Arts Festival

How to hitch your SUV to a star

THE business of flying saucers and extraterrestrial sex. Annie Robinson-Grealy is Rose in Paul Slabolepszy’s Finding Rosetta at Theatre on the Square in Sandton until 30 September. Photograph by Philip Kuhn.

SOMETIMES THE UNIVERSE has to grab you by your shirt fronts and force you to focus on what matters, regardless of the bits and pieces you may think you have to do. This, conjoined with a woo-woo tale feathered by old truths and trendy values is the central nub to Paul Slabolepszy’s play Finding Rosetta, at Theatre on the Square in Sandton until 30 September.

Launched at this year’s Hilton Arts Festival in August of this year, Finding Rosetta is a one-hander, featuring Annie Robinson-Grealy. It is here where we meet Rose. After a life of being a dutiful wife and mother, a bang uttered from the depths of her car’s engine on the N3 highway going seaward, presents a whole new vista of possibility. It’s about the myths and musicality of the amaZulu as it is about Joni Mitchell’s lyrics and Martha Graham’s choreography. It is also about Rose’s own childhood in the Natal Midlands and the pure dreams she nurtured on the tip of her paintbrush, as it is about the meeting point of values in a small village on the road to Hilton, called Rosetta.

This sleepy little place shot to the attention of the world under the narrative of one Elizabeth Klarer, something of a maverick on many levels, in the 1950s. A bit of an artist, a graduate in meteorology and the proclaimed lover of a chap from outer space, hers was a tale that won the imagination of the masses, and while there are caveats of currently fashionable environmental values in the story, for many it was a tale too tall for credibility.

But be that as it may, that part of the Drakensberg, familiarly known, with a nod to Klarer and her earnest reportage of her lover and her love-child, as Flying Saucer Hill, is something of a magical place. And this is what Rose shows you as she encounters her story, which touches on Credo Mutwa and the spider threads that link lightning to the hill, as well as other veiled ideas of sacred places and constellations that can reach into your own inner orbits.

You do not need to be familiar with the ideas or experiences of Klarer to engage with this play, because it unapologetically celebrates the cliches of narratives of self-discovery of the ilk of Shirley Valentine, for instance. But the presence of Klarer here, helps in the whimsy department. Robinson-Grealy’s performance shines with candour and an ease of being in herself which universalises her. She’s effortlessly you. The work is clean of contrivance which gives you the urge to skip your own chores and revisit the dreams of your own youth.

It’s a piece so shot through with coincidence, both in the fabric of the play itself, and in the broader picture of where stories can lead, that it will make your head and heart spin. This year saw the launch of Slabolepszy’s play, as it did Uga Carlini’s documentary on  Elizabeth Klarer – a 13-year project. Pure chance, or is this Klarer herself speaking from beyond the light barrier?

But more than that, this stage work is fuelled with a strong sense of backdrop by way of manipulated dynamically moving slides. Redolent of Vincent van Gogh’s painterly brush marks, but animated, these images portray the roads and forests, the mountains and energy of the story. You may feel, at the outset, that they illustrate what’s going on, on Rose’s canvas rather literally, but as the work unfolds, there’s a poetic give and take that is as much about the voice of the universe and how it can call your name, as it is about Rose’s story.

Essentially, the kernels of that eternal sense of possibility are so beautifully nurtured and allowed to sprout in this work that you wish for an ending which reaches beyond the boundaries of the possible. But let’s not jump the gun and spoil the plot. Rose is, after all, one of us.

  • Finding Rosetta is written by Paul Slabolepszy and directed by William le Cordeur. Performed by Annie Robinson-Grealy, it is produced by Daphne Kuhn and Starstruck Productions and is stage managed by Regina Dube assisted by Melidah Thakadu, with technical stage management by Loftus Mohale assisted by Reggie Mathebe. It is at Theatre on the Square in Sandton until September 30.
  • Uga Carlini’s documentary Beyond the Light Barrier launches on Amazon Prime, on 6 October 2023.

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