Things that can’t always be fixed

Young Caucasian Woman walking  near the sea

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
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Death of a golden boy

johnnyisniedoodnie

WASHING dishes: Lisa (Rolanda Marais), Dirk (Albert Pretorius), Hein (Ludwig Binge), Anya (Ilana Cillier) and Johnny (Roelof Storm) at play.

Sometimes you just know that a film will most likely not break box office records, not in this generation, at least, but that this market-centric prediction has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on its brilliance, its historical merit or its importance as a piece of research. Johnny is nie dood nie is a film of this nature. Featuring impeccable writing, an unforgettably sound understanding of the texture and anguish of the late 1980s in South Africa, and a speculum-like foray into the life of one of young Afrikaans culture’s most important icons, it’s an extraordinary project, but also a brave and essential film.

On one level it’s a loosely historical account of the last 15 years of the life of Afrikaans balladeer Johannes Kerkorrel – born Ralph Rabie in 1960 – bringing in the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll of the era, not to mention the looming terror of mandatory army service for young white males, the PTSD and the sense of utter impotence in the eye of apartheid’s evils. It’s a tale of love and betrayal, of defiance and Alice in Wonderland, and there are moments in which you can almost smell the ether of the period, criss-crossed as it is with the odour of dagga, cigarettes and sweat, in a socio-political nexus laced with ideals and fury.

On another level, it is an essay on the loss of a dear friend. Lise (Rolanda Marais), Anya (Ilana Cillier), Hein (Ludwig Binge) and Dirk (Albert Pretorius) get together to commiserate about the suicide of the one who was central to all of their lives. It’s 2002 and they’re young adults with responsibilities. The flashbacks to the 1980s and their late teens offer clear and troubled insight into the messed up state of South African society at the time, as they present the nub of the Voëlvry movement, a development of politically astute Afrikaans cabaret which set Afrikaans university students afire with a sense of possibility.

When first we meet the eponymous Johnny (Roelof Storm), he’s freshly fired from his job as a journalist, and cocks a snook at the country’s expectations of him with glee. With his platinum blond hairdo and his nimble wit and singing talent, Johnny is like a god. But he’s like a fallen god. He has secrets that will overpower you in their sense of choice, in the Catch-22 that embraced the lives of so many young men of that wretched, double-crossed era.

While the film doesn’t promise to be comprehensive, the light it casts on the era is penetrating, as it is poignant, well-researched and hard-hitting. With everything, from a delicious cameo of the late Barend de Wet, with hookah and existential solutions at hand, to a televised snippet which reflects Evita Bezuidenhout (Pieter-Dirk Uys) chatting to Kerkorrel about life, the universe and music, as well as illustrations by John Tenniel on the walls, and Jan F E Celliers’s poem Dis Al on the window of a student dorm, the work is rich in detail, and unforgettable in texture.

Of the five central characters, it is Albert Pretorius’s nuanced sense of history and sadness that grips the film in an embrace which is haunting, delicate and simply beautiful. You understand implicitly that his Dirk, ultimately is a reflection of Dirk Uys who became the manager of Kerkorrel’s band, Gereformeerde Blues Band.

You have to sit to the very last moment of the film – even after the credits have scrolled up – for the music, however. The work is more focused on the horror and wildness of the times than the poetry of Kerkorrel and his contemporaries, including James Philips (who invented the alter ego Bernoldus Niemand), Koos Kombuis and others, but you must focus carefully. Snatches of Kerkorrel’s songs tie the work together like sinews and connective tissue. There’s a game the friends play in remembering lyrics, and a completely fabulous reconstruction of the iconic and utterly bizarre image that defines his record Eet Kreef  but you can rest assured, his magnificent ballads Hillbrow and In die Tronk are not forgotten.

  • Johnny is nie dood nie (2017) is directed by Christiaan Olwagen and stars Ludwig Binge, Ilana Cillier, Rolanda Marais, Albert Pretorius and Roelof Storm, based on the eponymous stage play by Malan Steyn. It is 106 minutes in length and is in Afrikaans with English subtitles. It opened at Ster Kinekor outlets nationwide on Friday May 5. Visit cinemanouveau.co.za and https://www.facebook.com/Johnnyisniedoodnie/?hc_ref=SEARCH for more details.

Man to man over a brandy

dop

POWER of three: the man (Andre Odendaal), his drink and his barman (Wilhelm van der Walt). Photograph by Jo Spies.

It’s a great rarity when you are privileged enough to see a play so ununtterably perfect that you feel were you to never see a play again, it would suffice. Fairly low-key, Dop is unequivocally a play of this standard. Premised on the clichéd honest friendship between a man, his drink and his barman, the work reaches into the subtleties of Beckettian nuance as it boldly celebrates the priceless legacy of Afrikaans balladeer Johannes Kerkorrel.

Indeed, Dop is a play with prescience, dealing as it does with the schism between South Africa’s white Afrikaans-speaking contemporary youth, bruised and damaged by fear and immigration,  and the previous generation. Frank Venter (André Odendaal) was born on February 29, 1960, and his father was so mean that he only ever got a birthday present every four years. And at that, it was something manly and utilitarian, like a screwdriver or a spanner. Tim (Wilhelm van der Walt), the barman is a ‘laaitie’, born in the 1990s, but he too has suffered the pain and conflict of love and bias and uncertainty, and he’s quite content to not speak of it.

The brandy nurtures an easiness between the two. And the melding of set and lighting, text and nuance as Frank gets drunker and drunker, pulls you, in the audience, into the vortex of the honesty and fragility that comes of inebriation. It’s happy inebriation in the most part, something that sees Frank’s “Puppies” – his Hushpuppy shoes – left behind, but it opens a level of unbiased brave freedom that finds both men pondering their own broken dreams, but also love, loss and humanity in a way they probably wouldn’t be brave enough to do by sober light of day.

Beautifully performed, Dop in Afrikaans with a bit of Australian English, is a polished gem, woven through intricately and intimately with the life and music of Kerkorrel and his Voëlvry movement which impacted so significantly on Afrikaans youth of the 1990s, but this is so much more than an historical account. It boasts an internal architecture which contains focal nubs that are touched upon and not laboured, woven with love and never forced. The work is also deliciously peppered with Kerkorrel’s ballads – and a bit of Tom Jones – but the segueing of music and text, socio-political reference, sexual identity and the spinning of the bar is wise and fabulous. And just right. You will laugh with a pure heart at the physical gymnastics and cry with a full one at the tale’s astonishing denouement.

  • Dop is written by Retief Scholtz and directed by Sylvaine Strike. Featuring design by Sylvaine Strike and Kosie Smit (set and lighting), Didi Kriel (music) and Madelaine Lötter (costumes), it is performed by André Odendaal and Wilhelm van der Walt in the Studio Theatre, Montecasino, Fourways, until October 23. Visit kosie.biz or www.pietertoerien.co.za