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Actor brings Rive’s works to life

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Renovating Buckingham Palace
DIRECTOR: Sandra Temmingh
CAST: Basil Appollis
VENUE: Masambe Theatre, Baxter Theatre Centre
UNTIL: December 31
RATING: ****


BASIL Appollis gives a powerful reading of this monologue which concen-trates on the life and work of writer Richard Rive.

Funny moments vie with the poignant as Appollis melds the stories of the book Buckingham Palace with personal observations by the writer.

While it is easy to romanticise slums like District Six, the one thing that rings true is the stories about the people.

Appollis slips from one character to the next – Casbah madam to gangster to young child – but always returns to Rive, tracking him from childhood to adulthood.

The tiny set on the Masambe stage contains only an armchair in the middle, with a hatstand off to one side and several bound manuscripts neatly stacked on the sides.

Appollis wanders around the chair, perching on the arm as one character, leaning on the back as another, always returning to the comfy seat as Rive, introspective and just a bit regretful about some of his choices.

On opening night Appollis covered the odd slip of the tongue with pregnant pauses, professional that he is, but this will soon be but a memory as he settles into the role.

Rive talks about how watching the play about his life’s work gave him a different angle from which to view his own life and work, to see things he had not thought of before.

So, too, this play, now so far removed in years from the events described in the book, gives you an insight into coloureds in the suburbs. Specifically Rive looked at the people of Windsor Park – a place where Tupperware is currency, peopled by the custodians of Tretchikov.

When the script concentrates on the District Six reminiscences then Appollis slips into a more declamatory mode than when he is as Rive in later life.

Every now and then he casually slips into a sung line from a song, a reminder of his rich voice and also how much music makes up the background of our everyday moments.

Over and above the detailed descriptions of living in District Six like Christmasses replete with too much ginger beer and yellow rice, the pictures he paints of people are painfully evocative.

Through the script which draws heavily on the work of Rive, Appollis creates the indefinable presence of the writer himself, chasing the fragile memory of a person who noticed details that made up other people, but never quite managed to engage with them.

When he moves to the subject of relocating to the suburbs it is more about the character of people and what they lost.

He pits the great unravelling of the coloureds in suburbia against the image of his mother who always seemed to think she was meant for something better.

The crux of the matter comes when Rive tries to explain where he, and by extension coloureds, fits or doesn’t fit into the greater scheme of South African culture and how he always returns to the familiar setting, even when he feels that he doesn’t fit in because that’s home.

Eventually he leaves the stage as carefully as he enters it; donning the hat hanging on the hatstand, slipping out as the wind starts to riffle through the manuscripts on the stage, leaving you with a sense of undefined loss.

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