The Theatreguide.London Review
Donmar Warehouse Spring 2009
Athol Fugard's 1975 drama is uncharacteristically non-political for this South African playwright, rather more a study of a man's destruction by his own internal demons, told through an uneasy mix of realism, metaphor and myth.
It is also painfully boring.
Its one redeeming feature is that it offers a couple of performers the opportunity to do a lot of ACTING. If you like a lot of ACTING for your money, lots of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, you'll be happy with Dimetos.
The title character is a brilliant civil engineer who lost interest in helping people with buildings and sewerage projects and retired to the distant countryside with his housekeeper (who, of course, secretly loves him) and his niece (who he, of course, secretly loves).
An emissary from the city comes to try and lure him back to work, but only succeeds in upsetting the balance of things so that one character dies. Three years later we find Dimetos even more isolated and estranged, to the point of madness.
The play opens with Dimetos and his niece saving a horse that fell down a well, and - in one of the play's less strained symbols - each of them later identifies with the horse, he in the sense of being in a trap from which there is no escape, she in finding something blameworthy in being carefree and innocent when there are dangers around.
The style ranges from the overly explicit - the visitor spells out everything he thinks and feels in prosaic detail - to muddily and self-consciously 'poetic,' everyone else talking circles around what they mean, and both styles get rather annoying after a while.
There is the core of a potentially deep and moving play in here - about how inexplicable horror or pain tears the fabric of reality, blurring the boundaries between truth, myth and madness.
But Fugard places far too much static between that insight and us for more than a hint of it to come through.
What there is, is an opportunity for Jonathan Pryce as Dimetos to chew up the scenery, acting his little heart out as the character swings from repressed passion to uncontrolled grief to self-absorption to madness and back again.
Anne Reid as the housekeeper has one strong scene as her character realises that the high tragedies of the others have relegated her to the irrelevant fringe, implicitly declaring her emotions of no value. Holliday Grainger and Alex Lanipekun are serviceable in the other roles.
It may be relevant that director Douglas Hodge is an actor himself, because he is more successful in guiding the performers toward milking all the passion out of their roles than in pacing the play or helping it to make much sense.
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