Blows whistle on identity

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to3balbesit Hans van der Veen Balbesit

BALBESIT

DIRECTOR: Jaco Bouwer

CAST: Albert Pretorius, Wessel Pretorius, DJ Mouton, Piet Beyers, De Klerk Oelofse, Neels Coetzee, Brendon Daniels, Mark Hoeben, Carel Nel, Geon Nel, Ludwig Binge, Christiaan Olwagen, Marlo Minnaar, James Macgregor, Michael Wallace, Lizo Tshaka, Themba Mbuli, Bongile Mantsai, Douglas Griffiths, Kyle Seconna, Graham Bourne, Thembekile Komani, Siphesile Mdena and Andile Vellem

VENUE: Baxter Theatre

UNTIL: Sunday

RATING: ****

DIRECTOR Jaco Bouwer has turned writer Saartjie Botha’s musings on the game of rugby into a kinetic exploration of the South African man’s search for identity.

Players throw themselves at each other on the field, or move in unison while practicing. There is music and there are arguments and always that odd little guy standing in a corner, muttering to himself.

In short, it is life, but concentrated and stripped down to the weird bits that make you pay attention and question how you see things.

Keeping the entire rugby team moving and talking as one on the stage throughout the entire play, this ensemble piece is a physical manifestation of that peculiar phenomenon of internet trolling.

There is a raw fluidity to their movement, but it is their words you should pay attention to.

Whenever there is a news story with the opportunity for regular folk to add their two cents’ worth, four comments down things take a nasty turn. It does not matter what kind of story it is, the notes become downright inflammatory, and when it comes to rugby stories everything from your parentage to the kitchen sink is chucked in.

Botha brings so many comments in to her dialogue that you might miss the point at which what could have just been a diatribe actually turns into a plea for more engaged citizenship on the part of South Africans.

But, it is there, as are the stereotypes, the fans and the atypical characters who don’t always get a voice in public spaces. Actors don’t only talk though, they are constantly in motion in a carefully choreographed dance in which only feelings get hurt.

While none of the actors get a specific narrative thread, they do evince specific personalities which become apparent as they spout their witty lines.

A close listening is necessary because sometimes words do get lost as the actors hurl themselves into a scrum or chase each other down to silence the talking person.

The game of rugby is the metaphor through which we meet and think about expats (“die ergste expat is die een wat terug kom”) and how everyone is the same underneath (“binnekant is almal rooi”).

We also get a glimpse into how memory is used to form such a huge part of identity in the character that Neels Coetzee uses to bookend the play.

He starts and ends off by telling us a story he remembers about his first away game as a primary school child, and specifically how his father marks this seminal event.

“Dis lekker om to onthou,” he eventually says at the end, skipping off in glee because of this precious shiny memory he has managed to unearth.

This is especially poignant, since it highlights the very human need to be acknowledged and is ultimately what every single person on that stage is screaming for, whether they say it or only scream it in their minds while trying very hard to play along to rules they don’t always know alongside people they don’t always understand.


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