ROUGH AND WISE words constructed around a complex and nuanced narrative and cast within the folds of metaphors and figures of speech, wickedly flipping languages up against one another, can never get old. Particularly if they are performed with a guttural perfection that is peppered with physical theatre and an understanding of drunkenness that is human and hilarious and tragic, all at the same time. Four years ago, Retief Scholtz’s beautiful play of drinking banter, South African nostalgia and unearthed (and broken) dreams, Dop was staged at Montecasino. It’s back on the boards for a brief season at the Market Theatre.
With a couple of tweaks to the text and in a different theatre, the play is the same, yet different: there’s an intimacy in this production that was not there before. Ultimately, however, your gaze is riveted on Frank Venter (André Odendaal), the older man who finds himself so wrenchingly alone on this, his 60th birthday.
It is the drunkenness that takes hold of the actor and poignantly sets him in the face of both extreme humour and a bittersweet depth of focus that is about being in the grip of one too many. He’s a character with the authenticity of the Tippler in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, and one which evokes the brilliance articulated in the 1963 classic Dinner for One, directed by Heinz Dunkhase. It’s Chaplinesque and you resonate with it because you know what it is like to negotiate a recalcitrant stool with your rubber legs, or some infernally complicated words with your rubber tongue. And it is in these teetering moments when the bar itself turns on its kilter and you’re laughing in paragraphs that the director catches you mid-laugh and turns your emotion into a sob.
This work is an essay on what happens to brilliance years after it has basked in its own ovations, and when the performer finds himself washed out and in the company of strangers. Does the history of his own talent pale into a funny myth? Or worse, a fantasy? There are moments of such great beauty intertwined unexpectedly in the gauche, the prosaic, the drool of a tequila shot too many, that will catch your breath.
And then, there is the question of love. In this, work tender ideas are cast in rude instruments in a way that brings goosebumps of recognition.
If you have not seen this play before – or if you have – whether you are a Johannes Kerkorrel groupie, or whether you’ve never heard of the Voëlvry movement, this is a season which should have Market Theatre patrons queuing at the box office. The immense strength of its writing, performance, direction and presence makes it glow with the resonance of classic contemporary SA drama.
- Dop is written by Retief Scholtz and directed by Sylvaine Strike. It is performed by André Odendaal and Wilhelm van der Walt and features design by Kosie Smit (lighting). Stage managed by Bongani Mabaso, it performs at the Barney Simon Theatre, Market Theatre complex in Newtown, Johannesburg until 19 January 2020.