For half a second, I was wondering whether the stepladder used in Erik de Waal’s The Witch, one of the shows playing at this year’s Regina Fringe Festival, was part of a commentary. It was your standard metal ladder, available anywhere, I’d guess. Not a big deal except that it provided a stark contrast with the setting of de Waal’s story, a small South African village, not to mention the nature of the tale, which occasionally reaches for beauty while also being full of foreboding.
I don’t think the ladder was really a bit of modernism thrown in for contrast — it seems a lot more likely it’s a practical reality of bringing a performer in from South Africa. My stepladder-related line of questioning left my mind not long into the performance, though. One reason is simply because de Waal is gifted at putting on a visually stimulating show. As an audience member, I think a lot about how difficult the transition from character to character must be in a one-person show. For de Waal, these movements are fluid and seamless, aided only by a sheet of translucent fabric.
At the same time, the story of The Witch is wide ranging and complex, demanding the audience’s attention at all times. De Waal starts things off at creation — which is never a terrible place to start — weaving in folk legends and myth from South African tradition. From there, he goes about telling tales of a village and of a young girl, shunned by her community and who’s been branded a witch.
De Waal shifts between personal stories and myth making, occasionally mixing the two. In the process, he brings an emotional heft to stories passed down while deepening the significance of the lives of his ordinary people.
This is the first in a series of Regina Fringe Festival reviews Aidan Morgan, John Cameron and I will be writing over the next few days. Be sure to check back at the Dog Blog for more and go see some of the shows yourself. The festival runs until Sunday, July 8.