Astrid, Albert Pretorius in the roles of Dominee Simms, Ockie, Dean, Jake and Pa Batty, Sanda Shandu in the roles of Lukas, Bob and Politicus, and Jane de Wet as Amor.
Charl-Johan Lingenfelder is responsible for the sound design and original music composition, Josh Lindberg for set and lighting design, Penny Simpson for costume design and Natalie Fischer for the choreography.
The story is visually presented on stage in a particularly creative way.
The set consists of a wooden platform with a variety of slopes, angles and functional parts. At first glance it looks like the deck of a ship, but over time it visually unlocks a variety of spaces in the story. Sometimes it is a hill on which Amor sits and gazes down at the farmhouse from the height, other times it is the interior of a bedroom where Anton and Desiree’s marriage is about to topple. It also becomes the Swarts’ dining room and a shopping center where Astrid tries to satisfy her shopping urge.
This contributes to the fact that the set takes on a life of its own and becomes one of the characters in the story that also makes specific demands on the actors and to which they must respond.
The Promise is a theater experience that reminds one anew of the art of theatre. To the absolute ingenuity that it takes from an actor to not only become emotionally involved in a story, but also to meet the physical demands that characters place on them.
The Promise is on view in the Markteater’s John Kani stage in Johannesburg until 5 November. Tickets cost R120 to R300 and can be booked at Webtickets.