Four masked men, some rubbish and a lot of heart

rommel

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

Broken values, smashed dreams and theatre with devastating balance

swallows

DECISIONS, decisions: Christiaan Schoombie (foreground) with Warren Masemola and Mpho Osei-Tutu deciding upon his fate. Photograph courtesy comarochronicle.co.za

SELDOM DO YOU get to feel privileged enough to experience a play with not only electric relevance to the brokenness of our current global society, but one which also brings together such a rich collaboration of skills that it shines from every direction. Mike van Graan’s latest play, When Swallows Cry is an extraordinary and brilliant essay on the pain and complexity of migration.

Almost crafted like a filmed hostage drama, the work is forced out of actuality clichés and holds its own as a stage play thanks to beautiful energies conveyed by the set, lighting and audio-visual elements, as well as the choreographed staging of the work as a whole.  Comprising three vignettes, it sears into an understanding of blood-curdling xenophobia, and bleeding heart humanity in a way that is absolutely riveting, as text and performance are made to suppurate in concert with the poison of historical hatred and anguish.

Casting iron-hard laughter at the idea of ‘saving people from their poverty’, and unflinchingly describing the kind of crude racism that circumscribes the possibilities for refugees, the work is uncompromisingly cynical and hard hitting, but it doesn’t lack deeply woven nuances. It is the manner in which each vignette – be it in Somalia, America or Australia – gives flesh and dimension to each of its characters, lending them balance that makes this such a show stopper. Each character has been superbly crafted, but more so, each man embodies the several roles which he performs with such an impeccable intensity that you may well forget to breathe, as you watch.

When the room seems to rock and swirl as the lights sway, when the space is calibrated with light, when a stretch of sea rocks so lugubriously, it seems to do so amidst the stolidness of oil, you get a sense of myriads of other untold stories within stories. Of voices that don’t get heard in a refugee crisis. Of farms in Zimbabwe that were abandoned. Of mines near Mogadishu where men were shot. You understand how immigration control might be doing its job, but also what it must feel like to have a country’s doors closed in your face. Because of the colour of your skin. Or your religion.

It’s an immensely fine cast comprising Christiaan Schoombie, Warren Masemola and Mpho Osei-Tutu who each splay out a range of deeply disturbing social realities. While each of the three shine with a fierce intensity, the cast is arguably headed by Masemola, who evokes the character of Simon Adebisi in the HBO prison series Oz. This extraordinary character, played by British performer Adewale Akinnyoye-Agbaje,  lends a sophisticated sheen of malevolence and unbated violence which has a real heart. And like the HBO prison series Oz, When Swallow Cry is a work that enfolds  valid perspectives with grit and toughness, but with a pen that forces itself into all the crevices of the scenario and a speculum that sees into all the sides of the situations. You weep for the villain’s tragedies as you understand why he is the villain. You hear the diatribe of the wannabe teacher in Africa, and hear also the puniness of his liberal dreams. In short, nothing is left one sided.

The work is an open-ended essay: it doesn’t promise to give answers to deeply wrenching realities which reflect on how history and the brutal and crude struggle for power turns in a ghastly and repetitive circle. But it is an important theatre gesture which will move and horrify you, as it will haunt you.

  • When Swallows Cry is written by Mike van Graan and directed by Lesedi Job mentored by Megan Willson. Featuring design by Jurgen Meekel (audiovisual), Mandla Mtshali (lighting), Nadya Cohen (set), Noluthando Lobese (costumes) and Ntuthuko Mbuyazi (sound), with incubates Lerato Masooane (costumes), Tsholofelo Ramospele (set), Mosibudi Maggy Selebe (sound) and Tanele Dlamini (audio visual), it is performed by Warren Masemola, Mpho Osei-Tutu and Christiaan Schoombie, in the Mannie Manim Theatre, Market Theatre comples, Newtown, Johannesburg until February 5. Call 011 832 1641 or visit markettheatre.co.za