My mother’s dignity, my society’s shame

Judasbok

BETRAYED as a repository for sins: the Scapegoat.

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.
  • RSG can be found on 100-104FM, on DStv channel 913 or live on http://web.sabc.co.za/digital/player/1.0/rsg/index.html#listenLiveTab
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Sectional title woes at the seaside

Sea Point

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.
  • RSG can be found on 100-104FM, on DStv channel 913 or live on http://web.sabc.co.za/digital/player/1.0/rsg/index.html#listenLiveTab

Raised arms against a sea of troubles

Hamlet-2

Mad and bereft: Marcel Meyer plays an electric Hamlet. Photograph by Pat Bromilow Downing.

There’s nothing quite like a foray into the life and dilemmas of the Prince of Denmark to make an otherwise ordinary evening completely extraordinary. Under the directorial hand of Fred Abrahamse, Hamlet is an uncompromising, uncompromised production which is contemporary and classic at the same time, as it presents one of theatre’s most respected stories with a moral freshness and a pared down sensibility that will keep you riveted.

The tale of the hapless young prince who is visited by the ghost of his recently deceased father, with a message of vengeance for his murder has been performed for over 400 years, in various manifestations and the creative team of this production have certainly done their homework in reflecting on it. In particular, in 1608, a record exists documenting the performance of this work by the crew of the Red Dragon, a ship, off the East Coast of South Africa.

Abrahamse casts a nod in the direction of this crew with his stage that is surrounded by a flood of tears and a set that is ensconced in a diaphanous arras. The effect is a cleaving of values and a conflation of narrative with set decisions that will take your breath away. And as you hear the creak of the ship resting and swaying on the ocean, you will realise the devastating subtlety with which every part of this production – from the music’s composition to the fight choreography – comes together to enable a sophisticated and potent whole.

Hamlet is performed by a tiny but immensely sophisticated cast of men. Everyone, including Gertrude and Ophelia, is represented with due dignity and muscle – and if you saw Abrahamse’s Richard III a couple of years ago, you will understand the nuance and wisdom in the work. Playing Shakespeare in such a way that you, in the audience can imbibe the beauty of the language as you’re transported by the moral crux of the tale, the work is a sheer masterpiece.

It’s sinister and shaped, moulded and passionate in its articulation, but the proverbial cherry on top of this tough well-made piece is the costume design. Easy enough to transfer performers and characters before our very eyes, the clothing they wear is clean of fluff, but not of wit and wisdom.

The eponymous character, performed by Marcel Meyer, is gut-wrenching in his quandary as he faces his corrupt uncle (Michael Richard) and his complicit mother (Callum Tilbury), in her fabulous crown of spikes. In directing the work, Abrahamse has given an edgy focus to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Jeremy Richard and Matthew Baldwin), enabling them to embrace the sinister – evoking the terrifying young girls in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining – in their togetherness and split loyalties. He also highlights the bumbling pedantic role of Polonius (Dean Balie), offering an explicit clarity to the work which will make you want to hold onto moments forever.

There are moments in this work which renders the flowers of remembrance cast so beautifully by Ophelia into flames and tea lights. And others in which Yorrick’s skull dangles magically over a shroud, but further to that, there are moments in which the bare simplicity of the words cast against the set, of the predicament of the characters cast against their morals, that reaches through the rich and varied trajectory of this play’s history and makes you realise how privileged you are to be in the audience.

  • Hamlet is written by William Shakespeare and directed by Fred Abrahamse. It features design by Fred Abrahamse (set and lighting), Marcel Meyer (costumes), Charl-Johan Lingenfelder (composer) and Anton Moon (fight choreography) and is performed by Matthew Baldwin, Dean Balie, Marcel Meyer, Jeremy Richard, Michael Richard and Callum Tilbury at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino in Fourways until May 21. Call 011 511 1988 or visit http://www.pietertoerien.co.za.