Dirt under the business front

betrayalradio
THE horror: Human trafficking is the focus of Elma Potgieter’s radio play Betrayal.

FROM THE GET go, you’re in a newspaper environment in a city where young women are currency and business fronts to terrible wheeling and dealing proliferate. This is Betrayal, an English-language radio play by Elma Potgieter, which attempts to bring in all the dirty threads that comprise the underhand stories central to our contemporary world, where little should be taken at surface value and psychopaths are hard to recognise. That is, until they are challenged.

It’s a good enough story, evoking from the first few moments, novels such as Peter Harris’s Bare Ground, or Marilyn Cohen De Villiers’s Deceive and Defend, which offer fictional insights into horrifying truths and how stories are cast into motion. But sadly, that is where the resemblance ends: Betrayal engages with the texture and urgency of a newspaper environment and a crime scene, but it is profoundly predictable in its structure and writing and often peppered with literary idioms and platitudes which compromise the realness of the characters.

Patrice Mathibela (Patrick Bokaba) is the kingpin in something that looks too good to be true. A wealthy businessman, he is set on turning the city’s problems upside down with a new establishment mooted ‘Nugget City’. He’s in a relationship with Alexa (Mpumelelo Manganya) who is also the Women’s Editor for The Voice, the newspaper which is the heart of the story. She’s the best friend of Lerato (Sibulele Gcilitshana), the paper’s news editor, who isn’t quite sure that all is kosher with her friend’s relationship.

The story gathers momentum under the watch of crime reporter, Sipho (Archie Nhlapo), and a secret letter from a young woman seals the deal. The rest happens as it must, leaving you curious as to what a news editor actually does, wondering what said letter said, and perplexed as to the absence of twists in this tale. As a result, even the title is painted in a shade too bland and unpromising, making you feel a tad betrayed.

In a sense, this work suffers from too much ambition and not enough development: in the brevity of an hour, not enough is left untold, you’re in the know from the first few moments and the denouement feels pushed in, hurriedly. Having said that, the characters are generally nicely developed and competently performed, but sometimes too many platitudes in their words make for woodenness in their presences.

  • Betrayal is written by Elma Potgieter. Directed by Posy Keogh, and featuring technical input by Bongi Thomas and Evert Snyman, it is performed by Patrick Bokaba, Emmanuel Castis, Sibulele Gcilitshana, Victor Malepe, Mpumelelo Manganya, Archie Nhlapo, Russel Savadier, and Bronwyn van Graan, and will be broadcast on SAFM – 104-107fm – on June 17 at 8pm.

Lulu in the sky. With spiders.

Jetset
CREEPY cargo: Buckle up for your time with The Jet Set.

THE AIRPORT: A place of meeting and greeting, of tearful goodbyes and certain levels of anxiety – particularly given the history our world has faced with the complexity of flight. Playwright Frances Slabolepszy does a delicious kind of a mash up in this English medium radio play, in which she takes two event managers fairly new to the job, the whole machine of the airport, a bunch of international delegates and a film crew who are using the airport as a backdrop to their psycho drama with spiders. Not to forget a woman with jujitsu skills coupled with an anxiety disorder. In less able hands, this would have been a silly fruit salad. But it isn’t.

Slabolepszy’s work is structured with the funnies all carefully in place to their best advantage. As the play begins to unfold, so do you get swept up into the drama, unsure as to how it will unfold. Tossed into the mix is the issue of African names that do not stoop to gender specificity, and foreigners who have a slight command of English idioms. The result is complete hilarity, of the ilk you might have seen on TV in the 1970s and 1980s with the weekend series, Mind Your Language, written by Vince Powell.  Xenophobic? Not a sausage: this work is about gorgeous misunderstandings and cultural miens.

It’s a work that you are forced not to take too seriously in thinking about all the kinds of things that can go wrong in the confines of an airport, but it is put together with wisdom, beautifully cast and performed with a sense of theatrical fun and perfection. The cast brings together well established performers such as Louise St Claire and Esmeralda Bihl, together with younger, but no less seasoned thespians. You will laugh because it is funny and you will laugh because there’s an element of terror here that messes with your sense of safety.

Clocking in at just under an hour, it’s the best possible reason to stay at home this Sunday evening, with a warm cuppa and a comfortable chair.

  • The Jet Set is written by Frances Slabolepszy. Directed by Posy Keogh and featuring technical input by Bongi Thomas and Evert Snyman, it is produced by Julia-Ann Malone and Niquita Joseph and is performed by Esmeralda Bihl, Patrick Bokaba, Ryan Flynn, Sibulele Gcilitshana, Robyn Heaney, Victor Malepe, Lerato Mvelase, Jeremy Richard and Louise St Claire. It is broadcast on SAFM (104-107FM) on Sunday, June 10 at 8pm.
  • See the work being made on this instagram video.

Poison Ivy and the face I show the world

Oorlewing
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

Broken dreams and sibling lies

spieelbeeld
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.
  • 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
  • See this interview with director, Christelle Webb Joubert, which offers insight into the project’s back story.

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.