Slabolepszy plumbs an uncomfortable post-apartheid reality in new play

Slabolepszy plumbs an uncomfortable post-apartheid reality in new play

SHOW: SUDDENLY THE STORM
CAST: RENATE STUURMAN, CHARMAINE WEIR-SMITH, Paul Slabolepszy
DIRECTOR: BOBBY HEANEY
LIGHTING DESIGN: WESLEY FRANCE
SET DESIGN: GREG KING
VENUE: BARNEY SIMON THEATRE AT THE MARKET THEATRE COMPLEX, NEWTOWN, UNTIL JULY 3
REVIEWER: PETER FELDMAN

It’s been 18 years since the celebrated South African playwright and actor Paul Slabolepszy last created a new play.
‘Suddenly the Storm’ is a fascinating slice of theatre which embraces the dynamics of today’s South Africa, while drawing from the apartheid past and its inbuilt horror.
We have moved on since the democratic elections of 1994 and the country and its people have undergone a cathartic change. One such couple is the Combrincks, Dwayne(Slabolepszy) and Shanell (Charmaine Weir-Smith), who exist on a plot on the Far East Rand where the violent Dwayne, a former apartheid policeman, earns a living as a welder and also freelancers as a debt collector, who gets his man through fear and intimidation. His trusty bat is not far away – and he knows how to wield it.

The couple are in a crisis. The younger, less-than-bright Shanell is having an affair unbeknown to her husband, and her job seems to be to placate Dwayne’s frightening mood swings. His whole demeanour changes when his black friend Jonas, whom he grew up with on the plot, is killed.
On opening Jonas’ locker, Dwayne discovers a rhino horn wrapped in a bag, an object that leads to a great deal of speculation.
The characters Slabolepszy focuses on here are not unfamiliar to students of the playwright’s work, namely sad individuals who’ve been cheated by life and have never quite realised their dreams.

These are the tough, disillusioned working class, blue-collar people on the fringe of society who struggle daily with life’s little ironies. Since democracy they find, like many white South Africans, that they no longer hold the key to power – and the anger and resentment bubbles just below the surface as the new political realities sink in.

A third character, the attractive, well-dressed and eloquent Namhla (Renate Stuurman) materialises, seeking out Dwayne for a job that needs to be done.
The dynamics of the play shift into top gear as the three characters interlock and as a big storm approaches (and the sound effects kick in) we realise that Namhla is burdened with another, more urgent agenda.
The impeccable production, under Bobby Heaney’s guiding hand, crackles with energy and crackling dialogue, especially in scenes where Dwayne and Shanelle cross swords.

She represents the “poppy” element to the story, while Dwayne is the angry alpha male. Namhle’s appearance reflects the emerging black educated society now making their mark in the country. She was educated in England when her parents went into exile in the early 1980s, and her touch of a better class is telling.

Answers to questions that have remained buried for 40 years drive the play and Dwayne’s incandescent rage, which explodes at a moment’s notice, is the most unsettling element in the play’s structure. In the role Slabolepszy, who returns in an acting capacity to the Market Theatre stage for the first time since 1997, shows little light and shade in his interpretation, as torrents of words flow from his angry lips, especially when he has had a few dops of his favourite brandy, Klippies.
Charmaine Weir-Smith is superb as the cheap-looking Shanelle, who reveals hidden secrets to Namhla after another bout with the bottle, and Renate Stuurman, as Namhla, brings it all into perspective with her revelations.

This compelling production is played out on a brilliant Greg King multi-layered, dusty looking set, with its many appealing details. Wesley France’s lighting design also adds immeasurably to the mood of the piece.
Another successful facet is the pairing again of director Heaney with Slabolepszy and with all elements in place this makes for the perfect storm.

* Show times: Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8.15pm and Sunday at 3.15pm.
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For more information, visit www.markettheatre.co.za.