A PLAY OF binaries and detritus, red wool and solar powered Consol glass, The Year of the Bicycle is a work that begins with the threat of too much whimsy. But then it reaches into the belly of its own sense of momentum and this abstract tale of the friendship of two eight-year-olds across the impermeability of race and class takes flight. And it is ruthless: it doesn’t let you catch your breath, not for one second, until its inevitable, but still devastating closure.
A tale of love and fantasy, politics and American pilot Amelia Earhart, King Solomon’s wisdom and Pollsmoor prison, this fresh and exuberant piece of theatre grapples with the casual mellifluousness and stream of consciousness in the dialogue of children. Interchanging language and gesture, Amelia (Amy Louise Wilson) and Andile (Aphiwe Livi) become friends. She’s an only child. He’s the son of the maid next door. There’s a soccer ball, and his fear of white people and the dog. But together they weave a friendship of imaginary friends and flight, of the candid pondering and prodding the notion and idea of life and death.
And then several bigger narratives in concentric and concatenating circles are woven around them, in a series of stories of crime and chance, of tragedy and broken bodies that gives grown up voice to the children and allows their bond to take flight in a country bruised and confused by political torsion. Staged from 1997 with a ten year trajectory into an unknowable socio-political ethos, this is a remarkably mature and sophisticated yet beguilingly simple piece of theatre.
Featuring a set nothing short of brilliant, which comprises a few bits of wheeled furniture, a circle of solar-powered lights and some plastic bags and used cardboard boxes, The Year of the Bicycle is one of those works which seamlessly marries physical theatre with poetry. It will make you cry, but not in a formulaic, logical sense. A terrific maw opens in your heart and spirit about the irrevocable horror of loss and the inestimable sadness that comes of deep friendships rift and tossed at the whim of the vagaries of others.
But more than any of this, The Year of the Bicycle is a voice of the almost born free generation. Amelia and Andile are eight in 1997, which makes them a little more than toddlers at the advent of South African democracy three years earlier. The play has the rough and tumble integrity and sense of newness that we saw in Mongiwekhaza’s recent work I See You. It’s about a new sense of identity, as it is about improvisation, whimsy and wisdom. This is one of those works, akin to Jenine Collocott’s High Diving that has an acclaimed reputation as a festival piece, doesn’t enjoy long seasons, but it will grab you by everything you’ve got and shunt your emotions in a direction you could never have anticipated. Unforgettably.
- The Year of the Bicycle is written and directed by Joanna Ruth Evans. It features design by John Withers (sound composition) and is performed by Amy Louise Wilson and Aphiwe Livi. It performs at the Barney Simon Theatre, Market Theate Complex, Newtown, until May 22. Call 011 832 1641 or visit co.za