Macabre: A psychological suspense play

31 May 2023
The psychological suspense play Macabre is about to plunge you into the emotionally tumultuous journey of its two characters, pushing the boundaries of theatre towards the avant-garde.  

Presented by the University of Johannesburg's Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, Macabre is an eerily intimate production, directed by Jade Bowers. Described as “unique” and “immersive,” the production will take over a non-theatre venue in nearby Auckland Park where the lines between reality and drama are blurred, and you'll be pushed to consider your role as an audience member.

“This is realism, but it’s still theatrical, it is very heightened theatre, very tactile,” says Judy Ditchfield who plays Maud. 

It's a highly unusual production – seating for the performances of Macabre is limited to only 15 audience members per show. 

We caught up with the cast and production team for a look behind the curtain of this site-specific and immersive theatre piece.   

The hyperreal set is the work of designer Karabo Legoabe, while the play has been brought to life with music by composer and performer Matthew MacFarland. “This is realism, but it’s still theatrical, it is very heightened theatre, very tactile,” says Judy Ditchfield who plays Maud. 

Fezile Mpela, who plays Maud's counterpart, Abel, says: “There is nowhere to hide, for the audience [and] for the actors... You don’t have the darkness of the theatre or the safety of the fourth wall. As an audience member, you come into a new space, and we use your emotional journey in our own. Because the audience is right there, if there is a moment of shock, the audience’s shock impacts us. There is an immediate response – you know what the audience is feeling and how they are feeling.”
Judy Ditchfield plays Maud in this gripping drama
Judy Ditchfield plays Maud in this gripping drama. Photo: UJ Arts & Culture.

First showcased at The Vrystaat Arts Festival in October 2022 and directed by Gopala Davies, Macabre is described as a "gripping thriller that is guaranteed to leave you with haunting questions and a sense of silent horror." Not for the faint-hearted, the play balances the delicate art of revealing just enough to maintain intrigue, while Mpela and Ditchfield's interplay of energy, action, and influence adds depth to their complicated relationship complex, keeping you on the edge of your seat. 

I think as actors we are constantly conscious of the audience's energy anyway, but in this piece, it is heightened energy and we utilise that energy. It all depends on who walks in. We work with who’s in front of us, you can’t ignore them,” adds actress Judy Ditchfield.

Set in modern-day South Africa, Abel [Fezile Mpela] and Maud’s [Judy Ditchfield] dramatic encounter explores guilt, loss, and remorse. They are two characters marred by the cruelties of life, but not stereotyped by their race or age. 
Judy Ditchfield and Fezile Mpela star in the complex thriller
Judy Ditchfield and Fezile Mpela star in the complex thriller. Photo: UJ Arts & Culture.  

Both Mpela and Ditchfield were inspired and challenged by Jacobs’s writing and the quick shifts in mood and transitions in action. "I think there are elements of the unconscious bias in this space and I don’t think we can ever get away from that in South Africa. However, I think the way Jade [Bowers] has grown the characters, it is so much more about two human beings that have actually got very similar paths in a lot of ways and their journeys mirror each other," says Ditchfield. 

Ditchfield says it's one of the most demanding and serious projects she has undertaken, highlighting the incredible aspect of trust between the two actors in their performances. They rely on each other's emotional journeys, ensuring a harmonious balance on stage. 

“Its coincidental that she’s white and I am black," says Mpela. "The conversations we have are human conversations, not necessarily race-related. It’s about being a mother, a father being a father, a husband being a good husband or not. We are talking about people and relationships.”

The production takes place at 53A Twickenham Avenue, Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Macabre runs from Tue, 6 Jun – Sat 10, Jun, 18:30 for 19:00. Tickets are limited and some performances are already sold out, so book now! 


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