Look for the love in the Bram Fischer Waltz

David Butler is Bram Fischer. Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer.
David Butler is Bram Fischer. Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer.

More than anything, this monologue celebrating Bram Fischer, arguably one of South Africa’s more curious and interesting characters, is a love story. The unabashed love between Bram and Molly Fischer is the aperture in this tight bricks and mortar tale of the apartheid regime’s cruel spite and malice towards a turncoat; it is this love that allows you to see the heart of the character and the performer in a way so compelling that the threat of text heaviness of the rest of the work shimmies into place.

The brash honesty in David Butler’s performance is completely disarming. Arguably one of South Africa’s most dignified and empathetic performers who has embraced Herman Charles Bosman’s stories as he has mastered the difficult craft of monodrama, Butler is always a performer worth watching. He becomes Bram Fischer, in his dusky shirt and trousers, with his heavily rimmed spectacles, engaging with the indignity and sadness of being imprisoned and the cruelty and terror of apartheid.

The language is gritty and alive in its construction and embrace of nostalgia, from the manner in which Fischer celebrates the stars to how he expresses his love for his Molly. The denouement of the tale happens in the third quarter of the work, which sees the accidental death of Molly, and heralds the dizzying vortex into which Fischer’s sense of self stumbled from that point.

The historical realities of Fischer’s life are well documented. The heroic status of this Boer pimpernel remains a sore point in the litany of Afrikaner values, pointing at his demise from cancer and the cruel decision of the government to not allow even his cremated remains to be kept by his two surviving daughters, and yet, yet the character, under the pen of Kalmer and the performance of Butler attains a sexiness that comes of authenticity and credibility. This is a real man who suffered real torment but who was, like Nelson Mandela, prepared to die for the anti-racist values he espoused.

While the work itself is riddled with too many stage-darkening transitions and there are elements of the set – by way of miniature cages – that are not engaged with at all, there’s a simplicity of form to the work which is quite beautiful. Everything is, however, held together with the gutturality and the heart of Butler’s rendition. In the hands of a lesser performer, the nubs of the tale, the love and the humanity may get overshadowed by the political narrative.

  • The Bram Fischer Waltz is written and by Harry Kalmer, and performed by David Butler, with the voices of Amanda Strydom and James Whyle. It is designed by Butler and Kalmer (lighting) and Larry le Roux (set) and performs at the Barney Simon Theatre, Market Theatre complex, until October 15. (011)832-1641.

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Robyn Sassen

A freelance arts writer since 1998, I fell in love with the theatre as a toddler, proved rubbish as a ballerina: my starring role was as Mrs Pussy in Noddy as a seven-year-old, and earned my stripes as an academic in Fine Arts and Art History, in subsequent years. I write for a range of online and print publications, including the Sunday Times, the Mail & Guardian and artslink.co.za and was formerly the arts editor of the SA Jewish Report, a weekly newspaper with which I was associated for 16 years. This blog promises you new stories every week, be they reviews, profiles, news stories or features.

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