Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Lee Roodt

CA 12-6, Cape Town Revisited

The bar at Artscape’s Arena theatre does not help this show. Last night I came through the main venue where hordes of sparkly, well dressed and lit Afrikaans people dripped over railings waiting to get in to Mannetjies Rue, and The Arena around the corner felt like theatre hell. The door was closed on account of the weather! The miserable barman showed me the two kinds of red wine they had, from horrible labels with screw-top bottles. I passed. (It’s a theatre bar without sherry). There was no music. It smelled of toilets. When I think of The Arena’s heyday, it was the kind of place you could even go to after a show somewhere else in Cape Town, to hang out with the cast of some production or other. You could even dance to the loud music until after midnight in that seedy little black bar. It was a great place to start your own CA 12-6.

Up the stairs I went, too early, because I didn’t want to stay in the foyer. And I’m so glad I did. It gave me a chance to absorb and tweet about Alfred Rietmann’s delicious set. Scaffolding and railings threaded with neon strip lights, still off and dull for the pre-show. A bar, threaded with fairy lights. Dead man body outlines painted in white on an otherwise black, black  set. I got shivers of theatre anticipation. Yes, I thought. Then the house lights went down, the strip lights came on, and it was beautiful.

CA 12-6 is a devised production, directed by Heinrich Reisenhofer with the Siyasanga Company for Artscape. There is something old fashioned about this style of devised production, reminding me of work I did at drama school all those years ago, reminding me of productions with Mark Fleishman, reminding me of one he devised and directed about the prostitutes of Cape Town…but. Back to the here and now.

In a series of partly interconnected monologues, six actors share their Cape Town night lives with the audience. I was literally taken to the streets of my Cape Town jauling past by them, and I could smell the streets, smoke, clubs, bars, hangouts long gone. I heard the music, shared the conversations shouted at The Lounge, now Zula Bar, the drinks at clubs, the drives, the parking, the pool, the whores, the late night snacks. This production is totally evocative and true, true true.

I loved Anele Sithulweni. Ok, I am biased because I think he is one shit hot young actor. I loved his story, his take, his angle, his action; young black boy from ekasi who has made good and has ‘access’. I loved the honest way his character bridged the city and the township and the painful identity issues it evoked. I loved the questions he asked, and how he answered them. I loved his vision of a night on the town, from Camps Bay to The Bronx, from Long Street to the taxi rank. Mostly, I loved his moves.

I loved Zondwa Njokweni’s prostitute Honey. I heard from Anele after the show that she had ‘a source’ who she researched and it paid off in buckets. She is amazing. She picked two duds from the audience last night (one who wouldn’t come up, and one who tried to ‘act’) and she still pulled it all off. Loved her.

I enjoyed Lee Roodt’s stand-up comic, although I wasn’t sure he felt like he was in the same play sometimes. Stylistically it jarred. Michael Inglis’s character, the accidental photographer and night time voyeur felt like he had to carry the weight of the play (and I’m not sure that he did, or had to, it just felt like that). His character was from Joburg, and I think he needed to be more from Joburg. Both him and Melissa Haiden were ok in their parts but they were slightly shown up by Anele and Zondwa who were so truly connected. Frans Hamman played puppeteer to a street child puppet and he was the least successful of all, which was a little disappointing because of the amazing visual promise his appearance set up. All the way through he slinks and crawls around the edges of vision, an image of the ever present homeless on Cape Town’s street, with what looks like a miserable baby in his arms. Scary and sad. Unfortunately his puppet skills weren’t great and his monologue was a bit disjointed.

That’s the detail of it, which only gives half a picture. The lovely thing about this show is that I was immersed. I enjoyed watching it. I was irritated that some audience members left, until I realised that for them the subject matter might be a bit rough, and I hadn’t even schemed of it! It is an evocative, gritty, intelligent, connected piece of home grown, totally Cape Town piece of shivery live theatre. Fight against the difficult title, the horrible bar and the fact that things are quiet on a Cape Town winter’s night. Go. See. It. Let’s relive CA 12-6.

The Incredibly Long Quiet Violence of Dreams

Off to Artscape’s Arena theatre I went last night for the opening night of the play adaptation of K. Sello Duiker‘s book The Quiet Violence of Dreams, adapted into a play by Ashraf Johaardien, which was as long as this sentence! The Siyasanga company in association with Artscape presented it, with Fatima Dike directing the sexy, young cast of Fikile Mahola, Richard Lothian, Chiedza Mhende, Pierre Malherbe, Lee Roodt and Chris Gxalaba.

I have such mixed, and even conflicting thoughts and feelings about this production. I suppose that could be good, but I’m not sure. The story is about a young man who struggles with mental illness, all wrapped up with his struggle with his identity, who ends up on the road to a semblance of stability after finding himself working as a rent boy in a Cape Town massage parlour. The play explores the seedy, underbelly (I hate that word) of Cape Town in the shadow of its wealth, glamour and tourist shine. Maybe I’ve been reading too many crime novels set in Cape Town but it seems that everybody is digging around in its seedy underbelly (that word again).

One of the things I loved best about the script were the casual mentions of all things Cape Town. I know the city so well I was able to place the date of the play by the mention of The Piano Lounge. Cape Town was beautifully captured, from a drama student’s flat, to an ex-con’s Sea Point place, to a room in Valkenberg. I always knew I was watching a story that was unfolding right here, in this city, with the comings and goings of a group of young people, and how fraught, complicated and contradictory their lives are.

So what’s the problem? So far so good, it seems. Well, firstly, the play was longer than Mamma Mia! Two very long acts, with a lot of scenes that felt like repeats. There has to be a better way to chop and cut it down. Then there was the very well justified but seriously old-fashioned graphic sex and nudity and sexual violence. I certainly wasn’t the only one in the audience who found this awkward and embarrassing, and that is different from being challenged and finding it uncomfortable. It was clumsy, unsexy and cringe worthy.

Some riveting scenes of drama, like the strange scenes and interesting dialogue between the Falkenberg inmates, the weird scenes with the protagonist Tshepo (Fikile Mahola) and his father (Chris Gxalaba), and the quirky, short but powerful scene where Tshepo loses his waitering job, were interspersed with interminable, repetitive scenes, minute in their detail of naturalism.

Then there was the furniture; the endless, moving around of these big heavy blocks of the set in between scenes. Endless.

I enjoyed watching all the performers. I love Pierre Malherbe, and the characters he played were different, interesting and engaging. I found Lee Roodt strange and magnetic. I thought Chiedza Mhende was gorgeous if a bit one dimensional, but that could have been Mmabatho, the character she played. Fikile Mahola was fantastic as Tshepo the protagonist. He was clear, emotional and convincing. But I remained totally unmoved by the story, and the comings and goings of this little bunch of lives.

It’s entirely possible that this story is a bit dated; it sits in the steam room heydays of Cape Town in the early nineties, so what it needs is a different approach. Perhaps a more consistent stylisation that would bring it onto that big, white open canvass of the set? Perhaps a more descriptive approach to the sex, without us having to watch every last bulge, bum wobble, funny undies and performer having to do it all? It feels like it is just trying too hard to be controversial and dangerous, but we’ve been there. And done that. And it’s been better.

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