Comedy After dark in the Groot Marico

After dark in the Groot Marico

The seductive works of Herman Charles Bosman have provided rich material for theatre-makers. From Patrick Mynhardt and Percy Sieff’s Oom Schalk Lourens shows (their cudgels now taken up here at the Festival by David Muller) to Stephen Gray’s and Nicky Rebello’s dramatisations, to the radical physical theatre take on the Bosman stories by Tara Notcutt and her team. Mafeking Road was simply brilliant theatre, and a tough act to follow. In truth, while it has some delightful moments, After Dark in the Groot Marico doesn’t quite match up.

Andrew Laubscher and Sive Gubangxa in After Dark in the Groot Marico at the Glennie Hall venue in Grahamstown on 3 July 2015; at the 2015 National Arts Festival. The physical theatre adapts stories from South African author Herman Charles Bosman. A comedic aspect is added to the stories of the famous tales. (Photo: CUEPIX/Niamh Walsh-Vorster)

Andrew Laubscher and Sive Gubangxa in After Dark in the Groot Marico at the Glennie Hall venue in Grahamstown on 3 July 2015; at the 2015 National Arts Festival. The physical theatre adapts stories from South African author Herman Charles Bosman. A comedic aspect is added to the stories of the famous tales. (Photo: CUEPIX/Niamh Walsh-Vorster)

The first story is one of my favourite Bosman tales: that of ambitious concertina player Manie Kruger, who spurns his Marico admirers to seek fame and fortune in the city. Naturally, he fails. The trademark use of anachronistic songs and expressions pepper the story line, as Andrew Laubscher and his new sidekick Sive Gubangxa create the Marico world. Laubscher’s ability to focus on a moment and hold it is very much to the fore, while Gubangxa’s physical skills are considerable as she inhabits these white rural characters from a previous century with relish. We are, of course, invited to enjoy the irony of a black actor playing these people; Bosman would have enjoyed it, we feel. However, some of her lines are slightly fluffy and there are moments when crucial words and lines are muffed. She will, I’m sure, grow into the show. She has a delightful presence and has proved herself to be a versatile young actor in Cape Town productions. The physical contrast between the two is also effective – she is short, Laubscher tall.

Race plays a direct role in the SA War story of the mingled bones of a white body and a black one. It’s impossible to tell them apart; how will they tell which is which? Thus, the production irises in on Bosman’s relevance to us here and now.

Troubled marital relationships and spousal abuse feature in both The Gramophone and the classic Oom Schalk story, The Veld Maiden, in which an artist saves Sannie Welman from her domineering husband Frans: many opportunities for the Pink Couch team to mime, swap characters, sing songs played on the gramophone, etc. An after-dark atmosphere is magically created by owl hoots, intense listening, cautious movement, particularly in a story about pink and white roses in brown water, which I finally found difficult to grasp.

This kind of theatre is difficult; it requires charm, skill, inventiveness and many rehearsal hours. Judging by the applause, the audience felt it had all paid off. I think it will. In time. For now the cigar – or tobacco pouch – must be withheld.

Nigel Vermaas 

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