#MeToo Movement Marches Forcefully Against Powerful Monsters who For Far Too Long Had Their Way With Women

It’s been a momentous time in the #MeToo sphere with the Harvey Weinstein convictions – finally. And even with two hard hitting books out there detailing all the women and what they have gone through, the jury still found him culpable of only two of the five counts. With many other similar issues swirling about, DIANE DE BEER speaks her mind:

Harvey Weinstein at court
Harvey Weinstein playing the victim at his recent New York trial.

 

There’s hardly a woman who works professionally that won’t have some kind of memory about sexual harassment. I suppose with everything being aired these past few years, those of us who haven’t suffered sexual abuse should count ourselves lucky.

But I was surprised about my emotional response to Bombshell, the film starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie about the horrific abuse by Roger Ailes and many more who were part of the Fox empire.

I had seen and was fascinated by The Loudest Voice, the TV series told with the accent on the bullying tactics of Roger Ailes and the culture of sexy women he created in the Fox Newsroom and on screen.

Bombshell poster
The poster says it all! Power in triplicate!

When Bombshell arrived, I felt I had viewed enough of this particular story, until someone whose judgement I trust told me to see it as this was from the women’s point of view. I didn’t realise the impact that would have on a very personal level which says so much about the culture most women find themselves in at work.

We don’t even notice because it is so prevalent and probably to most of us “normal”, so when seeing this particular film, which shows especially the environment created specifically so that this kind of thing can flourish, my flesh crawled – to my surprise.

But it was no surprise that with the final credits a notice announces that the women received 50 million dollars in damages: while Roger Ailes and another Fox News accused, Bill O’Reilly, received 65 million dollars’ worth of parting packages.

Fox News is the extreme so there’s no turning away from that aspect of the film. And with these three powerful actresses in control, it resonates dramatically and memories came flooding back. “How are the dollies doing?” was a particular rankling phrase coming from a boss or the fact that you were told that your salary increase was determined by the fact that your partner worked in IT. “That means he earns big bucks,” was the feeling. And the list of constant humiliations goes on.

 

And then when these men are “caught”, they are so powerful that they manoeuvre everything and everyone around them. Read Ronan Farrow’s book (reviewed in this space earlier) Catch and Kill and She Said and see what happened to these award-winning writers in the process of writing the book. It wasn’t only Weinstein who came out guns blazing, he had many who colluded and further made it tough for anyone who wanted to expose his evil practices.

And perhaps what upset me the most was the humiliation that these women, many of them with powerful careers (and not because of Roger Ailes), had to go through on a daily basis. If this is the man who employs you, how does the rest of the world view you? He in fact lays down the rules of how you appear on camera and what you are allowed to say.

Something that was always an unwritten rule in media was that your newspaper had your back if those on the outside were upset with your reporting of the facts – the newspaper would stand up for you and in that way, bring balance to the power dynamic. But that’s not what happened at Fox. When Fox news correspondent Megyn Kelly was taunted by President Trump, it was another stick in the Ailes arsenal to keep her in line.

These constant games are also part of the ritual to keep everyone functioning in place and not to overstep or rock the boat. You learn very early on when to hold back and when to fight for specific rights. Some you win and others you lose.

Others make you smile – wryly. The first time women were really promoted into certain positions was post ’94 when they were included in the list of appropriate candidates because of the neglect in the past.

Suddenly in newspaper offices around the country, women started appearing in management positions and even the first female editors started to emerge. It wasn’t a sudden belief in the ability of women. White men just thought them the lesser of all the evils!

Bombshell Robbie
Bombshell’s Margot Robbie represents the epitome of what Roger Ailes wanted the Fox women to exude.

And so one could go on and on. And that’s why women around the world were thrilled about the Weinstein conviction but…

And said best by the following tweet:

Shailja Patel: @shailapatel: (Kenyan poet, author, feminist, activist, now self-exiled after she accused a fellow Kenyan writer of sexual assualt and was ordered by the court  to pay damages and apologise to the man who assaulted her, so she left the country.)

No guilty verdict of jail sentence, even for life, can restore what Harvey Weinstein stole from his victims. Or repair the harm he inflicted on his decades-long reign of terror over an entire industry. But this is a tiny crack in the wall of impunity. Let patriarchy tremble.

She nails it!. So while we all watch and wait, the battle goes on but at least because of their shining a light so strongly, the #MeToo movement is starting to show results.

Freehand is the Personal Story of Pianist Charl du Plessis and his Life in Music

Freehand Cover

The whirlwind that is pianist Charl du Plessis’s life has meant that more than 20 years into his performance career, he is finally releasing his first solo album. He reveals the thought processes behind Freehand to DIANE DE BEER:

 

Pianist extraordinaire Charl du Plessis is all about improvisation – not only on the keyboards but also in his life. He has to be. He has that many projects in the air at a given time, and constantly has to juggle.

Stepping off a plane from an international destination, he runs to catch another flight to make a concert as Nataniël’s accompanist the following day and then he rushes from there to catch up with the Charl du Plessis Trio who are also releasing a CD at the Woordfees in March.

But with improv part of his game, he will be performing his latest and first solo album,  Freehand, at the Atterbury Theatre (and in concerts throughout the year across the country) on Sunday at 3pm, followed by a performance in the Cango Caves just outside Oudtshoorn on March 28 at 8pm as part of this year’s Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK), bookings opening on Saturday (February 21). This hasn’t happened in 24 years and is a rare event which won’t happen again soon.

The origin of the solo album began with unwinding after concerts and a hectic touring life. Arriving home and wishing to unwind, this Steinway artist would sit and tinkle on one of his two Steinways (one a new acquisition) playing music that’s gentle to his ear. When he felt it was time for a solo album  – finally – it was to these excursions in his mind that he decided to escape to.

He would sit down at the piano, and we all know that end of day feeling, and start playing. This was music that he liked listening to and never to please anyone. It’s mostly gentle and spontaneous, yet once he decided this was the way to go, he would practice improvising according to a specific mood, a moment or an object that would take him to a specific place.

“I didn’t feel I had to prove anything,” he says about this solo attempt – and many of his fans would say about time.

But of his many endeavours, where Charl has also excelled is planning his own career. Any solo career is a challenge as an artist. You only have yourself, your skills and a professionalism which helps you to sell and establish yourself. But mostly you’re always on show.

And one of his attributes is coming up with new ways of making music – classical, jazz and simply a melody that he finds enchanting or a composer he wants to showcase. He would contact a fellow performer or two or three and put together a show.

_DSF5929

What is truly impressive is that these shows always had a specific individuality and originality and never felt forced. This was an unusual yet also deliberate route. And those who know Charl’s work would have expected something as smart as Freehand to go solo with.

He is celebrating two decades as concert pianist in both classical and jazz  spheres. This is not typical but from the start (and I witnessed his first jazz competition in which he competed against some of the top young talent in the country, achieving a brilliant second place), he felt comfortable in both spaces. “I have had true musical satisfaction in combining my passion for various styles in crossover arrangements for multiple projects with my trio, with orchestra or solo,” he writes in his album notes.

This one specifically captures his own voice – an important step for especially solo artists. He describes this way of playing piano almost like an artist doodling or a chef who after a particular stint in the kitchen would crave comfort food not fine dining. And once he knew this was what he was going to do, he turned to fellow musician, the Trio’s drummer, Peter Auret, who is also an award-winning recording engineer, to record this pet project. It took three solid days of spontaneously improvising at the Etienne Rousseau Theatre in Sasolburg  – no rules, no preconceived ideas.

They have worked together before and the reason Charl is comfortable with this particular artist is that he feels no judgement. This was a project that felt very personal, a statement as a first solo album, but Charl also needed it to be far removed from critics, purists and conservatives.

Living and working in this world, especially in South Africa, he knows the pressures. It’s a tiny but hugely critical community and can sometimes inhibit artists to try something new – the essence of being an artist. By chance I heard some critics talk about his first Freehand performances and it was clear that he had found something truly unique to share with an already adoring following. But that’s how you get there.

Once the recordings had been made, the process was still on-going. “I left it before listening for five months because I needed some breathing space and distance,” he explains. Then he was called to choose some tracks because these improvs didn’t yet have titles. Following the completion of the album, which then had to be performed, he had to relearn the pieces that had flowed from his imagination.

“I couldn’t even recognise some of the pieces when I listened to it the first time,” he says. “This is what I love about spontaneous music making: the unpredictable journey, the freshness, the honesty, the energy, the enjoyment,” he concludes in his album notes.

The success has been sweet and he walked off after that Aardklop run with the best musical production award. Something that has been rewarding too which he didn’t take into account was the mobility of the project. “I’m reaching different audiences because I can pack up, travel and play,” he says – from Upington to Vleesbaai and from Shanghai to Switzerland.

Charl knew early on  that he didn’t want to travel the typical classical route. He needed to find a voice that would catch the fancy of audiences – worldwide. He has done exactly that on a stage, probably the most difficult in the world. This is storytelling without words and demands that the audience truly use their imagination.

With all his different projects, Charl has made sure of that – and now for the first time, he hopes to capture them with a very personal story. Listen and make up your mind. I think it is difficult to resist.

For more detail and dates, check https://charlduplessis.com/

The Artistry of the Best on Tennis and Music Stages Makes My People Sing

IMG-20200219-WA0002
In the beginning … as the excitement was building.

Pictures of tennis: Esther du Plessis

Pictures of Kirstenbosch Concert: Debra de Souza

 

When you are gifted the weekend of a lifetime and things work out and then, as a bonus, you are unexpectedly given much more than even you bargained for, all you can do is smile – for the longest time. DIANE DE BEER loses her heart  – again – to her people and continent:

 

Not only would I have the chance to see two of the best tennis players on the planet in action at the Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town (courtesy of the children of a close friend), but would also see cellist Yo-Yo Ma in action in the spectacular setting of Kirstenbosch as part of his Bach Project.

The gods were smiling and it turned out to be so much more – in unexpected fashion – than I thought it could be.

South Africa is not in a good place and there’s not much hope that the turn-around will be swift. Those working against the citizens have done too much damage and are still sowing havoc. We will make it though as this weekend again promised, but patience is required.

Too often so many dump on what this country and its people are, that those of us who are optimistic by nature have a tough battle on a daily basis. But sometimes the country and its people deliver brilliantly.

With the excitement at an all-time high, seeing these artists of sport and music was all we dreamt it would be.

We planned the logistics of especially the tennis. In fact, we had a full day of entertainment planned so that we would not find ourselves in traffic jams or in a distressing situation where we couldn’t make the game.

jojoTOP-800x528
The exuberance and ingenuity of Jojo Rabbit set the mood for the day.

With the stadium in walking distance of the V&A Waterfront, that was an obvious destination. Our movie for the day was picked, Jojo Rabbit, and we would have a late lunch at about 3pm before making our way to the stadium at 5.

Everything played into our hands. We had picked the parking mall closest to the stadium and it was literally a 10 minute walk from both the stadium and the movie mall. The stars had aligned and once we experienced the delight of Jojo Rabbit, the perfect pick for the day, it seemed nothing could go wrong.

Even our late lunch at Tashas, which consisted of a house salad with the freshest finely cut greens and avo mixed with portions of pickled calamari and squid heads with a cool glass of Cape wine, was perfect.

This was followed by a short walk to the stadium, the palpable excitement of the crowds starting to amass and the simplicity of finding the right entrance and our seats. Of course the stands are far from the court and we couldn’t really see their facial expressions, and we were sitting in an area where the sound was distorted (all of which we could later catch up on DStv), but we could certainly experience the play, see the balletic magnificence of Federer and experience Nadal’s joy as he became more and more aware of the importance of this meet for someone who is now his big tennis buddy.

IMG-20200219-WA0004
Nadal and Noah vs Federer and Gates… with everyone in stitches.

I am a Federer fanatic and the pleasure of witnessing the way he plays in real life and real time is something that’s hard to explain and with that, the bonus of the gracious Nadal who could hardly keep the smile off his face the whole game. How blessed tennis fans are to have these two gentle sports giants at the top of their game for much of our lives – and then to catch them in Cape Town nogal!

Who could have thought. And then in typical South African fashion, a young man with an exquisite voice started singing Shosholoza, capturing that awesome home ground spirit that we wallow in and reminds us just who we are.

IMG-20200219-WA0005

Throughout the game, if I had criticism, it was the music which should all have been from here. It’s such a brilliant showcase and we certainly have a choice which would have every spectator’s hair standing on edge as could be witnessed with the spirited Shosholoza. It was a night when the people, the organisation, the tennis and the players and for those of us who have never been, even the stadium with the starry night skies, were doing their best.

The following night was Yo-Yo Ma’s Kirstenbosch concert as part of his 36 Concerts. 6 Continents. 36 Days of Action, exploring how culture connects us.

CONCERT YO YO
The beauty of Kirstenbosch with nature the perfect setting for Yo-Yo Ma.

It all began in August 2018 when he started a two-year journey to perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s six suites for cello in 36 locations around the world. For me this was meant to be. He is probably my favourite classical musician and not only for his playing but also for the way he embraces world music and makes huge statements without saying a word – all in aid of our common humanity. We need these artists, especially when they have his insight and platform.

What were the odds that these two events would come together on one weekend in one city on the Southern-most point on Africa – or almost. And yet another perfect night. It started in Cape Town’s best late-afternoon light (not a sign of the wind of the previous night which had Trevor Noah asking for the aircon to be switched off!) and worked itself into the most precious full moon which shone on Yo-Yo and the crowds like a halo.

Yo Yo Ma, Credit- Austin Mann
Tripping the light fantastic pictured by Austin Mann.

It was sublime – everything. From the musician all by himself making heart-achingly beautiful music, the setting, the lit trees as the darkness descended and even going home, making your way back to the car, not everyone sure which route to take yet being directed out by traffic police who had warned before the time that they would be there.

YO YO MA PIC
A night to remember with all the planets in alignment.

And through this all, it was being South African and participating in when we are at our best that kept me smiling. From the spectators and audience to the organisation at both events, to the settings and more than anything the people and the camaraderie, we couldn’t find that anywhere else.

We have proved that as a nation when we find common ground, we have the same drum beating the African rhythms that keep us fighting for a country where diversity has always been its strength.

ZOLANI AND YO YO
The perfect partnership: Zolani Mahola and Yo-Yo Ma.

The genius Yo-Yo Ma experienced that as he invited Zolani Mahola (formerly Freshly Ground) onto the stage and they performed one of Johnny Clegg’s most haunting anthems Asimbonanga:

Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the Island into the Bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water…

 

 

Niq Mhlongo’s Black Tax: Burden …or Ubuntu Reminds us of the Discrepancies Determined by the Colour of your Skin

Black Tax bkLike so many things in South Africa, Black Tax: Burden …or Ubuntu? (Jonathan Ball Publishers) will be read and understood in very different ways depending on the colour of your skin. DIANE DE BEER gives some insight:

 

“Black tax,” writes the author/editor of the book, Niq Mhlongo, in his introduction, “is a highly sensitive and complex topic that is often debated among black South Africans. While these debates are always inconclusive due to the ambiguity, irony and paradoxes that surround it, as black people we all agree that ‘black tax’ is part of our daily lives.”

He notes that the book acknowledges these complexities and tries to represent a vast variety of  voices on the subject. “I tried to get a diversity of viewpoints by incorporating young and old, urban and rural, male and female contributors.”

In an attempt to answer the question represented in the title, the idea of both the black family and the black middle class is interrogated. “As an ideological concept, the black family is constantly changing to accommodate new economic, political and social realities and opportunities.”

That is what makes this such a fascinating read because to some of us, it explains a concept we know about yet doesn’t affect us in exactly the same way (I know some people will argue that white people also pay forward but it is an entirely different concept) and for black people, it captures the differences of opinion. Your financial status because of the endemic poverty in this country will determine whether black tax will be either a burden or a blessing.

As Mhlongo underlines, “a black person may earn the same salary as their white counterparts, but they will have more financial responsibilities to their family, which is often trapped in poverty due to the inequalities that were engineered by the apartheid system.”

That in itself is a response to people who question those who still point a finger at apartheid when regarding daily obstacles in their lives. Yes we’ve been in a democracy now since 1994, but the effects are here to stay for generations to come. That’s why, amongst many other examples, it was and remains such an evil system.

There is one point of agreement, explains Mhlongo. “Black tax is a daily reality for nearly every black South African.” That is also why so few black people get to choose the career they want to pursue. “Black parents expect their children to study something that will allow them to earn a high salary one day.”

In closure he notes that the real significance of this book lies in the fact that it tells us more about the everyday life of black South Africans. “It delves into the essence of black family life and the secret anguish of family members who often battle to cope.”

It is all the above that makes this such an important read because it explains the lives of others – so important in a society so divided and often ignorant about each other.

In a chapter titled Black tax – what you give up and what you gain, Dudu Busani-Dube (fiction writer and journalist) writes “…because we are the children of domestic workers and gardeners, we have no ‘old money’ and nothing to inherit. It comes with some anger, too, and no, it is not directed at the families we have to take care of, but at the system that was created to ensure that no matter how much freedom we think we finally have, it will still take us decades to crawl out of the jungle we were thrown in. Black tax is not our culture, no it isn’t. It has everything to do with the position this country’s history has put us in.”

And the “burden” is difficult for those not participating to understand. Nkateko Massinga explains in Casting a Spell on Poverty (poet and 2019 fellow of Ebedi International Writer’s Residency): “My relationship with my family will continue to be difficult because I am yet to meet their expectations. … The expectations of black parents and their need to live a life that looks good to others creates an emotional tax on black professionals.”

Think of the “burden” when starting your first job and everything that goes with the insecurity and the novelty of being in that position. Now add black tax as yet another obstacle to just finding your feet as gently as possible while trying to cope.

As Sifizo Mzobe (writer, content editor and translator) underlines in The Hopes and Dreams of Black Parents: “When a black graduate gets a job, they have a lot to make up for compared to their colleagues from better economic backgrounds. They have a deep economic hole to fill before they can start with their own lives. And life is tough in today’s economy; sometimes impossibly tough.”

That is above and beyond the ordinary high levels of stress in today’s society!

Most of us can remember our first salaries and everything we needed to do with that money. It’s about living expenses and living a life at your own cost for the first time. Nothing comes easy and I couldn’t even begin to imagine also taking care of people in abject poverty or helping younger siblings with their studies.

Think of the unemployment numbers in our land and the crisis becomes even more dramatic and traumatic. It’s tough enough trying to cope with your immediate family’s survival. And then we’re not even thinking of those families working on coal mines or for Eskom who are scared that their jobs will soon become redundant. In those circumstances can one expect people to think of the greater good?

That is what is really so smart about this book. With many different voices, many different ideas surface, many of them landing hopefully in a receptive or at least educational place.

I remember years back reading Redi Tlhabi’s first book Endings & Beginnings: A Story of Healing. She told a story of how at the age of 10 or 11 she was scared of being raped on her way to school. At the time, thinking about my own youth, I wondered if I had even been aware of rape – all of which reminded me of the discrepancies in the conditions of people living in this country.

Black Tax makes very clear (and we read about it every day) that nothing in that sense has changed. In fact because of the horrific looting of the past decade, for the have nots, it has simply become untenable. And that is exactly what Niq Mhlongo’s exploration in Black Tax highlights.

It is insightful and should be compulsory reading. But apart from that, what a gripping way to get to know one another while adding greater understanding. As South Africans, we owe it to ourselves and one another.

On and Off Stage Charl and Nataniël Sparkle and Shine in Story and Song

NatanielCharlOn February 5, showman Nataniël and his piano man Charl du Plessis celebrate 20 years in performance together. They tell DIANE DE BEER why – in spite of such different personalities – it has worked and turned into the perfect professional partnership:

 

To witness these two talk about their dual career is to understand their partnership. Because they spend so much time traveling and performing, they can complete one another’s sentences – and often do.

Du Plessis is also one of those caring souls who understands the pressures his funny man must endure daily and when he can, he tries to make life simple and at the same time sweet.

When they arrive at an airport with someone waiting to drive them to the next small town and

Nats en Charl
Charl (piano) and Nataniël in concert.

tells him to take the front seat, he understands the artist wants to take a back seat in all the implications of the word.

Theirs is no ordinary life as they arrive at small town halls, discover interior decorations that make them want to burst into tears and have to find a way – diplomatically often – to fix. And diplomatic is hardly in Nataniël’s nature and we love him for that.

Charl is also constantly trying to avoid embarrassing situations because Nataniël on seeing something he abhors might ask if there was a blind mannequin in charge of decorations. It’s Charl’s way to find gentler phrases while Nataniël uses humour to deflect his disdain.

He might be sweeping the foyer while Charl tries to make the dressing rooms habitable – or whatever is needed. “I’m a team player,” says Du Plessis, while Nataniël would rather run a mile.

Nats and Charl laughing

A lamp might need straightening or a straight face needs to save the day when first impressions might include a bed as part of the stage set-up.

But part of that has also impacted Du Plessis’s career in a big way. This is how he learnt the ropes. “He was interested in everything from the beginning,” says Nataniël. He wanted to know it all – from lighting to staging – and today it is part of his own shows.”

Du Plessis has contributed in his own way too. The band,  including Du Plessis, that currently plays for Nataniël is part of the Charl du Plessis Trio that he formed. “It makes it so much easier as we all know one another extremely well.” In fact, I have even heard Nataniël say quite fondly (he will deny this!) that his current company operates like a family

“I have become lazy,” explains Nataniël, because of the energetic Du Plessis who has taken so many of the mundane tasks of performance on his shoulders. For him it is about making Nataniël ‘s life easier. At the beginning, his own career might have been a touch quieter, but these days, he is juggling as many balls as Nataniël and he has to operate on a generous abundance of energy that keeps him running.

Charl and Nataniel at play
Impromptu at the French Embassy in Pretoria at the launch of Nataniël’s book about Nantes.

“I used to do everything myself …” says Nataniël as he reminds himself of the early days. But that diminishes as you start growing your empire.

Du Plessis at some point even started producing most of Nataniël’s shows. “There are a few theatres I am happy dealing with but not too many,” says Nataniël. These have become Du Plessis’s responsibility and Nataniël knows he will organise it all with the precision he needs.

“I speak for a living,” explains Nataniël, when chatting about his reluctance to communicate off stage. “Have you noticed, hairdressers often have the worst hairdo’s themselves. So it follows … ” He has probably said as much as he wants you to know, on stage, and he is adamant that it is there that he likes surprising people.

Charl en Nataniel

I have learnt that through the years of doing interviews about upcoming shows. It’s not that he tells any lies or doesn’t give me information, it’s just that once I’ve written and published and then see the show, I realise he hasn’t given away a damn thing! “What’s the point,” he wants to know?

Even the band doesn’t really know what the show is about before opening night. “We only rehearse the music and the scene changes if we need to carry props or some such, not Nataniël’s stories,” adds Du Plessis. “It’s quite tough keeping a straight face on opening night!”

He also doesn’t like complimenting. “I will say something if it doesn’t work or is wrong,” he says. “I reward with gifts and food!”

That was probably one of the toughest adjustments for Du Plessis. But he acknowledges that there was a neediness to have his talent confirmed by others. It’s been a bonus to bolster his own confidence.

He is constantly writing thankyou notes about something that has happened between them or a particular gratitude he wants to express. And in their own way, they have carved a working relationship that is smooth sailing most of the time.

Right from the start, Du Plessis knew that Nataniël wasn’t interested in technology. He wants everything – like his phone eg – to work, but he doesn’t need to know how. That is just one of the interventions he applies in his boss/friend’s life. And even while chatting, Nataniël has some phone queries that need solving.

CharlNat
charl and Nataniël in tandem.

“I write everything down in a paper diary,” says Nataniël. Du Plessis’s life  is checked into his phone or other electronic devices.

When he has sung the last note at a concert, Nataniël already has his mind on that night’s supper, which he will buy on his way home. Du Plessis on the other hand is happy mingling with friends and fans in the foyer for as long as it takes. “He networks, me not so much,” says Nataniël.

Du Plessis is happy to chat to anyone who corners him,  Nataniël is thinking how he can avoid a handshake, one of his many foibles. Du Plessis, explains Nataniël, is happy to explain something to someone in great detail. He on the other hand is curt and hopes to detour as many people as possible.

At some point, Charl decided Nataniël suffers from night blindness, and he is the one to drive as soon as darkness descends.

One of their most dramatic moments was when Nataniël ‘crashed’ on stage because of low blood sugar. “With a phalanx of medics around him and the band trying to help where they can, the audience were laughing because they thought it was all part of a joke,” notes Charl as he shakes his head at their sometimes bizarre circumstances.

“Now I know I simply have to eat an apple halfway through the show,” says Nataniël. They love and learn.

And as they chatter, while Du Plessis is the busy bee and the organiser of the two, Nataniël is the one who keeps everyone laughing. Not always purposely, but it’s the way he operates, how his mind works and how he communicates.

And thus it has been for these two artists together – and in their own right. More than anything, what they have in common is their love of the stage and their ability to perform. On stage, they sparkle and shine for their adoring audiences.

May it last for the longest time!

*They are going to present only a clutch of concerts: TWINTIG!, the first, on July 19 at Atterbury Theatre. Booking at iTicket.

Twintig!TWENTY! with a Symphony Orchestra in the SAND, Boemfontein on September 2 and 3. Tickets at Computicket. 

Watch out for further notices on their different websites and on social media. This is one fans don’t want to miss.

 

 

Poppie Nongena is a Searing Love Letter to Mothers by Director Christiaan Olwagen and Actor Clementine Mosimane

DIANE DE BEER

POPPIE_NONGENA_MG_0078
Clementine Mosimane gives a breathtaking performance as Poppie Nongena

 

POPPIE NONGENA

DIRECTOR: Christiaan Olwagen

CAST: Clementine Mosimane, Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Chris Gxalaba,  Nomsa Nene, Rolanda Marais.

Age Restriction: 13 DLPV

POPPIE_NONGENA_MG_8715
The heartache of separation.

When author Elsa Joubert wrote what is probably her best known novel, Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena (translated by Joubert herself into English in 1980 as The long Journey of Poppie Nongena), she realised that in trying to describe the horrific mass injustice of an ideology like apartheid, it was best to tell a very personal story to get to the heart of it – and also persuade those on the side of the regime at the time to take a hard look at the personal suffering of ordinary people.

For something like Apartheid to succeed, you have to hide most of the horror from ordinary people who aren’t directly involved and that’s what Joubert so successfully reveals in the novel.

All these decades later, the story of Poppie Nongena, a domestic worker with an Afrikaner family, harshly exposes the traumatic life of one woman who has only one goal in mind, to care for her own family (mostly in absentia) by making ends meet while caring for the needs of another family.

The most obvious difference, a fact which sadly still matters in our world, is race. The family Poppie Nongena works for is white while she is black and not regarded as a participating citizen of the country she was born in – apartheid South Africa.

POPPIE_NONGENA_MG_1467
Arguing the right to live in her city of birth (Neels van Jaarsveld and Clementine Mosimane).

It is the levels of bureaucracy she has to endure while simply trying to keep her family together and alive as her children are sent to what the government of the day regard as her home, a place she didn’t know but because of her particular ethnicity was regarded as her birthplace.

For those who didn’t live in those times, don’t ask. That was the point. Nothing had to make sense because the people these rules were being applied to, had no voice and much of their hardship was hidden (in the townships, for example, where hardly any white people ever went). The enforcers were people who would never have had this kind of power in any normal society and they wielded it often with great relish and no reason.

Director/script writer Christiaan Olwagen says he regards the film as a love letter to mothers and believes that we have to remember the past so that this kind of madness is never practiced again. He also points out that it is a story for today’s migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, making the point that history – perhaps especially the worst of it – repeats itself time and again.

With a script (co-written by Saartjie Botha, someone who has mastered book adaptations with great insight) that hits all the right marks, his other genius is the casting of Clementine Mosimane as Poppie. This was no easy task, because to start with, the film was shot in Afrikaans (with English subtitles) and the actors all had to know and speak the language.

POPPIE_NONGENA_MG_7791
Poppie Nongena with her children in the township.

But more than that, it is the essence of Poppie that determines the heartbeat of the film. She is a quiet woman who goes about her life without complaining because she has to find a way to live best with the cards she has been dealt. These are harsh and she has discovered that in the country she lives, if she wants to make any headway, she has to become invisible and not make any demands on the people with power – even those who seem to care. The system was set up in a way to discourage anyone to reach out a helping hand. Even for the small stuff. And few did. If you were black, you were usually out there on your own.

Mosimane colours her Poppie with grace and dignity so that the harshness of everything that happens to her is amplified and understood for what it was. The only thing that determined your well-being was the colour of your skin. And if it was black, you were born to serve – nothing more. Because of her performance, the lump in your throat never disappears and you are drawn into her world every step of the way.

POPPIE_NONGENA_OTO9859
Rolanda Marais and Clementine Mosimane in a telling scene in Poppie Nongena

There’s little that has to be said about the system because the way it lands on Poppie’s body is all we need to feel every single indignity she has to suffer every minute. It might be hiding under a bridge with her husband from the police, or a white madam who can’t bear to face her own life, so she focuses on the lives of others – especially those who have no recourse.

Mosimane gives a performance of breath-taking honesty and fortunately this is where the focus lies. She is also supported by an outstanding ensemble inlcuding Van der Merwe, Hanekom, Marais, Nene and Gxalaba.

Less successful, were the crowd scenes of which there were a few, some heated, others not so much. But a certain amount of staged choreography creeped through in the costumes, the props and the crowds themselves.

Comparison is odious, but I was struck by the world of mayhem and murder created by Sam Mendes in 1917 taking you back to the fields of World War 1. In Poppie one can “witness” every stone being carefully placed to create a ravaged road.

The crowds also seemed too practised rather than spontaneous – which is what one would want to achieve – which detracts from the emotions because as a viewer, you watch the action rather than tap into the story.

But these are minors, which don’t diminish the important story. Olwagen has proved with this one that he has earned his film stripes in a big way. As a celebrated stage director (and I hope we haven’t lost him totally to the big screen), he has spent the past few years making movies.

Still a youngster in artistic terms, his talents grow with each outing as it did when he was directing for stage. It’s going to be a great journey to witness as his confidence and skills expand with each new venture.

 

 

Diversity is Artistic Director James Ngcobo’s Loadstar at The Market

Pictures: THANDILE ZWELIBANZI

Paradise Blue
From left: Pakamisa Zwedala , Aubrey Poo (centre), Lesedi Job, Aubrey Poo (centre), and Seneliso Dladla with Busisiwe Lurayi (front).

It is diversity which strikes you when you look at the start of the 2020 theatre year at The Market. DIANE DE BEER speaks to artistic director James Ngcobo about his first production for Black History Month (a collaboration in its fifth year with the US Embassy in South Africa) which starts on January 31, but also checks what else is on offer:

It has been a longtime dream of  James Ngcobo to stage Paradise Blue, which he describes as a “dynamic, jazz-infused drama by award-winning African American playwright Dominique Morisseau about what’s at stake when building a better future”.

In a recent YouTube documentary on the gentrification of Los Angeles which in this instance affected an African American suburb also described as the heart of jazz in the city, longtime residents were complaining how they were being pushed out of their own neighborhood. The inference was clear, as soon as the suburb becomes white, it’s time for those who created the vibe in the first place to leave. They can’t afford it any longer anyway.

Similar scenes play out in Paradise Blue, which captures the yearning of individuals sidelined by life into the role of second-class citizens living and working in a black neighbourhood on the cusp of obliteration as part of the city’s plan to eliminate “blight”.  The characters face issues that will resonate today worldwide and specifically with South African audiences while enlightening them about similar struggles faced by low-income inner-city communities around the world.

Ngcobo had this one in mind for a few years and has assembled a young dream cast, all of whom he has worked with before. “It’s about collaboration,” says Ngcobo, which played into his choices.

One of his favourite leading men, Aubrey Poo, plays Blue, a castrated character whose life is in a rut. “He wants it all, his women and his club, yet his is a life of limitations. It looks at patriarchy but also hierarchy, which all come into play,” notes Ngcobo.

It’s a tough piece and he needed a seasoned cast who could pick up the vibe and develop it quickly. “Tight funding determines short rehearsal times,” he explains. The supporting cast includes Pakamisa Zwedala (A Raisin in the Sun) and Seneliso Dladla (One Night In Miami) as his fellow band members P-Sam and Corn. Busisiwe Lurayi (Nina Simone in F our Women) will play the naïve Pumpkin and another regular collaborator Lesedi Job (A Raisin in the Sun  as well as many other performances and directing) as the threatening Silver.

Apart from honouring Black History Month, Ngcobo pays further homage to his love of telling stories with a strong musical element and while it doesn’t feature that strongly in the original play, it’s something that resonates in much of his work as he uses music as another voice to embellish the story.

He also wanted to move away from stories about Rosie Parks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, all of whom have been celebrated in previous Black History Month performances. This season start tomorrow and runs until March 1 in the John Kani Theatre at The Market, Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm.

DOP - Foto kosie Smit (002)
Wilhelm van der Walt and André Odendaal in Dop directed by Sylvaine Strike. Picture by Kosie Smit.

In the meantime, things are pumping at the Market Theatre Complex. The award-winning Dop directed by Sylvaine Strike and starring André Odendaal and Wilhelm van der Walt  has just finished a short run, and playwright William Harding – whose previous work has included the adaptation of the hugely successful Tobacco and the Harmful Effects Thereof; The Cenotaph of Dan Wa Moriri and most recently Twelve Years a Poet based on the poetry of Vus’umuzi Pakhati – makes his debut as a professional director at the Market Theatre with his play, The Kings of the World.

Kings of the World
William Harding and Kaz MacFadden in The Kings of the World.

As is Ngcobo’s practice, he loves giving young artists a chance, but lends them a strong guiding hand, in this instance, director/actor Robert Whitehead, who will be mentoring the project.

The play is described as a dark comedy about the ineptitude and desperation of our times. It takes place during one night in a suburban garden cottage, where two friends and a roommate confront their neuroses and inadequacies as the night unravels around them.

Harry arrives uninvited at his friend’s cottage. David, having recently returned from a trip to Paris has become somewhat reclusive and reluctantly invites him in. David reveals he has a job opening as a freelance online copywriter.  And Harry immediately wants to be part of the action.

However, complications around the job soon arise and are further compounded when David’s drunken roommate returns.  As paranoia and desperation take over, the situation becomes tense and threatens to boil over into a dangerous conclusion. The cast includes Harding, Chris Djuma and Kaz MacFadden.

Currently running, the season ends on February 16 at the Barney Simon with performances from Tuesday to Saturday at 8.15pm and on Sundays at 3.15pm.

Brothers Gustav Gerdener, Drikus Volschecnk, Dawid MMinnaar and Ruan Wessels
Brothers Gustav Gerdener, Drikus Volschecnk, Dawid Minnaar and Ruan Wessels (front)

Finally there’s an award-winning play by Victor Gordon, Brothers, that reflects the serious side of family tragedies that tear families apart and the fundamental human truths about families haunted by past occurrences.

Again, Ngcobo combines youth and experience with actor Francois Jacobs, who makes his directing debut mentored by the award-winning actor and director, Mncedisi Shabangu, an alumnus of the Market Theatre Laboratory.

 

Vuka Machel Image_ (002)
Mncedisi Shabangu and Xolile Gama in vuka Machel! at the Market Lab

And to add to the productivity, Shabangu is also currently starring in Vuka Machel (with three shows left, tonight and tomorrow night at 815 and Sunday at 315pm) a revolutionary comedy told by two chicken thieves from Kanyamazane, just outside Nelspruit in Mpumalanga.

In this rollicking storytelling romp, Machel wakes from the dead to find his wife married to Mandela and Mozambique suffering. He challenges Mandela to all sorts of fights. The biggest mistake he makes is to agree to a negotiation at the World Trade Centre where Mandela challenges him to a boxing match. (Mandela is notorious for winning all his 50 fights through negotiations.)

Vuka Machel Image 2
Two actors at play in Vuka Machel!

 

Originally created in 1998 and the winner of an FNB Vita Award for Best Director in 2003, Vuka Machel was last performed as a one-off presentation as part of the Market Lab’s 30-year celebrations this year, where it received such an enthusiastic response that it was clear that it needed a longer season.

Written and directed by Market Lab alumnus Shabangu, and performed by Shabangu (who is an absolute treat to watch as his face and whole body all go into performance mode) and Xolile Gama (who is the fall guy), the play is a funny and insightful commentary on the lives and philosophies of two of Africa’s most influential leaders. But just in general, pushing all the boundaries, it’s a blast and perfect for the start of a year.

And for Brothers, there’s further excitement with a cast which includes Dawid Minnaar  who is joyously becoming a regular at The Market supported by an exciting and quite novel cast including Drikus Volschenk, David James, Gustav Gerderner and Ruan Wessels.

Brothers with Dawid Minnaar and Drikus Volschenk
Brothers featuring Dawid Minnaar and Drikus Volschenk

It’s also worth taking note of Karabo Legoabe’s impressive and authentic set.

Brothers is a family drama set in the Eastern Cape in the 1950s. It is a harsh existence and the story focuses on the return of a brother who had mysteriously disappeared 18 years earlier. The story reflects both the social strata and attitudes that exist within a poor white family who eked out a meagre existence in this desolate part of the world. As one can imagine, the brother’s return unearths all kinds of family secrets and frustrations that have remained hidden all these years, and the results are unexpected and dramatic.

Brothers runs until February 24 in the Mannie Manim Theatre concluding the first clutch of plays at the Market Theatre in 2020. It’s one to experience more than anything for the debut of a young director and an excellent cast.

It’s a strong starting salvo and promises much for the rest of the year.

Bring on the women…

Predict and Pick the Films that Might Win the Awards on Oscar Night February 9

1917 poster

It’s time once again to try your hand at predicting the 2020 Academy Award winners and heighten the Oscar Buzz!

Ster-Kinekor’s annual Oscar Buzz started with a red-carpet screening last week, featuring the Golden Globe winning war film 1917, directed, co-written and produced by Sam Mendes reviewed by DIANE DE BEER.

 

This is just one of the Oscar-nominated films currently on Ster-Kinekor screens along with finalist for Best Foreign Film, Les Miserables. There’s Renee Zellweger’s much rewarded turn in Judy, which has earned her another shot at Best Actress.

 

Jojo Rabbit, Ford vs. Ferrari, Little Women, Joker, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite and The Irishman are all vying for the top honour of Best Film.

 

1917

DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes

CAST: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay

SCRIPT: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Deakins

MUSIC: Thomas Newman

 

The reason we know so much more about World War 2 than World War 1 has much to do with movies. When the second one came round, movies were part of the equation. That’s a huge marketing tool and we’re still watching different versions today.

Another stumbling block was the static nature of World War 1. It was basically fought from the trenches, a much more difficult story to tell visually.

According to Mendes, this one had been with him a long time and had been waiting for the technology to catch up before it could be told. With the movie dedicated to his grandfather, Alfred H. Mendes, whom he describes in interviews as a “great storyteller”, he grew up listening to the stories of a soldier who was a messenger for the British on the Western Front. In the meantime he was involved on a large scale with two Bond films, which prepared him for a work of this magnitude.

But then he made it even more difficult for himself. As a theatre maker first, he knows he has to engage his audience. This is done by bringing his two protagonists up close and personal to the action. In fact, the focus is constantly on the two young soldiers, Blake (Chapman) and Schofield (MacKay), two little- known actors who wouldn’t detract from, yet be the story.

In this one, the bit parts are played by star actors like Mark Strong, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch. And it works magnificently as you buy into this hair-raising task being given to the young lads  with the additional impetus of the one’s emotional attachment with a brother being part of the bargain.

They have to warn a British commander that the retreat of the German army is a trap to draw them into what would be a massacre. There are no radios or any other way of getting this message to the troops, who will die in their thousands if the advancement isn’t stopped.

The drama is set and the action starts almost immediately with enough drama to keep everyone pinned to their seats. As the two young men travel as fast as they can on foot, we see the devastation they find along the way. There’s no missing the rats scuttling for food as seriously as the soldiers, and small details like  flies circling a dead horse become part of the grim picture.

But these are minor. We might not have seen as many movies, but the casualty count of that war, about 40 million, rank it as one of the deadliest. Bodies become part of the visual journey as they appear absolutely everywhere.

This might not be a fighting movie as such, but war is always the narrative as the two soldiers are determined to do their duty for their fellow countrymen. It’s a story about the horror of war whether fought in the trenches or by drones, but it’s also about valour, making the right choices and not even considering the weight of the task if it means saving lives – even those of the enemy, on occasion.

Depending on which way you watch this, more than the movie itself, the making is quite astounding. But that has always been a Mendes trademark, think American Beauty but in this fighting landscape, perhaps Road to Perdition is more telling. It’s played like a theatre piece.

And in 1917, because of the way the story unfolds, the choices made, you are cast in the centre of the drama every step of the way.

There’s no glance across the hills on the other side to show the enemy lurking. If they can’t see it, neither can you. And that’s the real drama of the story which is constantly in a state of high tension as the two men make their way beyond enemy lines wherever this may be. It’s also the way it is shot, walking each step together.

The narrative sometimes runs away with itself trying to impose all the emotions found in waging a war. That’s impossible and it cannot but become mawkish where one wonders whether some of  it really needed to be part of the story. The sentiment is understood, but the telling of it stumbles and falls.

There are a few such incidents, none of which was necessary. Sam Mendes is an extraordinary storyteller. His recent Lehman Trilogy on NT Live bristled with imagination and every decision he made contributed to the masterpiece.

Similarly here with the way the story unfolds and the many decisions he had to make about crucial elements in the dramatisation of this war-time epic. It is the story that is sometimes burdened with incidents added on to make a specific point which is already part of the narrative and the character.

The valour of these two men can never be questioned, even when they do it themselves. That they portray the best there is when it comes to sacrifice and serving your fellow human beings – even the enemy – is evident. A more stripped down version without some of the embellishment would have served the film better.

And yet, because of the way Mendes made the film, there are these two strands that run side by side and pique your interest throughout: on the one hand there is the story as it is told and on the other, the marvellous movie-making which is what earns him the accolades and statuettes I believe.

He holds you in the palm of his hand throughout. That’s a gift not many can claim. Sam Mendes has it in abundance and even when he doesn’t achieve it all, it’s still pretty spectacular.

 

Former Independent Editors Fight the good Fight for Facts in Time of Fake News

Bk Paper TigerIt’s a sad and worrying time for print media worldwide highlighted here in Paper Tiger: Iqbal Survé and the downfall of Independent Newspapers by Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield (Tafelberg). They capture the devastation of a country in  trouble and how that impacts on almost every aspect when it starts to unravel. DIANE DE BEER, a former Independent journalist, celebrates the few journalists who are willing to fight for the facts in a time of fake news:

Print media is in trouble and has been for a while, but quite a few have found a way to counteract the negatives.

The NY Times, for example, returned to the basics, hiring  the best journalists they could find, and after the initial slump, their numbers have been climbing with a strong online presence. It’s tough to beat good journalism. Think of the Gupta Leaks and everything that followed in this country.

Good journalism is probably what editors/journalists Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield thought when they heard they had been bought by Iqbal Survé’s Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium for R2 billion.

But the joy was short-lived because the day after Nelson Mandela died, Survé fired Cape Times editor Dasnois, seemingly because she disrespected Mandela by honouring the great man with a wraparound because of the dire deadlines. Yet many believed it really turned on a negative story used in her paper about one of Survé’s companies.

“In the dramatic days that followed, Independent’s newsrooms across the country were torn apart by suspicion, recriminations and what many of the journalists believed was a witch hunt to expel those not prepared to toady to Survé.”

That’s how the blurb on the back of Paper Tiger reads. As an Independent journalist at the time, I remember clearly the feelings of things flying apart. I was in my final four years after 30 years with the group and knew Dasnois, who had been an editor at the Pretoria News for a short time before she was appointed to the Cape Times.

I found her to be someone of unquestionable integrity, so I knew we were in trouble. I lasted a few more years, no choice really, but when we were offered retrenchments a year before my retirement date, I was grateful for the opportunity.

Shortly after I left, a half-page column by Des van Rooyen (often referred to derogatorily as Weekend Special because of his short stint as one of Zuma’s disastrous Minister of Finance appointees) appeared in the Independent Papers and I knew I had dodged a bullet.

Even when you’re not directly affected (in your writing, for example, because you’re in the arts), there are certain signs that are tough to ignore – even at the end of your official working years without any other options.

I never met Survé, even though all staff were sometimes summoned for a meeting in Joburg. I was the only arts journalist in Pretoria, which meant I had the excuse of work. It’s a sad state of affairs, knowing what the group represented and what they were before they were first plundered by the Irish, a situation also thoroughly discussed in the book.

According to Mwasa (Media Workers’ Association of South Africa), some 18 years after the initial investment by the Irish Independent Media (Sir Anthony O’ Reilly was the CEO), few of the contributions expected from foreign direct investment had been made. In fact there was an outflow of much of the local operation’s profits.

For those of us working there, the dramatic changes were quickly visible. During the period, for example, from 1999 to 2010, the operating margins were increased from 12,5% to 21,1%. Far from boosting employment numbers however, there was a significant reduction in employee numbers. These dropped from 5 223 at the time of the initial transaction to 1 500 at the end of the Irish run.

I remember that on my 40th birthday in 1992, we were 10 journalists in the Pretoria News arts section. That’s the number of signatures I counted on my birthday card. By the time I left at the end of 2016, I was the only one left, even though with the new democracy, the arts in this country expanded generously as it would have because of the improved circumstances in South Africa.

Instead of investing the money generated locally was used to pay off the Irish company’s debt. The consequences were evident everywhere as anything that could be cut was cut and the editors were pressured to run a financial rather than a newspaper concern.

On June 2 2009, in response to a message from Tony Howard to staff about “tough trading conditions”, Dasnois wrote to him summarising the situation at the Cape Times: she noted that she had worked on five of the company’s newspapers, three of them as editor, and had “witnessed the relentless stripping away of the capacity of those papers to offer the quality journalism which our readers demand and deserve”.

Something had to give and in the end, that’s why the South African Independent Media was sold and a different can of worms emerged, one that appeared to promise much at the start, especially as the circumstances at the newspaper group were so dire.

The rest reads like yet another of those fantastical stories that seem to have become a trademark of business in our desperate country. Good people are the ones who appear to pay the price, while those already bloated rise to the top.

It’s a sad state of affairs, and one we can only hope makes a sharp U-turn in 2020. The signs are there that the game is up for those who believed they could get away by making the rest of us pay.

In the final chapter, aptly titled A Sad Day For Journalism, the opening paragraph reads: By 31 December 2016, Sekunjalo Independent Media (SIM) had accumulated losses of  R617 million, and liabilities exceeded assets by R393,8 million. By 30 June 2017, accumulated losses had grown to R752 million, and liabilities exceeded assets by R547 million. SIM owed R909, 459,000 to the China Development Fund, R662,722,000 to the Government Employees Pension Fund (through the Public Investment Corporation) and R243,987,000 to the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union. Half of this was payable in August 2018, and the rest in August 2020. In addition, the Government Employees Pension Fund held preference shares to the value of R433,180,000, which had to be serviced at the prime interest rate.

The rest is still playing out and those who worked at Independent, those who still read the papers, and those still working there, are watching and waiting…

It’s not as if newspapers needed any further debilitating and destructive forces to hasten their demise. There were many good people who worked hard to tell the real stories of a country in flux. That was not to be. But you can only fool some of the people some of the time…fortunately.

It’s a fascinating read as I knew it would be, given the authors. Working with one of them for just a short time was a high point in my newspaper career. I knew Dasnois would finally see her day.

The final sentence in the book shows her firing for the farce it was. And that at least makes you smile.

In the meantime, even though the full story has been told repeatedly, nothing yet has changed. But we’re hoping…

Retief Scholtz’s Dop is a Moment in Time with the Actors Participating in the Dance

Dop poster

DIANE DE BEER

PALY: Dop

PLAYWRIGHT: Retief Scholtz

DIRECTOR: Sylvaine Strike

CAST: André Odendaal, Wilhelm van der Walt

VENUE: Market Theatre

UNTIL January 19

“Skink nog ‘n dop,” (pour another drink) is the constant refrain between the older customer and a young barman. And in this context, dop means both drink and to fail – both of which dominate the interaction between the two.

Because the requests never stop, what starts as bravura conversation dominated by the man who introduces himself as Frank Venter (Odendaal), soon becomes maudlin.

It’s his birthday and as a leap-year baby, born on 29 February 1960, his father made sure that his birthday was only celebrated every 4 years. Tonight is his 60th and Frank is determined to celebrate with as many toasts as he can muster and might have missed out on through the years.

DOP - Foto kosie Smit (002)
In contem-plation, André O)dendaal (front) and Wilhelm van der Walt in the Sylvaine Strike-directed Dop. Picture: Kosie Smit

The youngster serving, Tim, is South African but spent most of his teen years in Australia. He was kept in touch with his birth country and language, which he now speaks with a heavy Aussie accent, through a loving granny who wrote him regular letters. But his absence from his homeland, all his parents’ doing, was a painful one and he has returned in search of something lost.

And suddenly the link becomes clear. Coming from different perspectives, these two drifting souls understand loss and the pain that comes with that.

They might differ in age and seemingly have little in common but as their conversation twists and turns they discover some truths that hit the mark for both of them. Frank seems to be drinking to forget rather than celebrate and Tim is determined to mine him for some wisdom on a declaration of love.

Dop 3 (002)
André Odendaal and Wilhelm van der Walt in Retief Scholtz’s Dop. Picture: Kosie Smit

It’s about random conversations between strangers that quickly become quite intimate because of the free flowing liquor and a compulsion to scratch underneath the surface. Both find themselves at crossroads with parallels but more importantly understanding and insight for the other’s dilemma.

As part of the growing melancholy that becomes part of the night, memories are interwoven as the music of Johannes Kerkorrel (late ‘80s and early ‘90s) becomes an emotional soundtrack.

It is the setting, the movie-go-round set which suggests amongst others the physical but also the mental effects of too much liquor and also the superb performances as the two men work at cross-purposes to pull as much as they can from one another.

Odendaal walks a fine line as the drinking starts having an effect and he swings between boisterous and belligerent. He also introduces some fine gymnastics whether to show off a youthful passion or simply stretching for his car keys.

But it is his detailed work of an ageing man still dealing with resentment towards a neglectful father as well as a more recent loss, the thin veneer of a man who doesn’t care and yet can show insight towards other mournful souls.

Van der Walt as the counterpoint plays with a youthful enthusiasm but also an eagerness to have his own needs met. He is trying hard to keep his customer happy while hanging  loose, pouring drinks with some panache and keeping the banter light.

For the director, apart from her first foray into Afrikaans writing, the play is also different to anything else she has done, a challenge she relishes and pursues. There’s always the Strike trademarks but she always stretches herself, the actors and her audience.

This is Strike heaven: two brilliant actors, a strong text which she could play with and steer, and a set that allows her actors and the stories to dance.

It’s a moment in time and while there’s a sadness that lingers, it also captures the magic of two strangers reaching out, trying to make sense and finding some understanding. That’s life – and often richer than one can imagine.