THE BEAUTIFUL UNLOGIC and earnest hyperbole of a nine-year-old in conversation with his elderly grandfather starts this deeply wrenching play about sudden loss and unspoken words. Retief Scholtz’s work Karel se Oupa, was staged a few years ago, at the Market Theatre; it’s been reworked for radio and broadcasts this Thursday.
It’s a tale which unfolds with narrative maturity. We meet a small family on an agonising death vigil. A grandpa (Tobie Cronjé) with his namesake, a grandson (Ian Roelofs), the son of his daughter, speaks of aeroplanes and cancer, of magic and secret projects, to say nothing of ‘a plane that can take you anywhere’.
The domestic heart of a household is the centre for the most complex of emotional confrontations, particularly with the prodigal son ‘Junior’ (Neels Clasen) which features several elephants in the room. Death brings them together as it has flung them apart, and they focus on the bizarre elasticity of time, when it comes to mourning. But the kitchen with all its gender-centric tools and tricks is there for a reason, too. And the unspokenness of this issue speaks chapters.
The catalyst in this work is the family’s maid Emma (Esmeralda Bihl). Nursing her own sense of amputation from the loss of a child, she knows this family from the inside out, but as you listen to her with her intimate understandings of all three of these men (including the nine-year-old), with her cookie-baking skills and her chuckles, you cannot help but yearn for a patently more ‘coloured’ accent in the performer. Given that it’s a radio play, the stereotype is necessary; it carries all the baggage of a brown woman in a domestic role who really heads the household.
With farm priorities and horror that flit on in the story’s history, this is a well-developed South African tale, but as father and son cohere and try to understand one another, as they grieve and cleave together, there’s a little too much wordiness and maudlin and not enough is left for the listener to gather. Indeed, it is, the child and his fresh naive comments that will have you reaching for the tissue box.
Similarly when That Call comes through, you have a sense of an omen when the phone rings. In a sense, you shouldn’t hear the other side of the conversation. In a sense the brutality of that ring that smashes the conversation and the reality of this little family should have been enough.
- Karel se Oupa (Karel’s Grandpa) is written by Retief Scholtz and adapted for radio by Eben Cruywagen. Directed by Christelle Webb-Joubert and featuring technical input by Neria Mokwena and Evert Snyman, it is performed by Esmeralda Bihl, Charlie Bouguenon, Neels Clasen, Tobie Cronjé, Ian Roelofs and Rika Sennett. It broadcasts on RSG on Thursday May 30 at 8pm, will be rebroadcast on June 3 at 1am and is also available on podcast: rsg.co.za