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Life after loss in The Blue Iris

He may be 80, but that hasn't stopped eminent playwright Athol Fugard from doing what he loves. "There are so many stories to tell!" he said. The latest of these gems is The Blue Iris, showing at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg from 21 August to 7 October following its sell-out world premiere at the National Arts Festival in Grahmstown and an extended run at the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town
Photo by CuePix/Harold Gess
Photo by CuePix/Harold Gess

I might as well state the obvious upfront: this play is absolutely amazing. That's expected when you take a brilliant storyteller like Fugard and have his work brought to life by a cast and crew with so many awards between them I lost track while trying to count. (In case you'd like to give tallying a try: producer Eric Abraham, director Janice Honeyman, assistant director Pusetso Thibedi, set designer Dicky Longhurst, costume designer Birrie Le Roux, and lighting designer Mannie Manim.)

Why can't he move on?

At the start of the play, we meet Karoo farmer Robert Hannay (Graham Weir). He's clearing away the debris after a fire has destroyed his home. Looking on is his housekeeper (Lee-Ann van Rooi), who seems to be his only companion now that his wife is gone. Their work seems endless, but he can't take her advice to pack up what they can and start over somewhere else. And so begin the questions. Why can't he put the past behind him and move on? Why is she so eager to get away? Clearly, the house that Rob built has a lot of meaning to them both, which is explored as they open up.

But there's a lot more to uncover. While digging through the charred remains, Robert finds his late wife's painting of a blue iris. Like the house, this represents a lot. The fact that it's the only thing that survived the fire unharmed, much like the flower itself managed to grow despite the drought, brings up the idea of light in the darkness. But the fact that the painting actually had some painful associations for his wife (played by Claire Berlein, who appears later in the play), much like the flower itself being poisonous enough to kill a full-grown ox, brings up the idea of darkness in the light.

Drought, storm and fire

Of course, this is just one interpretation. There are several other aspects to consider (the drought, the storm, the fire) and several ways to consider them. That's quite a lot to take away from a play that's just over an hour long. And, much like the task of sorting through the debris seems like it will never end, it's possible to keep going deeper and deeper into what it all means without really knowing what you'll find.

And yet that's what makes this play such a great experience. The Blue Iris explores so much, including life, death, love, loss, guilt, grief, forgiveness, and fresh starts. That means you're free to interpret it however you like and are bound to come away with something different compared to everyone else. That also makes The Blue Iris a winner on two levels: it's unique for being so profound and it's profound for being so unique. Theatre doesn't get any better than this!

The Blue Iris is showing at Cape Town's Fugard Theatre until 28 July and will then move to the Market Theatre in Joburg from 21 August to 7 October, 2012. Tickets are available from Computicket.

About Eugene Yiga

Eugene graduated from the University of Cape Town with distinctions in financial accounting and classical piano. He then spent over two-and-half years working in branding and communications at two of South Africa's top market research companies. Eugene also spent over three-and-a-half years at an eLearning start-up, all while building his business as an award-winning writer. Visit www.eugeneyiga.com, follow @eugeneyiga on Twitter, or email moc.agiyenegue@olleh to say, um, hello.

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