Despite poet Roy Campbell calling him "the only literary genius that South Africa has produced", Herman Charles Bosman only had three of his books published during his lifetime. One of these was Mafeking Road, a new adaptation of which is now showing at the Kalk Bay Theatre in Cape Town.
But this isn't the Bosman you might remember from your childhood. Instead, 25-year-old director Tara Notcutt (recently named one of the Mail and Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans) has created something completely different. The result is dubbed "Bosman for a new generation" and is presented in the style of a TV show.
"This is truly invigorating theatre, bringing classic stories alive in an exciting new way," said Kalk Bay Theatre owner Simon Cooper. "Produced and performed by some of South Africa's rising theatre stars, Mafeking Road will appeal both to long-standing Bosman fans, as well as newcomers to his work."
Photo by Jesse Kramer
Photo by Jesse Kramer
The result is a charming production that had me laughing a lot more than I expected. That wasn't so much because the stories themselves are particularly hilarious; Bosman's style, garnered from his study of writers like Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain, was more about subtle irony. Instead, the humour comes down to brilliant execution by the leads.
With no set and no props, University of Cape Town graduates Andrew Laubscher and Mathew Lewis are totally dependent on each other to bring these stories to life. They do so by changing their voices and their expressions with such dexterity that it's easy to tell exactly who's who in the Groot Marico. They also come up with some zany cartoon sound effects to paint vivid scenes and nimbly transform into leopards, landscapes, peach brandy, and juba-berry juice.
What matters is the way you tell it
The idea that how you say it matters more than what you say is one Bosman actually alluded to in Mafeking Road. In the words of Oom Schalk Lourens, self-proclaimed king of storytelling in the Transvaal: "[It] is not the story that counts. What matters is the way you tell it. The important thing is to know just at what moment you must knock out your pipe on your veldskoen, and at what stage of the story you must start talking about the School Committee at Drogevlei. Another necessary thing is to know what part of the story to leave out."
This presented a challenge to Notcutt, who did one of the stories for a project in her final year at the University of Cape Town's Drama School. "The stories are so rich and beautifully written that it is difficult to decide what to cut or what to keep," she explained. "Some details in the stories lend themselves to performance really well, and those decisions were easy. Others were more difficult because sometimes there would be an image that we liked, but it either was too complicated for what we were doing or caused a pause or speed bump in our adaptation." But thanks to reading, playing, and lots of coffee, the trio went on to create a winner nonetheless.
Executed with perfect timing
As a whole, this adaptation is executed with perfect timing. It's no wonder that the show won a Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award for Physical Theatre at the National Arts Festival in 2011 and has been praised at almost a dozen festivals and venues across the country since the original version premiered in 2010.
So, if you're in the mood for a good laugh, take a walk down Mafeking Road. It's only an hour long (more would have been much), but it's sure to leave you smiling for a lot longer than that!
Mafeking Road is showing at the Kalk Bay Theatre in Cape Town until 8 September, 2012. There is a ticket special of R75 (or R225 with a two-course meal and R275 with a three-course meal) on 22 and 23 August. Tickets only for all other shows cost R95 (or R245 with two-course meal and R295 with three-course meal). Tickets are available from www.kbt.co.za
Eugene Yiga is lifestyle writer and arts journalist in Cape Town. He writes about travel, leisure, food, wine, marketing, media, TV, film, music, theatre, books, and more for over 30 different websites, newspapers, and magazines.
Follow @eugeneyiga on Twitter or email to say, um, hello.
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