Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Somewhere … in my memory.. on the Border

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.





My open letter to Ismail Mohamed


  1. I think you’re spot on with your observation about the tension that is or isn’t held in the bodies of the actors. It’s something I’ve wondered about as a veteran of that war when I watch twenty-something men out and about. I wonder what it’s like not to have conscription or war hanging over your head.

    On the subject of stereotypes, I think the SADF (and indeed other military organisations) demanded that its members fit into quite narrowly defined roles. The corporals, for example, mimicked their own corporals, in some way becoming a kind of parody of themselves. For me Charles Bourguenon takes on this role perfectly. As for the others, I could probably give you names of guys I knew who fitted the stage characters.

  2. megan

    I agree that the stereotypes existed, I just think that some actors made their characters more real and believable.

  3. Tarryn

    It’s amazing how this play evokes such a different response from those of us who know very little of that time, and can hardly even imagine it. Without the backdrop of memory and experience, the play needs to capture us by other elements, like the characters and the script. It didn’t do that for me. The story isn’t a timeless one, and the actors, for the most part, did not portray characters that I believed in. I kept asking “why are they telling me this story?” and “why are they telling it like that?” Perhaps it has lost its freshness.

  4. Simon Cooper

    I haven’t seen this play yet. Can someone who has, and who has seen Greig Coetzee’s “White Men with Weapons” please attempt a comparison because frankly “White Men with Weapons” scared the shit out of me.

  5. Hanneré

    Simon I saw “Somewhere on the Border” last night and “White Men with Weapons”on 18 March 1999 – too long ago to attempt a proper comparison, I just remember that Coetzee was brilliant playing something like 13 characters.

    This play is excellent. I left the theatre with shaky legs – the tension builds up right from the start and, like the Coetzee production, it lingers long after the show.

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