Theatre Review: Playland – lost in translation

I am convinced there is a powerful story within Pacific Theatre’s Playland but that story was ultimately lost on me as heavy accents obscured most of the dialogue.

South Africa is on the precipice of change.   In just a few short weeks the process of dismantling apartheid will begin.  Soon Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission will continue the healing of a country.  Mirroring the country’s struggle and the change within are Gideon (Michael Kopsa) and Martinus (Tom Pickett), who meet on the edge of a travelling amusement park.  Both men have horrendous secrets that haunt them and are seeking forgiveness.

Kopsa and Pickett both take command of the stage but with their heavy South African accents it was virtually impossible to understand most of playwright Athol Fugard’s text.  My attempt at translation was made even more difficult by the Pacific Theatre stage where the actors’ mouths were not visible all the time, making even my rudimentary attempt at lip reading impossible.

The Cast of Playland on stage at Vancouver's Pacific Theatre
Tom Pickett and Michael Kopsa in Pacific Theatre’s Playland

Drew Facey’s set design is a marvel complete with what must be a truckload of gravel and the fraying fringes of the amusement park.  Jeff Tymoshuk gives us both a quiet exterior soundscape and the full-on noise of the midway.  Trent Payton’s projections are enough to create an epileptic seizure providing full sensory overload when combined with Tymoshuk’s sound and Lauchlin Johnston’s lighting design.

This is a beautiful production to look at but, as I left the theatre last night, I couldn’t help but feel cheated; I had just spent 90 minutes understanding little of what I had just heard, much like watching an Italian opera without benefit of surtitles.

3 Out of 5 Stars Playland
Pacific Theatre
5 – 27 November 2010

Tickets are available online or by calling 604.731.5518.  Visit http://www.pacifictheatre.org for more information.

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