This new one-man show from South African theatre company Hello Elephant is by turns heartfelt, amusing, and pleasantly evocative of a morning run through Johannesburg. While Nick Warren’s script is occasionally trite and all too quick to gloss over deeper social issues, it is at heart a kind and affecting piece. James Cuningham’s performance is measured and precise. This show isn’t trying to be edgy, and it works.
The descriptions of Johannesburg are beautifully written — even if you’ve never been to South Africa, you can still picture the jacaranda trees and feel the warm rain.
Matt (Cuningham) is a successful photographer, although he isn’t quite sure where his life has gone—he has woken up one Sunday morning with an urge to run away from it all. His girlfriend is pregnant and going to move in with him and he’s afraid of his looming responsibilities. On his morning jog, Matt strays from his usual route and makes a discovery which puts everything in perspective. Director Jenine Collocott’s decision to cast a middle-aged actor is an interesting one — Matt is no floundering 30-something professional. However, Cuningham carries off the part with warmth and energy, making Matt a likeable worrier rather than a whining man-child.
The set is somewhat superfluous, as the series of gray stage blocks, (perhaps meant to suggest the asphalt that Matt is running along), are barely used. The border of Sunday newspaper clippings littering the edge of the stage is a nice touch though. The lighting is excellent and an effective way of conveying motion — when Matt runs into a dark underpass, you feel sucked in alongside him.
While the show has some emotional moments and an overall light, pleasant touch, Warren is anxious to wrap things up neatly. Matt’s Sunday morning discovery is a stark reminder of much more pressing problems in Johannesburg, but the ending is a bit oversimplified and self-congratulatory. Still, it’s a fine piece, and Cuningham’s performance keeps the show sympathetic. The descriptions of Johannesburg are beautifully written — even if you’ve never been to South Africa, you can still picture the jacaranda trees and feel the warm rain.
Sunday Morning isn’t edgy or disturbing, and that’s all right. This warm, moving show is as calming as a Sunday morning reading the papers.