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Normality (Starring Pedro Kruger)
Published on Thursday, 20 August 2009

Late one afternoon in the Pleasance Dome, a chance meeting pointed me towards a show. It was a unique, life-affirming show - one which changed me inside and lightened my heart, and reminded me again just how powerful theatre can be. That show was Normality. It's a South African one-hander, translated from the original Afrikaans, and acted out by the brilliant Pedro Kruger.

Kruger plays a man called Alex, and the script focuses on his struggle with a crippling disability. Or at least, I thought it did at first; but it turned out I was wrong. For as time went by, it slowly dawned on me just how this play got its name: far from being about Alex's disfigured joints, it's a simple, very normal, love story. Boy meets girl, they make out, they quarrel, and you pray it will end happily ever after.

And that's the genius of Hennie van Greunen's perfectly-balanced script. It starts with shock, with discomfort, maybe even with despair; but gently, oh so gently, it transforms to something beautiful. Why was I surprised by that? Why did I expect a play about a disabled man to be uniformly downbeat? Why was I startled by the sexual frankness, why was I unwilling to laugh at the jokes? You'll ask yourself all these questions too, for Normality is as much about what you see inside your own head as what you see on the stage.

But don't worry. This isn't one of those nasty, bitter pieces - the ones which pretend to hold a mirror up, but really just point a finger. No, Normality is subtler and better than that; it was deeply challenging, but it was supportive too. It never attacked my first reactions, yet as the play developed, I saw the disability less and less - and became engrossed entirely in the "normal" human story.

It doesn't ignore the issue, of course. Pedro Kruger - who, by the way, is not himself disabled - vividly portrays Alex's battle against a demonic inner voice, which tells him that a man like him could never have a girl like her. That, I guess, is normal too, but in Alex's case the worries we all have about our bodies gain an added piquancy. The magnificent monologue drew me further and further in, so that when Alex finally found the courage to shake off his doubts - a thing which happens in the most unexpected of places - I felt a heart-leaping moment of precious, purest joy.

Kruger's clearly an accomplished musician as well as a talented actor; and stepping out of his role from time to time, he punctuated the narrative with songs, which he accompanied himself on a piano. At first, the musical interludes were disconcerting, but my attitude changed here too. From a lyrically beautiful number about falling in love, through sardonic criticism of the hypocrisy of charity and right on to the heart-stopping closing piece, the songs echoed and enhanced the story. Like the humour, too, they provided a well-timed, well-judged, much-needed release.

I can remember, vividly, the last time a play moved me as powerfully as Normality, and it was many years ago. This is my fourteenth year in Edinburgh, and my fourth as editor of FringeGuru; and this is the strongest recommendation I've ever given a show. Expect to be challenged - expect to be uplifted - expect to be changed. But whatever you do, find time to see Normality.

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