Expose of “non-racial” clubs during apartheid still packs a punch

Expose of “non-racial” clubs during apartheid still packs a punch

SHOW: CINCINATTI: SCENES FROM CITY LIFE

CAST: AMEERA PATEL, CHUMA SOPOTELA, BRANDON AURET, CHRISTIEN LE ROUX, FRANCOIS JACOBS, ODELLE DE WET, PAKA ZWEDALA, ROBYN OLIVIA HEANEY, THEO LANDEY

DIRECTOR: CLIVE MATHIBE

VENUE: THE LAAGER AT THE MARKET THEATRE, NEWTOWN, UNTIL SEPTEMBER 13

REVIEWER: PETER FELDMAN

Renowned playwright Barney Simon’s improvisational 1979 production, ‘Cincinatti: Scenes from City Life,’ has been resurrected for a new generation by The Market Theatre – and it still has plenty of clout.

The director is Clive Mathibe, who is mentored by theatrical veteran Vanessa Cooke, and he has done a sterling job in fusing the many elements that make up this engrossing look at Johannesburg in the 1970s, which was suffocating under the boot of apartheid.

I well remember those heady days when I was covering the disco scene for The Star newspaper and how many “non-racial” clubs sprouted during that era, carrying fanciful names such as Las Vegas and Chicago. These clubs were illegal and existed on the fringe, eventually being closed down by the police. In this often claustrophobic environment of flashing disco lights, pounding music and gyrating bodies the various races intermingled.

Barney Simon’s play focuses on one such enterprise, a Fordsburg multi-racial club named Cincinatti, which is raided by the police and closed down. The club is the link to nine very different personalities who tell their own intimate stories, which are sad, funny and revealing. These individuals are searching for a sense of freedom at a time when the government’s untenable race policies were being rigidly applied.

The hypnotic opening scene, with its thumping soundtrack and mirror ball lighting, accurately reflects the mood and intimacy of the club. An ever-changing video screen enhances the occasion.

As the play begins to flow we meet the various people. First up is an Indian woman, Sheila (Ameera Patel) who works at the club and describes her experiences.

Hedley (Brandon Auret) is a musician looking for a break who is involved with a Springs “cabaret” dancer, Vicky (Robyn Olivia Heaney) to whom he has offered a job at the club.

Arthur (Theo Landey) is the club’s jovial bookkeeper, a Lancashire lad with a thick accent, who has a hidden secret. Abraham (Paka Zwedala) is the club’s night watchman, a solid citizen who knows his place, but when he’s confronted late at night at the station by club regular Thembsie (Chuma Sopotela) he reveals an explosive side to his make-up.

Then there is the blonde bimbo, Candy (Christien Le Roux), who first engages with Pat (Odelle de Wet), Arthur’s perpetually stoned and crazy roommate, and later with fish-out-water, “boere” boy Pieter (Francois Jacobs) who has arrived by train for the first time in the big, bad city and gets lost in its many contradictions.

The ensemble cast is first-rate, with each player carving out their characters with energy and a deep understanding of what makes them tick.

Clever use is made of Nadya Cohen’s set, which is in effect a barren stage that is transformed during the play into a night club, a bedroom, a lounge and a station, complete with separate entrances for white and non-white commuters.

Director Mathibe has done full justice to Barney Simon’s memory and this airing of a play last seen in the late 70s is well worth revisiting.

* Book at Computicket.

To make block bookings, call 011 832 1641ext 121; or send an email to anthonye@markettheatre.co.za.