Oy Vey! This book’s packaging bruises its content

OyVey0001From the outset this book shrieks its presence into your awareness. Oy vey my child is gay (and an addict) are the words emblazoned in shocking pink across the face of a beautiful toddler. From the first time you see this book, you might find it sensationalist and disrespectful. It’s a plot spoiler. It even feels a tad homophobic. But you need to steel yourself to look beyond that cover and that title.

This is a first person narrative – a debut self-published work – that unflinchingly tackles head on the challenge faced by a woman when her daughter does not grow up into the stereotype she expects of her. When her daughter faces and represents more complex and bewildering challenges than she feels she, as her mother, has the tools to cope with. It’s a gutsy, powerful and eminently readable publication in which Anne Lapedus Brest has clearly been at pains to get right in the telling.

And the story is told with a distinctive personal style and a satisfying structure, chronicling the life of Lapedus Brest’s daughter Angela, who as the title points out, suffers the indignity of having to come out as gay in a homophobic community, and who further, becomes addicted to hard drugs.

In its telling, Lapedus Brest spills it all: no avenue of the horrors associated with not understanding who her daughter is remains unexplored. Veering on the side of parochial, Lapedus Brest’s text is  heavily peppered with South Africanisms and Jewishisms which might be off putting to a reader not from either of these communities, but it resonates with an evocative sense of authenticity.

Towards the end of the narrative, the love articulated becomes so overwritten, it compromises the rest of the book. It is the opening and closing of the package of this book, then, that hurt it the most.

There’s a chapter in which Lapedus Brest writes about her own relationships in an attempt to explain the notion of an addictive personality. There’s another in which she quotes directly from Angela’s personal diaries and a third in which she coerces Angela’s father Hymie to write a ‘Dear Angela’ tribute. These elements make you, the reader, cringe: you feel you shouldn’t be made privy to them. They’re private family moments which detract from the values secreted within this book.

Catastrophe is a brave and important gesture as a book, particularly from within the reaches of a community in which the common approach to such challenges has been to hide them, deny them and pretend them away, forcing children to perpetuate the same behaviour. It’s a celebration of the life of a family who managed to roll with the punches and still remain roughly intact, and it must have been an enormously cathartic exercise for the author herself. It’s just a pity that too much “emotion on the stage” prevents it from seriously being literature as well as advocacy in its nature.

Catastrophe: Oy Vey my child is gay and an addict by Anne Lapedus Brest (MF Books, an imprint of Jacana Media, Johannesburg 2014)

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A Beautiful Family: an unstoppable book to grab you by your community ties

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The scourge of sexual violence behind closed doors in affluent, educated and God-fearing society might be considered a topic so well covered in contemporary times that it has become hackneyed. But Marilyn Cohen de Villiers has debuted with a most extraordinarily powerful novel that will not let you continue living your life until you’ve learned the whole truth of the death of Brenda Silverman.

Something of a crime thriller, something of a docu-drama, the immensely well written publication takes you through the rich contradictory complexity of South Africa in the 1980s to the current day Jewish community in Johannesburg. This new writer doesn’t skip a beat in confronting demons and hypocrisies and perspectives held close by the community. She is unflinching in her intelligent and articulate description of how a closed community instinctively wants silence to pervade around particular types of scandal.

Brenda Silverman, an illustrious wife and mother in religious Jewish Johannesburg is found dead in her bed. She is 44 years old and the wife of a man feted as an award winning businessman and one of the community’s philanthropical heroes. An autopsy has been arranged. Journalist Tracy Jacobs, who went to school with the dead woman’s children, gets commissioned to cover the story for her newspaper, the Daily Express. It’s the starting point of a heart-wrenching guttural yarn which never teeters over into grandstanding or mawkishness, but will leave you, particularly if you know the community in question, unsettled.

Structurally, there are frissons in this work which relate it to several seasons of the well-written British murder series Trial and Retribution, aired in 2007, which tears strips off affluent society, revealing complex realities that reach far beyond what appears to be the sensible facts, touching on everything from religious hypocrisy to access to drugs.

The book never veers from being a novel and yet it fingers a particular community with such an eerie intimacy it makes you shiver, and this, amongst its other great assets is what lends A Beautiful Family its strength. Not only is this book an immense critical success for this first time novelist, but it offers a very well researched yet deeply distressing bird’s eye view into the scourge of abuse: it’s an important book for any community that weathers the reality of abuse within its belly.

Structured from within the perspectives of each of the central characters in the story, the yarn is woven with both delicacy and wisdom. We get to see how a hebephile justifies the most appalling behaviour from within his own skewed values. Do we sympathise with him? Perhaps, up to a point. If you consider how the makers of Oz the HBO prison series from the late 1990s wrote the material around really obnoxious criminals in such a way that led you to realise how society had let them down. In A Beautiful Family, you will appreciate how something similar happens, which ultimately lends the work balance. But given the structure of the material, everyone’s viewpoint is given fair voice. The result is cacophonous, ultimately satisfying as a read, but important in terms of the shadow it casts.

While the book weighs in at over 500 pages, it’s not a hefty read. Cohen De Villiers’s writing is tight and fast and never judgemental: her fury and bewilderment are made evident through the fictional characters she has created in a very real world.

This might be considered an ideal beach book or plane book, given the smooth flow of language, but be warned, it will haunt you: the issues dealt with here are deeply troubling. They represent an indictment on how a closed community hides its filthy secrets and while the narrative is predictable, there are hairpin bends in the plot which are horrifying yet feasible. Also be warned: as you embark upon this read, anything else you might be doing will slip into irrelevance, until you have read it all.

This is a novel which should be on the recommended reading list of any community leadership. And its success as a project makes you only really want to know when Cohen De Villiers’s second novel will be out.

A Beautiful Family by Marilyn Cohen de Villiers (Reach Publishers, Wandsbeck 2014)

Zaidel-Rudolph and the writing of a perfect song for a Rainbow Nation

Nelson Mandela examining the CD of a composition Zaidel-Rudolph made, celebrating his life. Photograph courtesy Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph

Nelson Mandela holding the CD of a work Zaidel-Rudolph composed, celebrating his life. Photograph courtesy Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph

Possibly one of the most potent symbols of our identity as a unique culture is our National Anthem. Lee Hirsch in 2002 constructing the important film Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony gave beautiful documentary insight into how music and history cleave together in South Africa, and have done so, through the Struggle, informing who we are as South Africans.

But through layer upon layer of song and tune, of protest ditty and household chorus, the national anthem must shine through. Johannesburg-based Professor Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph, arguably one of the more recognised contemporary composers in the world – and the first woman to attain her doctorate in music composition in South Africa, was responsible for the composite version of our current national anthem.

“The process for me started in 1995,” Zaidel-Rudolph, now, since her retirement last year, an honorary research academic at the University of the Witwatersrand, told My View. “I was approached by President Nelson Mandela’s office to be part of the committee to organise and rearrange a composite version of the two anthems – the old national anthem, Die Stem, and the African anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika

The process had begun a couple of years earlier, formally in April of 1993. Musicologist Michael Levy writes: “the Multiparty Negotiating Forum (MPNF) began work in Kempton Park outside Johannesburg, with the aim of creating a democratic South Africa, and in November of that year ratified the Interim Constitution of the Republic of South Africa which regulated government of the country through the 1994 elections until the adoption of the final Constitution in 1996.

“Professor Elize Botha was appointed by the MPNF as chairman of its commission on national symbols which at first invited submissions from the public for the creation of a completely new and original national anthem.A sub-committee was appointed to oversee this process.Although more than 200 new proposed anthems were received, none was considered suitable.”

Zaidel-Rudolph was appointed, some three years later, a member of a committee to focus on the anthem. It was chaired by professor of African languages at the University of the Witwatersrand, Mzilikazi Khumalo, and in addition to Zaidel-Rudolph, comprised other musical and linguistic heavy-weights in the country: Richard Cock, Professor Khabi Mngoma, Professor Mazizi Kunene, Professor Elize Botha, Fatima Meer, Dr Wally Serote, Professor John Lenake, Anna Bender and Professor Johan de Villiers.

“The committee drew from all over the country. Dr Ben Ngubane, minister of Arts and Culture at the time initiated the process and facilitated it,” said Zaidel-Rudolph. “In this committee, they asked people to make suggestions. How do you take an anthem that is 5’20” – because it was two anthems conjoined – “and compress it into an intelligible,singable composite version? What do you remove?” She explains that traditionally, an anthem should never be longer than two minutes.

“Mandela’s directive was that it should be under two minutes, and I reckoned 1’50” would have been okay – even 1’48”- whichis what she eventually achieved.

Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph with Nelson Mandela. Photograph courtesy Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph.

Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph with Nelson Mandela. Photograph courtesy Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph.

“So, Richard Cock and Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo, who have worked together for many years on massed choir festivals, developed a blueprint, which put Die Stem first, and then Nkosi. There were no English words.

“I arrived with my idea: I’d put Nkosi first, in a particular key, then added a bridge passage, because the average man cannot sing those two songs in the same key as the one becomes terribly high. So after Nkosi is finished, in G Major, the music modulates down to D Major for excerpts of Die Stem. I also wrote the English words.

“A discussion proffered unanimous support for my suggested structure and though Cabinet found my original English words to be a little too militaristic, I re-submitted fresh lyricsand was asked to put the final version into practice.”

She described this decision at the time in the local newspaper as “the highlight of my life. My roots are in Africa and through my great love of music and especially of composition, this has been an incredible experience. It is such an honour for me to hear my own work on the national and international stage, radio and television. And it has been an honour to do this for my country and our President.I spent many weeks in my studio in Bagleyston agonising over the final composite,” she told Joy Kanter of the Rosebank Killarney Gazette in 1995.

“They tasked me with doing this whole thing, which was cutting, cutting, cutting. Also at that committee meeting, a very interesting thing happened. Fatima Meer, who was very close to Mandela, and a Muslim woman with whom I became quite friendly,, was adamant that the ‘Woza Moya’ section of Nkosi, should come out. It means ‘Come Oh Spirit’.At the time, it was strongly felt around the table that ‘Come Oh Spirit’ meant the Christian holy Trinity, so it wasn’t appropriate for Muslims. Or Jews.So, that was adopted.”

The anthem contains isiZulu, isiXhosa, Setswana and Sesotho, in addition to Afrikaans and English. “I do not speak the African languages,” said Zaidel-Rudolph. “So I consulted Khumalo, the professor of African languages on the committee. I had done all the music and I asked him how we do this so that we don’t chop any of the words in half. Most of the repetitions we took out, which helped a lot with the shortening and editing process of the work.

“After all this I did a piano and vocal score, with new English words which I had written and then they asked me to do a full orchestration for full orchestra. And I had a lot of fun with that, because I tried to think of ways of being symbolic. In the one section near the end, I put Nkosi as a counterpoint because it worked harmonically. I superimposed it with Die Stem in the orchestration to show reconciliation and all the symbolism of what was transpiring which the average guy would not have recognised, but which a musician might have heard, because I put it also in African instruments. It is in the marimba and the cabassa in the original orchestral version.”

For a while now, there has been talk of wanting to rework the national anthem. Zaidel-Rudolph is cognisant of this: “People don’t like the composite version. The real die-hards and stalwarts of the struggle feel that there shouldn’t be any of Die Stem in there.”

But if this happened, would it change the anthem’s identity? Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika composed as a hymn in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, means God bless Africa, and is a part of several anthems throughout the continent. It was adopted by the ANC as the closing song for its meetings in 1912.

Levy explains in Samro’s publication Notes: “Although Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika was originally written in Zulu, in the 1920s, Xhosa stanzas were added to it by Samuel Mqhayi, a Xhosa poet and historian who sat on the Xhosa language bible revision board. In 1942, Moses Mphahlele, an ANC secretary, poet and musician published Morena Boloka, the Sesotho version.”

Involved as a Director in the SA Music Rights Organisation (Samro) since 2008, Zaidel-Rudolph is also a Director on the board of the Samro Foundation. She’s also a member of the Social and Ethics Committee and its Nominations and Governance Committee. “We are involved in music policy, especially when it relates to government.

“I wouldn’t say that this national anthem is the perfect blend, but I believe it is the best one at the moment. I thought very carefully about it keeping some Afrikaans words because Mandela said we must.Just like he said with the Springboks: you don’t destroy. You elevate and re-use.”

Conceived as a poem in 1918, Die Stem was written by the poet CJ Langenhoven and composed by Marthinus Lourens De Villiers in 1921. It was adopted as the official national anthem of South Africa in May 1957, shortly before South Africa became independent.

“Maybe it is time for a new anthem,” Zaidel-Rudolph continues. “But I don’t know where that anthem will come from. Because people, now that it’s taken nearly 20 years to learn it, are not so happy to let go of it.

“When first I was approached, the idea of composing the country’s national anthem was quite a thought for me. I had never been involved in thinking about the anthem. At that stage, I didn’t know Nkosi and I had to make it my business very speedily to know it.”

This selected version was officially adopted as the National Anthem of South Africa by President, Nelson Mandela, by Proclamation No. 68 in the Government Gazette of October 10, 1997.

But who owns it? While Zaidel-Rudolph was paid for her work, copyright for a national anthem is more complicated and no royalties accrue to anyone. Levy adds: “Strictly speaking, all South African own the anthem, but free of any and all copyright and commercial restraints. The national anthem of South Africa is owned by the state which has determined that the work is in the public domain.”

Five Lives: Love and hurt under apartheid

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A tale of the relentless complexity of sibling lives and how they can intertwine and contradict and hurt each other, under the devastating pall of apartheid, just before democracy, Five Lives at Noon is a real page turner.

Meersman has created a bevy of characters which populate this text with a gutturalness and a sense of human grit that make you believe you will recognise them in the street. Tainted and broken and built and shaped by the racist laws that forged their roots, Joseph, Zukiswa, Mfundi, Francois and Bertie are roughly of the same age, but the enormous differences in their skin colour and spiritual make up have forced them into alarmingly radical directions.

This is no coming-of-age story. It’s a love story. It’s about sibling love and illegal love. It’s about marriage and disappointment. It’s about the horror of betrayal when the stakes are as high as they can get. Above all, it’s about the mire of complexity that being raised under apartheid represented for so many.

Underpinning the whole narrative is a tight and hilarious critique of the contemporary South African art world. The unequivocal highlight in this book’s writing is a description of the opening night of an art exhibition. It’s handled with the juicy acerbic wit of an insider/outsider in the arts community and Meersman infiltrates his words with as much visual caricature and wisdom as you can find in the best of the work of German Expressionist painter, Otto Dix. Even if you don’t know anything about South Africa or don’t resonate with the heavy dreadfulness of how things unfold in central thread to this story, this passage in the text is to be simply cherished.

With each chapter punctuated with genuine headlines and précis of media stories that rocked the city at the time, the work also features feisty thumbnail biographies of people like Harry Oppenheimer, Mangosutho Buthelezi and Chris Hani – very different and singularly important icons in the South African contemporary narrative.

If you are not South African or don’t have an internal memory of the goings on in the country during the early 1990s, however, you might find yourself a little at sea regarding these disruptions in the yarn that Meersman casts. Handled in a different font from the rest of the text, they are clear digressions but are not stitched to the central story with conviction.

But replete with hairpin twists in its plot, and often as not covered in the historical blood, cruelty and malice which defined military apartheid values, this book will leave you stunned and covered in goosebumps, if not tears, often.

Five Lives at Noon by Brent Meersman (2013: Missing Ink, Vlaeberg).

Women’s Voices Rising in Religious Leadership

Community stalwart and deputy chair of the South African Zionist Federation Reeva Forman, with Bet David's Rabbi Julia Margolis (right).

Community stalwart and deputy chair of the South African Zionist Federation Reeva Forman, with Bet David’s Rabbi Julia Margolis (right).

Should there be such a thing as a woman rabbi? Is it an archaic misinterpretation to force Muslim women to enter a mosque through a separate entrance to men? How does the Baha’i faith interrogate women’s rights? And where does the Christian trinity stand in relation to women in society?  These were some of the issues raised recently in a fascinating foray around women in religious leadership, at the Women’s Jail in Hillbrow, hosted by the South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity (SACRED).

Emcee Reeva Forman, deputy chair of the South African Zionist Federation and stalwart of the Bet Israel community in Hillbrow welcomed rabbis, spiritual leaders and members of the broader community and communal leadership. Notably absent in the audience were vocal or critical members of the Muslim, Lutheran and Baha’i communities. Significantly, this event was held on the cusp of the annual Sixteen Days of Elimination of Violence Against Women and Children, themed this year as From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World.

Forman spoke of both Hungarian activist Hannah Senesh (1921-1944) executed in Europe and Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai (born in 1997), a fierce pro-female education activist and the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate ever, women who have had the courage to raise their voices against discrimination.

“The Taliban may have taken away our pens and our books but they cannot stop our minds from thinking. I raise up my voice not so I can shout back at those without voices, but we must, on behalf of those, shout: we cannot succeed when half of the human race is silenced,” she quoted Malala.. “When the whole world is silent, even one voice is powerful.”

The event took the form of a panel discussion, featuring lawyer Zaakirah Akram of the Open Mosque in Cape Town, Reverend Lutz Ackermann of the Lutheran Church of Peace in Hillbrow, Rabbi Julia Margolis from Bet David in Sandton and Baha’i representative Khwezi Fudu Cenenda

Focusing on the pragmatic righteousness of women in Talmudic tradition, Rabbi Margolis, the first qualified woman rabbi in South Africa, daughter of the first Russian-speaking woman rabbi in Israel and a great voice for equality and freedom in South Africa said: “The spirit of those women – who didn’t despair in the face of harsh treatment, who helped their husbands, who protected babies doomed for slaughter – in the generation of the book of Exodus from Egypt, has been the spirit of Jewish women throughout their generations: women who never give up hope for their children.”

She touched on the challenges she faces as both a rabbi and a mother, but also that of being a woman rabbi in South Africa. “Why do we need women rabbis? What does it mean for a female to occupy such office? Indeed, what does this say about the community or country in which a female is encouraged to hold such an office?

“If we ask such a question, we need to ask the question as to why we need women doctors, and we need to remember that only a hundred years ago in England, Parliament considered it absolutely a breach of professionalism.

Showing her cognisance of difficulties she faces for being the only women rabbi in South Africa, she added: “We must seek truth and not be afraid to speak up when those truths are questioned.”

Khwezi Fudu Cenende representing the Baha'i community.

Khwezi Fudu Cenenda representing the Baha’i community.

Cenenda, the diplomatic liaison for the Baha’i community then spoke of how women have been killed in society in the name of religion underpinned by misogynist values. She spoke of the spiritual principles with social implications informing Baha’i faith. “God has created all of mankind and in the estimation of God, there is no distinction between male and female. God judges human actions, not actions as they are performed by a man or by a woman. This equality is always there, but it is addressed differently by our society.

“When women are suppressed there is injustice. Until the world realises this, there will not be peace,” she spoke of the greater burden and work that women have in terms of making the world turn. “The woman has greater moral courage than the man. She has also special gifts,” she added, citing the South African idiom, You Strike A Woman, You Strike A Rock (Wa’thint abafazi, wa’thint umbokodo). “I pray for the time where it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman when you achieve things. I pray for the time when it doesn’t matter when you are ‘the first black’, ‘the first woman’ to achieve something. I pray for the time when humanity is able to identify itself as humanity and just live, because that is ultimately what we want to do.”

Reverend Lutz Ackermann of the Lutheran Church of Peace

Reverend Lutz Ackermann of the Lutheran Church of Peace.

The Lutheran Church of Peace’s Reverend Ackerman, a leader who has been enormously proactive in collaborative projects between his community and the Union of Jewish Women. In South Africa since 2001, Reverend Ackerman was educated and ordained in Bavaria. Teetering between affiliation to the Lutheran and Anglican churches, he said “I speak as an insider to various different church backgrounds and on behalf of Christianity broadly.

Pre-empting his talk with the caveat that nothing is static and that everything changes, he spoke of the maleness of Christ’s disciples; “This is not a very good starting point for gender equality and leadership in a religion,” he referred to a “handicap” in the religion. “Why did Martin Luther not introduce female pastors?” he briefly accounted the history of Lutheranism and the value it brought to the western world. “We need to understand that the Reformation was essential in turning a shift in society. But the changes we have seen in church and theology that favour gender cannot be fully masked.

“This transformation of theological thinking is nowhere near complete. In South Africa there are many places that have contributed to this transformation,” he itemised the steadily growing number of women pastors in Anglican and Lutheran communities as he interrogated Roman Catholic canonical principles.

“What is religious leadership based upon? Education?  A divine calling? Is it based on the concept of being set aside to serve the faith of a community? But further, what is the role of the laity and what are its boundaries? Sometimes it is not only a question of legality but also of citizens taking decisions. It’s not only the legislative framework that can set limits to how the church is run,” he expressed his hope “that inclusivity will become central to religious leadership in the world.”

Zaakirah Akram of the Open Mosque

Zaakirah Akram of the Open Mosque.

Akram, the youngest of the four, began cheekily. “When you think of a Muslim woman,” she said, “What do you expect? Someone like me?” dressed in a tailored suit and high heeled shoes, she grinned at the audience’s perplexed sensitivity to political correctness in the face of stereotypes.

“Exactly. The current stereotype for Islam is not about non-judging, open understanding and equality. It’s about complete terror. We, at the Open Mosque are officially celebrating our second month,” she alluded to threats the establishment has weathered, before proceeding to examine the Koran’s exegesis with regard to the position of women in Muslim society. “The Open Mosque is a pioneer institution which engages with people’s status in the mosque. No longer are we as women banished to enter and exit through side entrances. No longer do we pray from behind barriers and partitions as is the set up in traditional mosques.

“At the Open Mosque, women are treated as equals to men and access the mosque through the main entrance. We pray in the same area as our fathers, sons and brothers. We encourage women to empower and educate themselves through teachings in the Koran and by extension, teaching their male and female offspring that they are valued as equals. In this way we will eventually succeed in turning around the entrenched values of Muslim tradition, to practice tolerance and oppose injustice.” She spoke of the spiritual authority of women and how they should be encouraged to embrace their own power and progress leadership roles.

“Women are actively involved in the Open Mosque, where they are encouraged to participate in a formerly male-dominated society. As young women we should challenge forces that exert influence over us. For us to succeed, both men and women must become proactive. Gender equality cannot be achieved without active participation.”

“We need to keep looking forward to moderate values. We need to focus on not drawing physical attention to ourselves,” she explained dress codes and commented on the rigid understanding of Koranic interpretation that has forged one particularly damaging stereotype to the culture. Women remain marginalised in Muslim society, she explained how sexist values were embodied in Islamic legal constructs like inheritance.

“It’s a default position, and has been for 1 400 years. Somehow it has been misinterpreted to mean this is all you can get. But this is only an interpretation. Women should have equal rights in households, education, the workplace and our mosques. We should have sole rights over our bodies and should make their own marital decisions.”

When the Old and the Beautiful becomes the Dark and the Lovely

Doing it in the dark: Tony Bentel on the piano, with Fiona Ramsay on vocals. Photograph by Germaine De Larch.

Doing it in the dark: Tony Bentel on the piano, with Fiona Ramsay on vocals. Photograph by Germaine De Larch.

Picture the scenario: the scene is cast, with a fabulous director, a seasoned duo of performers and a tuned piano. Chairs are placed, the tone is set. And then the power goes down. “It’s scheduled!” yell some. “It’s not!” yell others. But still, it’s dark as pitch, and the show’s about to start.

This is what happened for the opening performance of the second season of The Old and the Beautiful, tonight, a song and piano work which tears apart and glories what it means to age. And in spite of incipient darkness, acts of God or other irritating lurgies, the show must always go on, and it did: against the velvety blackness of the night, the wavering harsh circle of a torch or two and in the glow of some strategically placed candles, the performers gave a very privileged audience a taste of the full production.

It was perfect. Glorying in the gravelly, ‘telegram from hell’ kind of work of Marianne Faithfull, the breathless and breathtaking ‘Maybe this time’ from the 1972 film of Cabaret and a piece from the rich experimental heady days of Johannesburg’s Market Theatre, the work is funny and subtle and humble with its self-deprecating pizzazz moments, but one in which the centre is firmly cast with a great deal of soul. And a hefty dollop of cynicism.

Watching this in the dark with the performers – Fiona Ramsay on vocals and Tony Bentel on piano – unable to rest on any gimmicks by way of amplification and lighting, you realise the value of true commitment to a discipline. And it makes you shiver. And weep.

Nine years ago, in 2005, a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, featuring Bill Flynn as Bottom, suffered a similar indignity. It was load-shedding season at the time and half way through the work, the power was out and pandemonium began to break out in the theatre. But the tale wasn’t allowed to end with disgruntled audience members blindly feeling their way home. No: director Dorothy Ann Gould clapped her hands and announced that the show would go on, in the garden. It was a midsummer’s night. And the magic was real.

Similarly, the Old and the Beautiful began its December season with priceless and classy aplomb. It’s a true gem of a work, bringing together the considerable talents of Bentel and Ramsay. You might not be privileged enough to see it in the utter dark, but see it, you should: a delicate and gritty reflection on the fabric that make us all human and vulnerable.

The Old and the Beautiful is compiled and performed by Fiona Ramsay and Tony Bentel and directed by Janna Ramos-Violante. It performs at POP Arts, Maboneng, in central Johannesburg, until December 7.