Liv Die X Vukallective...Saving the Wasteland
By Dr Nesma Salem
Published in the 'Festival Bulletin' from the Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre 2020
Liv Die X Vukallective is a South African dramatic show, directed by Mark Antony Dobson. The Vukallective team is a group of friends who are interested in concepts of life, representing the common problems of human beings through their art. Many of their works are award-winning productions such as TEHUIS (2019), AVU (2016), and Let's Eat Hair (2015). Their works are characterized by a provoking aspect that arouses enthusiasm and curiosity from their audience to meditate and contemplate the essential issues of human life.
Their show Liv Die X Vukallective alludes to T.S Eliot's The Wasteland. It is the distorted soul of Modern man who now faces a fatal virus that changes the whole world. This is a time of deformity for all living beings. It is exactly like Eliot's vision; "a heap of broken images, where the sun beats/ And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief/ And the dry stone no sound of water... Only there is shadow under this red rock." (T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland)
The 40 minutes show starts with the image of the distorted broken soul, the deformed face of the heroine who represents the suffering of all people, in the prologue, as if pleading for a prescription to heal her trauma. The show embodies Eliot's vision of the Wasteland, as it starts with "a heap of broken images". The heavy soul of the heroine, reflected in her face, is not but a reflection of the eternal suffering that human beings are destined to live, passing by worldly crises like the current crisis of Corona-virus of 2020.
The show is an introspection of future, predicted from history and facts. The show starts with a blank face, that turns soon to be deformed, may be deformed by the current virus, a pandemic that changes the lives of all creatures. In an attempt to cheer up or to free itself from this distortion or deformity, the heroine tries to put together some pictures of living items like leaves of trees, and flowers. Unfortunately, this proves to be a failure, echoing Eliot's lines: "And I will show you something different from either Your shadow at morning striding behind you/ Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you/ I will show you fear in a handful of dust." (The Wasteland)
The face of the heroine appears stamped with the cross on it, representing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The cross is the symbol of suffering and agony. It carries many contradictions: peace and war, life and death, suffering and relief, pain and comfort, brokenness and wholeness, and sin and purity. The stamped cross on the face of the heroine is the symbol of fear and pain that are engraved in her face and soul. It is generalized to all human beings. It is an unknown war against an unknown enemy. It is the paradigm of human life. The heroine simply embodies Eliot's provision that "here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit/ There is not even silence in the mountains/ But dry sterile thunder without rain/ There is not even solitude in the mountains/ But red sullen faces sneer and snarl/ From doors of mud cracked houses." (The Wasteland)
It seems that the heroine of Liv Die represents "the sullen face" that "sneers" which Eliot described in his poem centuries ago. This face reflects the dichotomy of the human soul which struggles to survive, represented in the scene of images, put together. The scene of the singer who looks helpless in singing peace and war is extremely significant. There is a powerful hand; maybe the hand of destiny that changes the figure of the singer. The hand starts to eradicate the makeup of the singer, removing her wig, leaving her like a pale hollow ghost. Repeating "peace and war" is associated with removing her wig, as a symbol of the inevitable coming destruction. The singer is now left with short hair, representing her deprivation of beauty, symbolizing her loss of energy and power. The hand of destiny continues blinding the singer's
eyes with black eyeglasses. In an attempt to speak in simple words that make sense, the heroine appears next to a man; the typical form of human beings' foundation; Adam and Eve. However, Adam and Eve of this story are disabled, they are struggling to live and breathe as they appear wearing breathing aids on their faces; in an attempt to keep them living.
The second part of the show is concerned with the "runaway". In this scene, the heroine appears wearing a white dress. The dress is turned into a coffin that covers her face and her entire body, completely burying her body. It is a reminder of Shakespeare's belief in sonnet 18 that "every fair from fair sometimes decline", no stability of beauty, no stability of life. Again, in the giggle juice scene, the human being tries to run away and forget his or her imminent fate, through drinking. This is an allusion to Tennyson's Lotus Eaters where the sailors resort to drinking, eating the lotus fruit, to lose their consciousness and live in a dreamlike world free of hard times, labour, and virus. It seems that the hero and the heroine ask the same question of Tennyson's Lotus Eaters, "All things have rest: why should we toil alone? Why only toil? And make perpetual moan/ Still from one sorrow to another thrown." (Lotus Eaters)
Another symbolic scene is that of the white flower and the cage. The heroine appears in a symbolic shape imprisoned in a cage, and the white flower which is the symbol of life, beauty, peace and health, appears losing its leaves. The female figure of the scene represents the frailty of human beings in front of disasters and crises like pandemics; Corona-virus for example.
Towards the end of the show, the audience has to visualize Virginia Woolf's attempts to freeze the beautiful moments through her novel To The Lighthouse, after World War I. Like Mrs Ramsay of Woolf's To The Lighthouse, the heroine of the show appears carrying a deformed man, with a cut head, lulling him, singing for him, as an attempt to feel his presence. This scene is very painful. It is applied to all audience all over the world. It is the master scene that sums up the whole story of the show. It is the true message behind the performance; human beings must have hope of getting out of any crisis of catastrophe even if a fatal pandemic. "Just follow your dream" is the concluding motto of the show. It carries a message to the audience. People should try again and again to save their lives, to follow their dream, to save the wasteland.