Review: “Scenes from an Execution” at the Baxter Theatre


The play “Scenes from an Execution” was a very pleasant surprise. Before going I only knew that it had Jennifer Steyn in it, whose remarkable performance in “The Inconvenience of Wings” was enough of an encouragement (Between you and I, Internet, the fact that I’m on The Baxter Theatre’s mailing list and was informed about the special price for the first few performances, didn’t hurt either). ANYWAY, let me tell you a few words about my impressions.

A Venetian artist Galactia is commissioned to paint a battle. The political agenda behind the existence of the piece of art is to uplift the citizens and the soldiers by an idealized representation of the triumph of Venice in Lepanto. Such vision of the war is in opposition to Galactia’s perception of it. She considers it to be ruthless, horrible and rather pointless. As a mature woman with numerous lovers, who rarely bites her tongue she’s been through a lot and does not seem to care about appearances. This time, however, her need to stay true to her own beliefs will put her in danger. I shall say no more about the plot, to avoid spoiling the experience for you.

I must say it was a very refreshing experience to see a strong female dominating the play. Steyn is convincing in her rendition of the character. The audience feels for Galactia’s even if his or her relationship with the protagonist is that of love and hate. She isn’t meant to be likeable. She does and says what she pleases with little consideration for the feelings of others. In as much as Galactia’s behavior is partially due to her need to stay true to herself, she clearly finds pleasure in being shocking and controversial. Even her close ones don’t seem to comprehend her and throughout the play we wonder whether she herself fully knows the motivation of her actions.

Galactia isn’t the only interesting character. Her young lover is an artist herself (and a married one!) which makes their affair and passionate fights interesting to watch. Similarly confused to his partner he creates and interesting character only seemingly lacking a moral spine. Other female characters are also strong and convincing, especially the critic played by Elizabeth Akudugu. Galactia’s daughters perhaps don’t have the biggest impact on the play but the actresses were given a chance of being other characters as well. Seeing females in male roles should remind us about the evolution of the theatre, in which back in the Shakespearean days women weren’t allowed to perform at all and even female parts were played by male actors. Speaking of which, I shouldn’t forget about the remarkable performances of other male actors involved, whom I would have mentioned by name, had the Baxter Theatre published the full cast with their roles. Call me a peasant but mentioning the actors by their names and surnames accompanied solely by the names of plays they were in, isn’t enough. Pics or didn’t happen, Baxter!

The play certainly touches upon important and timeless issues. What’s the artist’s accountability for his art, if any? What price should one be willing to pay to stay true to oneself? Where is the line between being us and respecting the needs and feelings of others? Last but not least, does greatness always have to be alienating?  Even though “Scenes from an Execution” are to a vast extent about serious matters, there’s a lot of humor in the play. At points it’s very funny, yet in a dark sarcastic way. The acting and the scale of the story make it one of the best play I’ve seen in Cape Town. I highly recommend it to anyone whose looking for a play that both entertains and encourages reflection.


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