When we got home and Big Friendly walked back up the stairs last night he stated quite firmly,”Now that’s theatre. That wasn’t the usual kak we go and see.” When we got inside he was still excited and his brain was full and he couldn’t go straight to bed.
We had gone to the second opening night of The Mechanical’s offering of Die Rebellie of Lafras Verwey at The Intimate Theatre. (On Monday, at TheatreSports class I had cursed their bits of set hanging from the ceiling!) This is The Mechanicals first foray into Afrikaans and it is a total, out and out success.
I don’t know the play, written by Chris Barnard in the 1960s. I understand that it was written as a radio play.This incarnation is deftly and creatively directed by Albert Maritz. He has done an awesome and convincing job. Only afterwards, when I was talking and listening to some of the audience conversation did I realise how bold he had been in his interpretation (not having seen the play meant I didn’t know the difference).
It’s all about this mild mannered civil servant, Lafras Verwey, who has a deep, complicated, violent inner life, which plays itself out in a dangerous and tragic way when it gets confused with reality. Afrikaans Kafka! Carel Nel is Lafras Verwey and he gives the performance of a lifetime. I could not take my eyes off him for a single moment. From the very first word and movement he created a complicated, fraught, neurotic, charming and hysterical man and he did not falter in this for even an eyelash twitch.
Nandi Horak and the rest of the cast (Stian Bam, Wilhelm van der Walt, Roxanne Blaise, De Klerk Oelofse and Tinarie van Wyk Loots) offer intense and creative support for Carel through this mammoth journey. This is ensemble work at its strongest and most effective.
The set is a magical masterpiece of found stuff, creating a 1960’s Brazil (the movie) influenced soundstage, with bits of South Africa’s weird civil servant past, like those funny metal filing cabinets and a teeny typewriter and those stamps and ink pads, and fantastic bicycle junk, and sad shelves with sad home stuff. It’s a busy, complicated mix of fantasy and reality. The lighting, by Guy De Lancey, is phenomenal. Outside light shines in through the side window and door. Little lights in interesting places are eerie. Sound and light cues are timed and mixed and juxtaposed to create a weirdly unsettled feeling.
What I missed (bits and pieces and words here and there) was made up for in feeling. This is an exciting, riveting and beautiful production. Don’t be scared if your Afrikaans is not totally up to par; you will get it. And the reward of a beautifully directed, deliciously performed piece of theatre is so satisfying.