WHY I survived. Lina Kantor (Amato), storyteller. Photograph by Johnathan Andrews.
WHAT IS THE worst thing that can happen to a story about an historical atrocity? That it can be shunned? That it can be told too infrequently? That no one wants to experience it? None of these: the worst thing that can happen to a tale of atrocity is that it is told and retold and retold until its fire is dimmed by commonplace. Film maker Johnathan Andrews steps with sensitive wisdom around these pitfalls, to create something timeless and haunting in just 48 minutes.
Using direct personal interviews, with Lina Amato, the woman herself, who as an eight-year-old, knew that her life was being saved by the Turkish consul of the time, The Story of Holocaust Survivor Lina Amato contains no visual clichés of mass destruction or concentration camps. It has no voiceover, explaining the nature of the work, and attempting to frame and curate your response to it. There are no easy cues to weep. Rather, in a similar filmic understanding as that propagated by Claude Lanzmann in his immense and iconic extrapolation of the Holocaust, a over 10-hour-long documentary called Shoah (1985), Andrews offers his viewers insight into the intricacies and the horror of Lina Amato’s true story.
Currently resident in Cape Town, Amato is today a woman in her 80s. She speaks of the cultural wealth of her life in Rhodes Island, off the Turkish coastline where she was born in 1936. It’s a story that features interjections by SA Holocaust and Genocide Foundation director, Richard Freedman, which offers clear facts that give you context: War was approaching with a cloak of hatred that was to envelop even the smallest of little children.
But under that pall of destruction, enormous empathy was allowed to bubble and manifest in ways that a peaceful society could not contain. Lina tells of her parents’ Italian neighbours who adopted her and taught her to ‘be’ Christian in order to save her life. She tells of the decisions taken by the Turkish consol, Selahattin Ülkümen in 1944 to save whichever Jewish lives he could and of how an island “bathed in sunshine” and home to a tiny community of 3 800 Jews turned into a nightmare of uncertainty. Above all, it is the tough silences in her story that speak more deeply.
Further to this, music is threaded through the tale. Lina’s mother was a piano teacher, and her struggle to save her pianos is potent and legendary, making you think of Sophie’s Choice in the unforgettable story by William Styron. And this, together with a beautifully placed spot of Chopin – by way of his Prelude in A — hooks the film to the Mozart Festival’s focus.
It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of film, which, lasting but 48 minutes, offers a rich and deep understanding of the power of hate, but also the power of love in a world that has lost its moral compass. Further to all of this, the intelligent editorial decisions informing this film present understandings of the psychological effects of trauma, abandonment and guilt that are devastatingly potent in their understated handling.
The Story of Holocaust Survivor Lina Amato is directed by Johnathan Andrews and features Holocaust survivor Lina Kantor (Amato), SA Holocaust and Genocide Foundation Director Richard Freedman and Turkish Ambassador in South Africa Elif Çomoğlu Ülgen. Produced by (assistant) Angela Kate Jones, it features the sound engineering of Garrick Jones.
It will be screened in Johannesburg on January 27 2018 at the Space Frame Theatre, Education Campus, University of the Witwatersrand, in Parktown Johannesburg. Tickets are free of charge, but seating in the space is limited.
The DVD will be on sale at the screening, which is part of the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival, and commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance day, January 27.
WAITRESS and tea things, complete with black eye rings of exasperation. Photograph courtesy http://www.rsgplus.org
ANYONE WHO HAS suffered the busy indignity of having to be a waiter in a coffee shop will relate to this punchy, spicy little foray into the horror and sarcasm, the do’s and don’ts of this, one of the oldest professions in the book. More a monologue with vignettes, Sjarrap en eet jou kos! (Shut up and eat your food!) is a delightful Afrikaans-language radio theatre gem, which will have you laughing with gusto and weeping just a tad in the frisky nuanced approach taken by Ilné Fourie in its construction.
It’s an hilarious lament about poorly-behaved, indecisive, rude and ill-tipping customers and their children and or lovers – or their gossip pals, and as such, the work presents a portrait of Afrikaans culture, not withholding punches with its description and engagement with the different types of people. The vantage point of the ubiquitous waiter (played by Martelize Kolver) who is there to serve, but also often morphs into a proverbial fly on the wall, is a fascinating one, something which you may have tasted a suggestion of in works as diverse as Lionel Newton’s 2014 play Jasmine’s Jewel and Lauri Wylie’s (1963) film Dinner for One. It’s about taking the mundane, and lifting it, with incisive and witty observations, into art.
Under the gentle scathing of Fourie’s sharp pen, you get introduced to the ‘M & M’s (moedige – courageous – moms) who are relentless in peppering their language with diminutives, particularly in dealing with stroppy littlies. The ‘turtledoves’ are the newly infatuated who will share a cup of coffee while they toss embarrassingly syrupy sweetnesses to each other. And then there are the ‘vluister vroutjies’ (whispering little wives) who gather around their tea treats to indulge in exploring the doings and the screwings of their nearest and dearest. To say nothing of the coffee snobs; the guy who wants different parts of his egg cooked at different frequencies; and the picky madams who vie between the restrictions of banting and their own basic ignorance of what goes into food.
But that’s not all. There are also the people for whom you become an uninvited guest in their delicate private moments, moments which make you remember why life is indeed beautiful.
Sjarrap is a lovely holiday play which celebrates the heart and cuisine of what it takes to exist in this country, in certain pockets, where the harshness of dinner table discipline bears fruit.
And it’s as good a reason to stay at home by the wireless this evening, as anything.
Sjarrap en eet jou kos! (Shut up and eat your food) is written by Ilné Fourie. Directed by Eben Cruywagen, and featuring technical input by Cassi Lowers, it is performed by Gina Assanté, Susanne Beyers, Ludwig Binge, Roeline Daneel, Martelize Kolver, Leon Kruger and Chris Majiedt. It debuted on RSG in November 2016 and is presented this evening, December 28 at 8pm. It will be rebroadcast on January 1 at 1am in RSG’s Deurnag programme. It is also available on podcast: www.rsg.co.za.
A BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED tale of loyalty and values learned and imbibed, Dalene Matthee’s novel Die Judasbok (The Scapegoat) translates with a true sense of Klein Karoo grit into an Afrikaans-language radio drama you won’t forget in a hurry. It’s an extremely sensitive and intelligent radio-adaptation that will haunt you with all the moral decisions you’ve made that you would change if you could. And while its live broadcast was hosted a few weeks ago, this is the kind of work you will want to listen to again and again.
Karel (Dean Balie) and Lillian (Danielle van der Walt) are engaged to be married. They’re on a 1 300km road trip, to visit Karel’s mother, Ou Bet (June van Merch) in Wolwedans, the farm on which Karel grew up. They’re planning to leave the country; it’s a farewell visit. Sounds idyllic? It is, until you take a step back in terms of context. It’s 1982. It’s South Africa. Apartheid is rumbling like a destructive force through society, breaking hearts, confusing beliefs and smashing values in its wake. Andries Treurnicht, a government minister, is in the process of carving out a place in South African politics for the Conservative party. Bad things are happening everywhere.
And, yes, Karel is not white. Lillian is. Technically, their relationship, under the apartheid jurisdiction, is illegal. Ou Bet, whose the general factotum in the house and has raised the farm’s family as best she can, believing herself to be a part of it. She knows that Karel has a “Lillian” in his life, but the two women have not yet met. This roadtrip is infused with the ghosts and memories of Karel’s past, the beauty of the farm in Lillian’s unsullied eyes, and deep, difficult crossroads to encounter and confront for the mom. And there’s the memory of the farm’s dam which too contains mixed understandings of what skin colour means.
Along similar lines to Mark Behr’s Die Reuk van Appels, it’s a play which contemplates the horrors of being ‘different’ in a society that promulgates very specific race and class and gender values. Containing revelations about the past that will make you tremble, it’s a story that wrenches an old woman from her sense of where she fits in, in her everyday world, and one of bravery and beliefs in the face of disbelief.
The first adult novel penned by Matthee in the 1980s, it’s a book which contains all the energy and verve, the rich and complex understanding of an Afrikaans-speaking community who are not white-skinned and where they fit into the society in which they exist. As you listen to the crisp and solid tones and scene changes in this work, so do you melt, under the tough sway of the story’s impact, but also the way in which the environment is conjured by words and references, music and the twittering of birds. It’s a must-hear and a must-have.
Die Judasbok (The Scapegoat) is written by Dalene Matthee and adapted for radio by Anton Treurnich. Directed by Eben Cruywagen, it features technical assistance by Ricardo McCarthy is performed by Dean Balie, Susan Beyers, Danielle van der Walt and June van Merch, and debuted on RSG on November 17. It is available through the rsg website as a podcast.
MY suburb my home: Sea Point Mansions is an Afrikaans play which glances at the changing face of the eponymous Cape Town suburb. Photograph courtesy http://www.capetownguy.co.za
SEA POINT. ARGUABLY, still one of Cape Town’s most densely populated suburbs, on the one hand, is a place of paradise with its Atlantic Ocean view. Tucked between the sea and Lion’s Head, a landmark in the mountain range leading to Table Mountain, it’s idyllic to live in. Or is it? It has also, in the last several decades, become the province’s landmark suburb for high rise development, which opens myriads of social doors to property dispute and the kind of grubby values that constitute the complexity of sectional title woes. It is this that comes under the loupe of playwright Annemarie Roodbol in the Afrikaans-language play that debuts on Radio Sonder Grense this Thursday evening: Sea Point Mansions.
It is here that we meet Francois Fick (Johann Nel). He’s an owner in the building, which contains 13 residential flats and six shops. By all accounts, and with passing detail you glean as the work unfolds, the building is one of those magnificent Art Deco examples of architecture, which sits like a succinct poem in the built up landscape of the suburb. It has parquet flooring and a foyer small enough to be repapered with the detritus of wallpaper from someone’s bathroom. The texture of the scenario is captured beautifully.
The characters in the work are constructed so as to reflect on territorial issues as much as they grapple with the melting pot of culture in Sea Point’s flat lands – they’re clichés, but necessary ones. We meet the old Jewish residents – including a pharmacist in one of the shops downstairs – a hip and cool Capetonian, with his characteristic drawl, a gungh-ho and coloured shop-owner, not to forget the Dlaminis in one of the flats, and the Swedish couple, in another.
And then, there’s Dean Roger-Smith (Waldi Schultz), the owner of the building. Given the way in which his shenanigans are described, and the clipped tone of his presence, this chap is one of what may well be considered a Randlord of sorts – a big property owner who has made his wealth on buildings such as Sea Point Mansions, but the gossipy fighting and the sticklers for rules is not quite his cup of tea.
The plot lies around the ways in which rules can be bent – or can they? – in the hurly-burl of social redefinition. It’s 2016 and an ombudsman to deal with sectional title disputes has just been put into legal place. As a play, it unfolds rapidly and with frequent scene changes. There’s a curious use of RSG punts to give you an understanding of the passage of time in the work, but as it ends, you might feel a sense of ho-hum: these kinds of disputes happen all the time: do they really warrant the vehicle of a play?
Sea Point Mansions is written by Annemarie Roodbol. Directed by Joanie Combrink and featuring technical production by Cassi Lowers, it is performed by Dean Balie, Vicky Davis, Johann Nel, De Klerk Oelofse, Waldi Schultz, Frieda van Heever, June van Merch and Nigel Vermaas, and it debuts on RSG on Thursday December 21 at 8pm. November 30 and is available on podcast: rsg.co.za.
It will be rebroadcast on December 23 at 1am in RSG’s Deurnag It is also available on podcast: www.rsg.co.za.
HAPPILY ever after: Andrea (Donnalee Roberts) and Wynand (Ivan Botha). Photograph courtesy rsg.
GIRL HAS HER heart broken. She goes away to recover and meets someone new. And they all end happily ever after. You think you can hear the chimes of mainstream wedding bells in the near distance. But you’d be wrong – not entirely, but mostly: Ronel Mostert’s Spieëlbeeld (Mirror Image) is an engaging and well defined romantic piece of storytelling in Afrikaans, and it’s a very good reason to stay at home and listen to the wireless tonight.
Featuring performances by Donnalee Roberts as Andrea opposite Cindy Swanepoel, her sister Minka, the work is a love story, but bears and underlying complex message about sibling rivalry, sibling loss and sibling honour. The title of the work reveals a little more of the plot than you might have considered and it becomes a tad predictable as it unfolds, but it will keep you on the edge of your seat: Will Andrea find true love? Will the inimitable Vlooi (Eloise Cupido), the help at a hotel in Camps Bay, and her loose gossipy tongue find its come-uppance?
Ultimately the message of this nuanced and tightly written work is one articulated centuries ago by the Greek philosopher Plato: Be kind, everyone you know is carrying a great burden. But when you lead the life of a busy family doctor, juggling romantic commitments with an ailing mother, and trying to keep a straight and professional face to the world, it’s not that simple.
There are hairpin bends in the story, which bring it to a satisfying and strong sense of closure, one which makes you remember why soppy clichés are very powerful in our society.
Spieëlbeeld (Mirror Image) is written by Ronel Mostert and directed by Christelle Webb-Joubert, with technical assistance by Bongi Thomas and Evert Snyman. It is performed by Ivan Botha, Eloise Cupido, Mandie du Plooy-Baard, Donnagh Lee Roberts, Amanda Strydom, Cindy Swanepoel, Bronwyn van Graan and Karen Wessels, on RSG, tonight December 14 at 8pm. It will be rebroadcast on December 18 at 1am in RSG’s Deurnag programme. It is also available on podcast: rsg.co.za.
TAKE my hand and let me share my humanity: Luigi Pirandello wrote The Man with the Flower in his Mouth in 1922. Photograph by Gianni Ansaldi.
THE MAGIC OF radio theatre, when it is well done, knows no bounds. In the hands of competent theatre makers, the project is unrestrained by the complexities or cost of set or the challenges of lighting or costumes. Armed only with crisply uttered language, delivered with beautiful coherence, the director casts a whole world in the head and sensibilities of a listener. And this is what you get in the Afrikaans translation of Luigi Pirandello’s 1922 play, The man with the flower in his mouth, which debuted on Radio Sonder Grense on November 30 2017, but is available for purchase on podcast.
It’s an extraordinary piece of theatre premised on a simple idea and brought to muscular life with words so beautiful, you will want to eat them, but when you understand the thrust of this short work, you leap back with a realisation that reaches into your very sense of mortality.
Two men (Chris van Niekerk and Anrich Herbst) meet by chance at a bar near a railway station. They’re strangers to one another. The one has missed his train. The other has some things to share. Things that resonate with the idea of being present in the present. Things like the idea of cleaving to the minuscule details and humdrum gestures in the lives of strangers. Things such as the pondering of the substance of the furniture in a good doctor’s waiting room.
Like a character in a Gabriel García Márquez novel, or the implied personage in the William Blake poem, he holds the secret of his mortality hidden, yet close to the surface. He speaks of the joy of boredom and the roots of a lust for life. He has an illness, a tumour – a flower if you will – inside his mouth. Evoking plays of the ilk of Freud’s Last Session, the work deals with the horror and embarrassment of transfiguring illness and imminent death, but it does so in a removed context that forms and mouths and asks questions about the fragility, the preciousness of existence. It’s a work about death, reflecting on it as a logical defining border to life. And it’s a work which offers insight into the values that Pirandello brought to theatre making; gestures which opened the doors to absurdist possibilities and a breaking down and a rebuilding of theatre tradition.
The work in Afrikaans is completely extraordinary – it’s a very fine translation – and within seconds, you’re there woven into the text and surrounded by Pirandello’s black humour cast by a man carrying a very large burden, that is his own, but effectively, the lot of everyman.
It’s a beguilingly simple play that brings humour to the horror of illness, as it gives potency to the simple, complex art of conjuring invisible theatre. On this imaginary stage, presented in the proverbial dark space of radio, it’s a real achievement: an instant Afrikaans classic.
Die man met die blom in sy mond (The man with the flower in his mouth) is written by Luigi Pirandello and translated into Afrikaans by FB Van der Merwe. Directed by Christelle Webb-Joubert, and featuring technical input by Bongi Thomas and Evert Snyman, with Kobus Burger as executive producer, drama, for the radio station, it is performed by Anrich Herbst and Chris van Niekerk, and debuted on RSG on November 30 and is available on podcast: rsg.co.za.
See this interview with Christelle Webb-Joubert which offers insight into the project’s back story.
THERE’S A SERIAL killer loose on suburban the streets of Johannesburg. He has an unabashed penchant for young women with red hair and is impartial whether the colour is natural or from a bottle. He’s nifty in his ways, meticulous in his habits, has a clear sense of detail and he’s cruel in a clinical kind of way. On one level, profiling this guy is just part of another day’s work for police captain Sakkie Joubert (Anton Dekker) and his young side-kick Cassey Davids (Su-An Müller-Marais). On another, this Afrikaans-language radio play is a gripping yarn of pathologies and horror with a fish hook or two in its tail. It debuts this Thursday evening at 20:00 on Radio Sonder Grense (100-104FM).
This hour-long play is everything you demand from the detective thriller genre, and then some. Joubert is an older cop, who’s seen everything; he’s been around the proverbial block several times, and he’s completely focused on his work and on doing it as well as possible. But in doing so, has he overlooked something absolutely crucial? Dekker gives the character, in your mind’s eye, the gravitas of a Detective Inspective Michael Walker – played by British actor David Hayman – in the Channel 4 series Trial and Retribution based on Lynda la Plante novels in the 1990s. He’s something of South Africa’s real life (late) supercop Piet Byleveld. Instinctively, you warm to him. You trust him. You know that he will get the baddie.
You don’t know how it will transpire. Tightly detailed, yet concise, the play presents characters who are convincingly developed in their local context. You listen with horror, instinctively trying to pinpoint the killer. When you realise who it might be, you cringe in horror. Not that person, you whisper, quailing, and unable to turn away from your radio, for even one second. While the final line of the work tends to veer towards a little too much sugar, it is, perhaps what you need, perched as you are on the edge of your seat, pulse racing.
This is a beautifully written piece of work, succinct, scary and direct. It’s about the unnerving reality of what Tinder can bring into your life and it’s about the pathologies you plant in your loved ones while you might be away from them, chasing your own dreams.
Akwarius is an Afrikaans-language radio play written by Marion Erskine and directed by Bettie Kemp. Featuring technical input by Neria Mokoena and Patrick Monana. It is performed by Anton Dekker, Anrich Herbst, Duncan Johnson, Mari Molefe-Van Heerden, Su-Ann Müller-Marais and Magda van Biljon. Kobus Burger is executive producer: drama for RSG.