Politically charged play reveals more layers upon second staging

Politically charged play reveals more layers upon second staging

Show: Suddenly the Storm
Cast: Paul Slabolepszy, Charmaine Weir-Smith, Renate Stuurman,
Director: Bobby Heaney
Venue: Auto & General Theatre on the Square, Sandton, until 19 November
Reviewer: Peter Feldman

Paul Slabolepszy’s acclaimed play, ‘Suddenly the Storm’, has been brought back after its successful run at The Market Theatre in June.
It’s now at Daphne Kuhn’s intimate Auto & General Theatre on the Square and several adjustments have had to be made to the production. It is still effective – and even boasts running water.
Seeing the play for the second time has its drawbacks. It robs one of the twists and element of surprise that greets one in the first viewing. The tension, too, is gone because one is familiar with the build-up.

Still, ‘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 – 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 very loudly) we realise that Namhla is burdened with another, more urgent agenda.

The impeccable production, under Bobby Heaney’s guiding hand, crackles with energy and sharply delivered 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 this role Slabolepszy shows a degree of restraint 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.

The production remains compelling and is played out on a 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 of director Heaney with Slabolepszy and with all these elements in place this makes for the perfect theatrical storm.

For bookings, call the theatre on 011 883-8606; or book online at www.theatreonthesquare.co.za.
Enquire about group discounts and dinner show packages by arrangement with many of the adjacent upmarket new restaurants on the Nelson Mandela Square at Sandton City.