ONE OF THE ironies of being alive in this world is that in order to survive, you lie. You lie about everything, actually. All the time. If you feel bad or sad or ill or depressed, you lie by smiling in the face of deep sadness. You cover up the scariness of radical emotion with bravado. And it’s not a sin: it’s a tactic. The rawness of released tears are scary for the one having to witness them. They’re also scary for the one having to sniff them back. This is the psychological reality that young playwright Erica Harris beautifully explores in her debut Afrikaans-language work Oorlewing C Blok, which will be broadcast on Thursday evening.
It’s a boy-meets-girl-in-the-elevator-of-a-big-block-of-flats kind of story, but it evolves in a way that you cannot predict. What you do need to do is have some tissues on the ready – the denouements of the work are tight and subtle, constructed with a deft directorial hand and a strong pen. It’s also extremely well performed, with Franci Swanepoel in the key role of Denise, aka Poison Ivy, an ostensibly homeless woman who holds onto her stability and her tsatskes that are kind of for sale, tightly.
Swanepoel leads the work with charm and fierceness, deep vulnerability and gravelly toughness. As you listen to how she articulates Denise, a woman with a complicated history, and a difficult present, you know her instinctively. You watch her shut her emotions tight and only let them free when she considers herself safe to do so. And with all her bitterness and complexity, she’s an old soul who can see into the naiveté of Daniel (Kaz McFadden) and Klara (Mandi du Plooy-Baard) who skirt around one another playing the centuries-old game of flirting.
As the play unfolds – and congratulations are due to the technical team who construct the lift door of an ageing building aurally with such acuity, you know almost everything about the building itself, including its architecture and how it smells – a whole neighbourhood is cast around the recorded word and the interregna of alternative Afrikaans music. And as each character is developed hauntingly into three dimensions, so do you discover things about each of them – and yourself – that will make you weep.
A wise and developed essay on the rawness of loss and the need to behave as though you’re okay when you’re very far from being that, it’s a story which delivers the death of a loved on in the silences between words, and one which celebrates one’s parents in a way which flies in the face of the obvious. It’s a play that will make you look at that homeless person you pass every day with empathetic curiosity. And it’s the kind of work that shifts your place in the world.
- Oorlewing C Blok (Survival in Block C) is written by Erica Harris, the 2017 winner of the Sanlam young playwright competition. Directed by Renske Jacobs, and featuring technical input by Bongi Thomas and Evert Snyman Jr, it is performed by Mandi du Plooy-Baard, Kaz McFadden, Franci Swanepoel and Richard van der Westhuizen. It will be broadcast on RSG — 100-104FM — on Thursday April 5 at 8pm and will be rebroadcast at 1am on Monday 9 April, in the station’s all night programme, Deurnag. It is also available on podcast: rsg.co.za