DIANE DE BEER
Pictures: Lungelo Mbulwana
VAN WYK – THE STORYTELLER OF RIVERLEA
Written and performed by: Zane Meas
Directed and Designed by: Christo Davids
Lighting design: Thapelo Mokgosi
Costume design: Nthabiseng Mokone
Music: Cyril ‘Dafunc’ Peterson
Venue: Manie Manim at the Market Theatre
Dates: Until February 24
Author/poet/storyteller Chris van Wyk wrote for the people, telling stories about his people, but he also had a deeply serious side, an intellectual one that couldn’t ignore what was seriously unjust and wrong in the world he found himself in.
His family surrounded him with love and laughter which allowed him to get more from life than the colour of his skin encouraged him to do in the Apartheid years – and he grabbed on to life with gusto. Van Wyk used his abilities to share the lot of his people probably as much a balm to his own being as to those who read his extraordinary words.
Many will know him for arguably his most loved book Shirley Goodness and Mercy, a memoir which best captured the way a family laughed and cried together to hold themselves apart yet together in a cruel Apartheid world.
But what this script and show do so spectacularly is showcase Van Wyk’s poetry which might not be as familiar to audiences as his family and community featured in his memoirs.
It is in the poetry that he magnificently portrays his mother (The Laughter of my Mother), holds his wife’s impact on his life up for scrutiny, and then sharply looks at the lay of the political land with the horrifyingly haunting In Detention – the best kept for last.
It is in that melding together of the happy and the horrifying that Van Wyk becomes clearly and colourfully defined by his friend Zane Meas whose love of acting was first fuelled when he performed in a play based on one of the author’s short stories.
His love and knowledge of the writer is clear from the script, the way he has decided to tell the story with a lovingness that is hard to describe and shines through also in the performance.
Meas is masterful in his portrayal of Van Wyk and even if you didn’t know they were friends, you know that what you see on stage is the essence of the man in all his colourful cheerfulness even at the end when he reluctantly has to leave his family.
It is his spirit that lives on in his words, the way he views and explains his world, how he has you laugh, yet with a sadness at a life ended too soon. “We know the end,” says Meas both at the start and the end.
And while the title says The Storyteller…, Meas is able to direct the writing in a way that tells you who this man was, how he lived his life, the empathy he exudes because of the family he grew up in, and the people he chose to have in his life. And then he shared these insights with the world.
He achieves what many writers can only dream of. His way with words is extraordinary but it is also accessible, something not easily done. He has both a common touch and the ability to appeal to the intellect as he plays with words and ideas without fear even in this country’s darkest days.
These were the things that touched him, the unfairness of it all, which he realised at a young age and the way his parents and granny engaged with his world and showed him a way out of the mess that surrounded him growing up.
He found his salvation in words and when wondering what impact he has had on his world, words are what start stumbling out and for those listening, an awareness that there is so much wisdom lost from this voice silenced too soon.
Meas is determined to honour his legacy and with his friend/colleague Christo Davids as both director and designer, they have pulled a rabbit from their theatrical hat. It could have been just another storytelling nostalgic trip and with Van Wyk speaking his mind, that would have been enough.
They have, however, elevated this performance with loving care and in the detail of the script, performance, design and direction.
The design shows that they started out with a clear picture in mind, helped by the short-hand between two actors who have a working life together on stage, know what each of them can achieve and then pushing way beyond those goalposts.
Davids worked the solo show as much as he can (pushing too hard once or twice with an ending that is overly-dramatic and must go) creating his own book of stories on stage, which allowed Meas a freedom to focus on the man and what every word he wrote or spoke, meant.
It helps when you’re intimately involved with the individual you’re trying to explore because in this instance it encouraged them to show the inner workings of Van Wyk’s soul. They’ve put together a life filled with love in words and pictures.
If you can’t make it now, watch out for this one because it should (and will, I’m sure) travel, and while this is a homage by friends, they have truly done justice to the wordsmith Chris van Wyk.
If you want to rush out to discover more of his writing, you know they have found the key. It is some of the director and actor’s finest work.