Four masked men, some rubbish and a lot of heart

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CROOKS in the night! Listen to Rommel Rommel, a refreshingly politically incorrect radio drama.

IF YOU COULD suspend moral and politically correct imperatives for the duration of Guy Ritchie’s 1998 comedy Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, you will absolutely relish the texture and narrative, the drama and gruff sweetness of Lee Doubell’s Afrikaans language radio drama that broadcasts on Radio Sonder Grense after the 9pm news on Thursday April 26. Entitled Rommel, Rommel, it’s a very well scripted little piece of doggerel which offers a back story to some common or garden crooks that will absolutely endear you to them.

Between men known only as “Meneer” (Johan Botha), “Oom” (Charl van Heyningen) and “Spiekeries” (Petrus du Preez), “Laaitie” (Leon Kruger) is a novice with his mum at the end of the cell phone, poised on a career of crookery, or rather something a little deeper and dirtier than the farm horizons in which he was born and nourished. And nourishment is the operative word. The men are busy plotting a ‘job’ that will yield nicely for the four of them. If it succeeds, that is.

And there unfolds a narrative of contingency plans and technological by-passes, of the possibilities of making it big and of those of walking away slowly and anonymously. It’s a little lacking in hairpin bends, but the root of the work is watered and nurtured by the intrinsic virtues of these characters, who are crafted beautifully in these 45 minutes. You can picture them in your mind’s eye like you would cartoon characters. They’re the gruff, rough stereotypes, the proverbial Bob Rebadow and Agamemnon Busmalis of the 1990s HBO prison drama, Oz, who might boast tough histories, but really are utter sweethearts who can make you melt with the realness of their values.

It’s a work clean of political jibes or moral shudders and is simply about the excitement and magic of a job well pulled off. It’s a work that will start your long weekend with a broad grin, leaving you rooting for the blokes on the other side of the law.

  • Rommel, Rommel (Rubbish, Rubbish) is written by Lee Doubell, one of the winners of the 2017 Sanlam Radio Theatre competition. Directed by Eben Cruywagen, and featuring technical input by Ricardo McCarthy, it is performed by Ivan Abrahams, Johan Botha, Lida Botha, Petrus du Preez, Keenan Herman, Leon Kruger and Charl van Heyningen, and debuts on RSG on Thursday April 26 at 9:10pm; it will be rebroadcast in the radio’s Deurnag programme, on Monday April 30 at 1am. It’s also available on podcast: rsg.co.za
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How to say it for always

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LETTING go of an angel: the underpinning theme in Janine van der Linde’s Vlerke vir Jason. Photograph courtesy http://www.colourbox.com

THE DEVASTATION AND psychological whirlwind that comes of sudden loss can rip up the threads of one’s established identity and turn everything completely upside-down. Irrevocably. This is the focus in the tender and raw story, Vlerke vir Jason (Wings for Jason) that is this week’s Afrikaans-language radio drama on Radio Sonder Grense. Structurally tight, and simple in its premises, it offers a strong and poignant foray into Coloured stereotypes as it explores a particular kind of madness with directness but also with sensitivity.

Nadine Williams (Leané Valentyn) is a young woman in love. Her child and her husband are her everything, and amid snippets of Lionel Richie love songs sung to one another in the deliriousness of their happiness, theirs is an association which feels complete. But this story begins at the end and it is the flashbacks and dreams she experiences which give meat to the nuances and answer the unanswered.

The place where you first encounter Nadine is not, however, her happy place. The play begins in a municipal prison, where the sergeant (Brendon Daniels) is patronising and humiliating if not downright cruel and “Ma Fay” (June van Merch) an orderly in the women’s section offers the grit and idioms of a particular type of character in the institution. She’s gruff but she’s got soul, she’s frazzled, but there’s a history. It’s a scary place which resonates with echoes and the soundscape portrays it as cold and unforgiving.

What brings Nadine there, weeping and bedraggled, isolated and uncommunicative? The government? The gangsters? The culture in which she has been living all her life? Perhaps. Perhaps all of the above. But it is not what you might assume. While this work deals with stereotypes it has a soul that doesn’t allow a set of circumstances to be reflected one-sidedly.

It’s another tissue quencher – you’ll need a few at different moments in this play – but there are also moments of horror which reflect on the kind of things that the bereaved do, not because they’re insane or criminal, but because their sense of logic, reality and consequences is all broken and blurry with tears.

  • Vlerke vir Jason (Wings for Jason) is written by Janine van der Linde. Directed by Margot Luyt, and featuring technical input by Cassi Lowers, it is performed by Simone Benjamin, Brendon Daniels, Marlo Minnaar, Lindy Stander, Leané Valentyn and June van Merch, and debuts on RSG on Thursday April 19 at 8pm, it will be rebroadcast in the radio’s Deurnag programme, on Monday April 23 at 1am. It’s also available on podcast: rsg.co.za

Things that can’t always be fixed

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THE sea and my pain. Photograph supplied.

“WHAT MATTERS MOST is how well you walk through the fire”, wrote American poet Charles Bukowski. His passionate, angry words in plain language are woven through Afrikaans-language radio play Springgety (Spring Tides) with wisdom and dexterity. This tale about depression and guilt, suicide and the ultimate (but not always realised) need to claw one’s way back, will haunt you. While it never skirts into crass cliché and casts a wry smile at the need to stay afloat in a world where everything feels broken, it is slightly predictable, but this doesn’t affect its potency or its listenability or how the shock reverberates in your head at its denouement.

Lena Dreyer (Rolanda Marais) is a 26-year-old copy writer, who works for an ad agency in Cape Town. She hates it. She’s also in the process of completing her first anthology of haikus. But her sense of self is tarnished and bruised by the reality of brutal loss and how hard it is to make sense of. Indeed, she carries a full and complicated heart and memories that have suffered a wrenching.

Enter Alex (Wessel Pretorius), Lena’s neighbour. He’s a rugby-playing chap with tattoos and a full box of his own broken things, including his heart. But nothing is as it seems. And this is no love story with a happily ever after. When things became too overwhelming for Lena, an inner and relentless voice tips her over the edge. It is Alex and his dog named Beer that offer the hand that reels her back in, broken pieces and all. Does she want to be back? Of course not. But then there’s Jane (Roelien Daneel): an airhostess fatigued of the superficial lipsticked smile, the faux glamour and the tired mile-high-club of her job. She’s fatigued by much else too, but her front is a brave, almost callous one. And you almost believe in her courage.

There’s a hard-edged yet insufferably brittle nature to this character, and her cynicism speaks to the times: but further to that, there’s a sense of gritty self-possession which might make you think of the debauched but moral energies in a film such as Johnny is Nie Dood Nie, which examines the life and time of Johannes Kerkorrel. It’s an interesting comparison, not the least because Marais performed in that work too.

But Springgety will haunt you for reasons other than the obvious ones. It’s a well crafted work that throws up the urgency with which we cling to life and try to force others to, also. Is it about meddling in other people’s intimacies, or is it about the frail shard of connection that makes each of us understand the one medically described as ‘suicidal’ in ways we haven’t the courage to explain or describe?

  • Springgety (Spring Tide) is written by Sophia van Taak, who was awarded third place in the 2017 Sanlam young playwright competition. Directed by Ronél Geldenhuys and featuring technical input by Cassi Lowers, it is performed by Susanne Beyers, Joanie Combrink, Roelien Daneel, Rolanda Marais, Wessel Pretorius, Cintaine Schutte, Juanita Swanepoel and Daneel van der Walt. It will be broadcast on RSG on Thursday April 12 at 8pm and again on the station’s all night programme, Deurnag, on Monday April 16. It is also, available on podcast: rsg.co.za

Poison Ivy and the face I show the world

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TWO women talking: Denise (Franci Swanepoel) opposite Klara (Mandi du Plooy-Baard) in radio drama Oorlewing C Blok. Photograph courtesy Radio Sonder Grense.

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

Farewell to ‘Peach’, SA’s Khoisan Barbie

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FIERCE, feisty and with a full heart: Bronwyn van Graan.

“I’M ABOUT LIVING, loving and sharing,” South African actor Bronwyn van Graan described herself on her facebook page. A performer who was relentless in plumbing the depths to find work in the South African theatre industry, and to do so with characteristic energy and always a smile on her face, van Graan passed away tragically and unexpectedly on March 31. She was 39 years old.

Van Graan worked in everything from wardrobe to industrial theatre, but shone her brightest on stage and from behind the radio microphone. Born in Cape Town on November 25 1978, she matriculated in 1995 at Athlone High School, and then trained in drama at the University of Cape Town, focusing on English, History and Performance. Equally at home in English and Afrikaans, she emerged on the South African stage in 2002. She could rollerskate and dance the Salsa, shimmy to jazz rhythms and above all make people smile – because she gave of herself with a full heart and with great generosity.

In 2007, van Graan won the Naledi Award for best supporting actress for her work in Shirley, Goodness and Mercy. Over the years, she was acknowledged with nominations by the South African Indian Film and Television Awards (SAIFTA) and KYKNET Fiesta. Appearing in a wide range of work from serious Afrikaans theatre to Jade Bowers’ searing direction of Scorched, Van Graan is probably best known and most widely celebrated for her radio work.

Associated with the SAfm soapie, Vuka Radio, directed by Bruce Millar, since 2012 – the soapie which last week was canned by SAfm management – van Graan performed in plays both serious and funny. A performer who worked under a vast range of directors, from film director Heinrich Reisenhofer in 2001 to Mari Snyman, for Radio Sonder Grense in 2018, van Graan has been unanimously celebrated and fondly known as “Peach” and the original “Khoisan Barbie”. But just take a look at her photographs if you want to gain access to this beautiful young woman’s soul: there’s feistiness there as well as a great deal of empathy.

She touched so many lives in so many crucial ways, as the storm of tears on social media has attested to. She was hard-working and willing to take direction, tough and bold, gentle and funny. By all accounts, she was a delight to call ‘friend’ and injected a real sense of vibrancy into everything she touched. She had a beautiful heart, said one friend. “Do not follow where the path may lead,” she added to her facebook details. “Go instead where there is no path”.

She leaves a devastated industry, her parents, Felicia and Terry, an older brother, Clem and husband Raiko, as well as many many close cousins and a huge and loving extended family.

  • The funeral service for Bronwyn Van Graan (Peach) is on Saturday, April 7 at the Church of the Transfiguration in Durban Road, Bellville. Viewing will be from 9-9:30am and the service commences at 9.30am. The family has requested that you light a candle in memory of precious Peach if you are unable to attend the service.

     

  • A memorial service will be held for Bronwyn (Peach) van Graan, at the University of Johannesburg’s Con Cowan Theatre, (31 Bunting Rd, Cottesloe, Johannesburg) this Saturday 7 April 2018, starting 10:30 for 11:00am. This gathering will allow an opportunity for anyone who wishes, to share a few words to do so.

Head to head with a bunny

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WHO came first: the chocolate egg or the Easter bunny? Photograph courtesy rsg.

THEOLOGY MEETS CHOCOLATE commercialism in this tender little Afrikaans-language Easter comment with a sweet heart and a poignant back story that reflects on purism and the struggles of the elderly. Quintin Roy en die Paashaas (Quintin Roy and the Eastern Bunny) is Radio Sonder Grense’s Easter play which will be broadcast twice on Good Friday this year. It’s a poignant reflection that grows out of a chance meeting between an actor doing the Easter Bunny shtick in a shopping centre and a curmudgeon of a retired priest who lives in a facility for the elderly.

And it’s more than a conflict of chocolate interests. Featuring Francois Stemmet as the decidedly miserable old man called Lodewyck Broderick, and Johny Klein in the bunny suit, the work is an essay on the seriousness of Christian symbols and the platitudes cast in the wake of fertility icons such as rabbits and eggs. Coated all over with a chocolate veneer and a shot of cynicism, this foray into the priorities and dialogues around the table of a home for the elderly, sees an Easter message blossom into fulsomeness.

A little disappointing in the denouement department, the work is sweet and slightly wooden: it promises hilarity with the filching of a whole basket full of promotional chocolate eggs, and the angry conflict between a man in a hurry and another guy in a bunny suit, but the former pastor’s cross sense of conviction keeps the dialogue earnest and discursive and doesn’t allow it to lose its religious edge.

If you’re expecting something that will change your life, Quintin Roy might disappoint, but if you’re looking at a competently developed piece of narrative to stimulate your Easter perambulations, it may be just the ticket.

  • Quintin Roy en die Paashaas is written and directed by Helena Hugo. Featuring technical assistance by Bongi Thomas and Patrick Monana, it is performed by Merlin Balie, Johny Klein, Bertha le Roux-Wahl, Elma Potgieter, Francois Stemmet, Gigi Strydom and Bronwyn van Graan. It will be aired on RSG, 100-104fm at 1pm and again at 7pm on Good Friday, March 30: rsg.co.za

Theatre to stay home for

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AT the helm of the theatre of the mind: Kobus Burger, RSG’s executive producer for radio drama. Photograph courtesy RSG.

WOLWEDANS IN DIE skemer (the popular afternoon serial by Leon van Nierop) was my programme, as a child,” says Kobus Burger, executive director for drama on Radio Sonder Grense (RSG), South Africa’s Afrikaans-language Public Broadcasting Service, which is under the aegis of the SABC. “If I missed an episode, it was a very serious matter.”  Radio is alive and well in this society, or is it? Burger chatted to My View about the station’s upcoming season of radio dramas, which starts on March 30 as well as the challenges of the medium.

Drama has always been close to Burger’s heart; he’s enjoyed stints as an art critic and a teacher of writing skills in his career trajectory. Indeed, he initiated the RSG Kunstefees, an arts festival all on radio, in November of 2014. It was a fascinating initiative which brought theatre fare into your life through the wireless. No jackets required. Sadly, the festival was put on a back burner, last year.

“It was budget that put this project on hold,” he says. “It was a lovely project but not part of our mandate. It was part of our innovation strategy, but not a must have. Last year we followed it up with a smaller boutique festival, called RSG Skatkis. And hopefully, if there is funding, RSG Kunstefees will be back.”

Curiously, RSG’s listenership comprises people who might not be fluent Afrikaans speakers. Burger explains that they listen because it is good quality programming and there’s something for everyone. Built on a model which evokes Springbok Radio (1950-1985), it’s a medium which warms the cockles of people’s hearts and hits on the nostalgia button, every time.

“Audio is so amazing, particularly in South Africa,” he adds. “Video is much more expensive and inconvenient because of the priceyness of data. The research says radio is still the most accessible, because people don’t always have access to TV.

“It’s immensely creative and completely non-visual. And with these kinds of limitations, you can do amazing things. You can go anywhere, do anything. It’s never a budget issue, because with audio you can literally travel to the moon, and back.”

From March 30 (Good Friday), a season of 14 Afrikaans plays will grace your radio. A play is broadcast each Thursday evening at 8pm – after Easter Friday, that is. The season begins with an Easter play by Helena Hugo – which is part of the station’s mandate. Then, with the exception of a translation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, directed by Suzanne van Wijk, the season is rich with brand new names and fabulous yarns written by winners of the radio drama writing competition which has been sponsored by Sanlam for the past 22 years.

The competition generates between 120 and 130 new plays each year. With a purse of R100 000 for all the winners collectively, it’s not a bad incentive. If you win first prize, you’re looking at R37 000. And that’s for a piece of sustained writing of between 40 and 50 pages.

Growing playwrights is not uncomplicated, but it can be very rewarding, he continues. “You have to nurture your writers. New and original drama scripts can be a challenge with some Afrikaans theatre festivals. That’s probably why we see so many translations and adaptations of novels. And sometimes playwrights get precious about their work and won’t take criticism. Some insist that their first draft is the final draft. With our writers, we’re very strict in terms of enabling the best possible work to develop out of an idea. And luckily most of the radio writers like the suggestions and are excited about taking another look at their script.”

Over the next 14 weeks, My View undertakes to bring you reviews of and links to the plays comprising this year’s season of RSG winners, as we did toward the end of last years, with such remarkable works as an Afrikaans translation of Pirandello’s The Man with the Flower in his Mouth, and Dalene Matthee’s exquisite Judasbok, as well as Marion Erskine’s chilling Akwarius, among others. We’re in for another delightful rollercoaster of diversity.

The playwrights responsible for these works include:  Sophia van Taak, a magazine journalist and TV presenter who brings Springgety to air; Lee Doubell, with his work Rommel, Rommel (Rubbish, rubbish) has written before for SAfm; Albert Short, the playwright responsible for ‘n Voorlopige begrafnis (A provisional funeral), is in the finance world, then there’s a new science fiction work by seasoned writer, Schalk Schoombie.

Hittegolf (Heat wave) by Martyn le Roux is about the ozone layers breaking up – it’s a small family drama which takes on a surrealist madness. Martyn’s very interesting and he’s won a lot of acknowledgement so far in English and Afrikaans. At the moment he is developing one of his RSG radio drama scripts into a full-length feature film. It’s called Die Pelsloper and its scheduled to be screened in 2019. Martyn’s grown remarkably and he’s eager to develop with criticism. He might very well be the new generation’s PG Du Plessis.”

So what else is on the radio theatre horizon? There’s a murder mystery with nudist elements, a translation of an old folk tale which sees a father making the ultimate sacrifice when his son is trapped in a borehole. There’s a tale about the damage that gossip can bring and another is an ode to poetry and literature through the eyes of the elderly. The season is wide, the pickings are there for the listening.