21 August 2012

South Africa: Fzzzt! and Bosman Comes Alive

It's been 11 years since the collection of Herman Charles Bosman's short stories was taken out of the Wynberg Girls High library.

I know this because I looked at the library stamps after I instructed my daughter to read some of Bosman's work before I took her to see the play Mafeking Road, which is a romp through four Bosman stories.

Hopefully Tara Notcutt's play will reignite the joys of Oom Schalk Lourens's wry humour amongst a generation who seem to be missing out on a significant contribution to South African literature.

And judging by my daughter's enjoyment of the stories on the page and Notcutt's staging thereof, they are indeed missing out.

I, and many of my peers who bothered to pick up a book, read Bosman as a boy and his observations of human nature evinced many a chuckle, an occasional querulous frown, and inspiration to embark on many an unwise adventure among the kopjes.

Given my enjoyment of Bosman I was quite certain that the tremendous trio of Notcutt with actors Andrew Laubscher and Mathew Lewis would have Mafeking Road proving equal to high expectations.

I was not disappointed. The play is a rollicking ride through 'A Bekkersdal Marathon', 'In the Withaak's Shade', 'Love Potion' and 'Willem Prinsloo's Peach Brandy'.

The very obvious vision of Bosman on stage would have the stories acted out by Schalk Lourens wannabes in velskoene, battered khaki's and a pipe.

Laubscher and Lewis are anything but. In fact Laubscher could do with hanging out on a Groot Marico farm for a while and developing an Afrikaans accent although Lewis could easily double as a Boer war outrider if he liked.

With ragged beard and one droopy eyelid he looks like he's already had one too many of Willem Prinsloo's peach brandies under his belt.

No, this pair of actors lean on no props - not even velskoene - in bringing the stories wonderfully to life.

Instead, they use their bodies, expressions, voices and an energetic over-the-top take on modern TV game show introductions to make us guffaw at the gullibility, naiveté, prejudices, pride and foibles of the Groot Marico characters so reflective of humanity in general.

However, the over-the-top whizzpoppery, while entertaining at first, became a bit tiresome later and Laubscher's utterly English pronunciation was at times at odds with his characters

Given that the opening at Kalk Bay Theatre was Mafeking Road's 50th showing, I suspect young Notcutt, developing in leaps and bounds from a high base, may have made a few alternative choices were she staging the play from scratch now.

Additionally, Bosman's endings are literary, they don't lend themselves to theatre. For the most part his stories don't end with a pop but with an aahh. Less a balloon exploding than a breath expelled as, after chuckling your way through the story, he reveals the irony and paradox inherent in human behaviour. He had a knack for doing this, leaving the story lingering in your mind. The same can be done in theatre, of course, but not in the liminaly slapstick performance used to illustrate his work here, which meant that as fun as the telling was, the endings generally left the actors somewhat stranded.

Except for Bekkersdal Marathon, which ran in episodes between the other three stories.

Which made it a shoe-in as the choice to tie the play up, leaving us with a show that despite a few shortfalls performs the feat of adding to Bosman's excellent legacy. It might also garner him some more readers.

Mafeking Road shows at Kalk Bay Theatre until September 8 from Wednesdays to Saturdays. You can have a superb dinner and a show for R295 or just book to see the show for R95. For further information go to www.kbt.co.za

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