Saturday, 25 October 2008

In The Arms of a Lion, Sept 25, 2008 **

In The Arms of a Lion 
By Peter Van Der Merwe (OK)
Northcote Town Hall, Tues to Sun until Oct 4
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sept 25, 2008
Stars: **

Born in South Africa, Peter Van Der Merwe was 10 when Apartheid was dismantled in 1990. Although he missed the horror years of abuse and segregation, he lived through the crisis of the aftermath in the 90s.

In his solo show he depicts, through diverse characters, the racism and other prejudice that still exists after radical political change. Surprisingly, Van Der Merwe focuses more attention on the sexual prejudice visited upon his central narrator, a young gay man, than on racial issues.

The character tells the story of coming out to his bigoted, Christian fundamentalist family. Van Der Merwe plays the boy’s mother despairing about her fallen angel son and his sister who accuses him of destroying their family’s untarnished, white history.

The characterisations dealing specifically with more outrageous racists are most successful. It is chilling to see the smugly smiling South African Defence Forces officer looking like Hitler Youth and giving a lecture to children about terrorist bombs. Van Der Merwe’s portrayal of a fundamentalist preacher reveals the twisted rhetoric that justified racial abuse by deeming it to be God’s will.

The direction (Penelope Chater) does not mask the episodic structure and lack of a clear through line. Costume changes and shifts between characters interrupt dramatic development. However, there are some fascinating stories about South Africa.

Kate Herbert

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