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
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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

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

Theatre to stay home for

Kobus

AT the helm of the theatre of the mind: Kobus Burger, RSG’s executive producer for radio drama. Photograph courtesy RSG.

WOLWEDANS IN DIE skemer (the popular afternoon serial by Leon van Nierop) was my programme, as a child,” says Kobus Burger, executive director for drama on Radio Sonder Grense (RSG), South Africa’s Afrikaans-language Public Broadcasting Service, which is under the aegis of the SABC. “If I missed an episode, it was a very serious matter.”  Radio is alive and well in this society, or is it? Burger chatted to My View about the station’s upcoming season of radio dramas, which starts on March 30 as well as the challenges of the medium.

Drama has always been close to Burger’s heart; he’s enjoyed stints as an art critic and a teacher of writing skills in his career trajectory. Indeed, he initiated the RSG Kunstefees, an arts festival all on radio, in November of 2014. It was a fascinating initiative which brought theatre fare into your life through the wireless. No jackets required. Sadly, the festival was put on a back burner, last year.

“It was budget that put this project on hold,” he says. “It was a lovely project but not part of our mandate. It was part of our innovation strategy, but not a must have. Last year we followed it up with a smaller boutique festival, called RSG Skatkis. And hopefully, if there is funding, RSG Kunstefees will be back.”

Curiously, RSG’s listenership comprises people who might not be fluent Afrikaans speakers. Burger explains that they listen because it is good quality programming and there’s something for everyone. Built on a model which evokes Springbok Radio (1950-1985), it’s a medium which warms the cockles of people’s hearts and hits on the nostalgia button, every time.

“Audio is so amazing, particularly in South Africa,” he adds. “Video is much more expensive and inconvenient because of the priceyness of data. The research says radio is still the most accessible, because people don’t always have access to TV.

“It’s immensely creative and completely non-visual. And with these kinds of limitations, you can do amazing things. You can go anywhere, do anything. It’s never a budget issue, because with audio you can literally travel to the moon, and back.”

From March 30 (Good Friday), a season of 14 Afrikaans plays will grace your radio. A play is broadcast each Thursday evening at 8pm – after Easter Friday, that is. The season begins with an Easter play by Helena Hugo – which is part of the station’s mandate. Then, with the exception of a translation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, directed by Suzanne van Wijk, the season is rich with brand new names and fabulous yarns written by winners of the radio drama writing competition which has been sponsored by Sanlam for the past 22 years.

The competition generates between 120 and 130 new plays each year. With a purse of R100 000 for all the winners collectively, it’s not a bad incentive. If you win first prize, you’re looking at R37 000. And that’s for a piece of sustained writing of between 40 and 50 pages.

Growing playwrights is not uncomplicated, but it can be very rewarding, he continues. “You have to nurture your writers. New and original drama scripts can be a challenge with some Afrikaans theatre festivals. That’s probably why we see so many translations and adaptations of novels. And sometimes playwrights get precious about their work and won’t take criticism. Some insist that their first draft is the final draft. With our writers, we’re very strict in terms of enabling the best possible work to develop out of an idea. And luckily most of the radio writers like the suggestions and are excited about taking another look at their script.”

Over the next 14 weeks, My View undertakes to bring you reviews of and links to the plays comprising this year’s season of RSG winners, as we did toward the end of last years, with such remarkable works as an Afrikaans translation of Pirandello’s The Man with the Flower in his Mouth, and Dalene Matthee’s exquisite Judasbok, as well as Marion Erskine’s chilling Akwarius, among others. We’re in for another delightful rollercoaster of diversity.

The playwrights responsible for these works include:  Sophia van Taak, a magazine journalist and TV presenter who brings Springgety to air; Lee Doubell, with his work Rommel, Rommel (Rubbish, rubbish) has written before for SAfm; Albert Short, the playwright responsible for ‘n Voorlopige begrafnis (A provisional funeral), is in the finance world, then there’s a new science fiction work by seasoned writer, Schalk Schoombie.

Hittegolf (Heat wave) by Martyn le Roux is about the ozone layers breaking up – it’s a small family drama which takes on a surrealist madness. Martyn’s very interesting and he’s won a lot of acknowledgement so far in English and Afrikaans. At the moment he is developing one of his RSG radio drama scripts into a full-length feature film. It’s called Die Pelsloper and its scheduled to be screened in 2019. Martyn’s grown remarkably and he’s eager to develop with criticism. He might very well be the new generation’s PG Du Plessis.”

So what else is on the radio theatre horizon? There’s a murder mystery with nudist elements, a translation of an old folk tale which sees a father making the ultimate sacrifice when his son is trapped in a borehole. There’s a tale about the damage that gossip can bring and another is an ode to poetry and literature through the eyes of the elderly. The season is wide, the pickings are there for the listening.