How to hold infinity in the palm of your hand

Luigi Pirandello

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.
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The man who thought he had bigger fish to fry

Akwarius

SOMETHING to chill you to the very fins. Photograph courtesy http://www.rsg.co.za

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.
  • It will be transmitted on RSG (100-104 FM or on DStv channel 913 or listen live on http://web.sabc.co.za/digital/player/1.0/rsg/index.html#/listenLiveTab ) on December 7 at 8pm and on December 11 at 1am, in the radio station’s Deurnag It is also available on podcast through the radio station’s website: www.rsg.co.za