DIANE DE BEER
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.
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.
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.