In 1986 I was in my final year of studying drama at UCT. I was at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival and involved in about four different productions. We would watch the Buffels and Kaspers rumble along Bedford street in the middle of the night on their way to Irene township. There was a state of emergency. The ANC was banned. Black theatre makers were still beaten up on the streets of Grahamstown. My brother was in his matric. He had received call up papers. And I went to see Somewhere on The Border by Anthony Akerman. In that time, that voice of dissent, the swearing, the rawness (even though chunks of it were banned) the immediacy, the horror, and most importantly the bravery of the piece were all so radical. It was knife edge stuff.
The minute this version at The Flip Side at the Baxter started last night I had a memory flashback to the story of these young boys on the border, especially the story of the little Jewish soldier, played now by Glen Biederman-Pam. Funny, because I know Glen’s dad. He was my leader at youth camp. So watching this production was inextricably bound with old memories and expectations, and old feelings and remembering how things were. I was also with Big Friendly, who had finished his National service in 1985. The experience of the play was complicated, to say the least.
Good performances are what made this production good, and some of them were really very good. Luan Jacobs is fantastic as Paul Marais. His performance is consistent, subtle, engaging, and totally convincing. Glen Biederman-Pam is really stand-out good as the sensitive Jewish boy, David Levitt and Ndino Ndilula as the black characters is excellent. The others are a little less successful and end up playing the character and the stereotype.
One thing that struck me though, is the difference in body tension that young men (or is it young actors?) have today, compared with what I remember. One of the reasons this production did not keep me on a knife edge is because the actors default to such relaxed bodies. There isn’t the constant tension of fear, of the unknown, of the desperation, and the madness. These boys have to work hard to feel and show what was normal then. And I guess the horror that lived in the bodies of our young men (soldiers and actors) is very difficult to imagine, let alone play.
Still, this is a good, solid production of a play that is 26 years old. Older than the cast who are in it.