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SAARTJIE Botha’s Balbesit script brings rugby on to the stage as a metaphor, playing around with the concepts of masculinity and identity. It specifically interrogates men’s desire to be heard within a modern South African context.
As the title suggests, it also looks at power dynamics – as in he who controls the ball, controls the game.
It was originally commissioned by the KKNK last year and playwright Saartjie Botha brought director Jaco Bouwer into the process right from the beginning.
Botha is a big rugby fan, while Bouwer is not, but both are big proponents of collaborative work – and it doesn’t come with a bigger ensemble than this one with 24 men on the stage at one time.
Botha won the Afrikaans Onbeperk award for innovative thinking for her script, while the entire ensemble scooped the best actor award at last year’s KKNK.
Now Capetonians finally get a chance to catch up to the critically acclaimed drama, which mines online social commentary to express multiple voices.
Its run at Artscape is the play’s third outing (Balbesit also played at the State Theatre in Pretoria last year), so since it doesn’t have the entire original cast any more, some people had to be replaced.
Bringing new guys in is always a difficult process. First they have to start with individual sessions with director Bouwer, then there are plenty of physical sessions to contend with.
“It’s traumatic for the guys, learning a sequence (of dialogue and actions) they don’t understand, but the main thing is to have discussions.
“They have to try to make sense of a script that is more performative. It deals with people’s commentary and how do you make that dramatic,” asked Bouwer.
When he started working with Botha on the production, they wanted a metaphor that would touch on specific issues like the country’s politics, the state of the nation and other themes, but they also wanted a cross-section of normal guys.
“The audiences senses that this group of guys, from different backgrounds, (are) working together as an ensemble. It’s a collective thing,” says Bouwer.
Ina Wichterich’s choreography sees the mostly non-dancers working together in a Pina Bausch-meets-calisthenics, but with more grace, while Braam du Toit’s music is haunting and powerful.
Bouwer will also be turning this stage play into a movie, with the filming taking place during this stage run, but the eventual feature – commissioned by M-Net – will not simply be a recording of what happens on stage.
“I feel strongly it should be an object in itself. So we’re changing the process because what works on stage does not equate to what works on film,” says Bouwer.
“It’s been quite a thing to make that shift in my head,” he adds.
When he filmed the critically acclaimed stage play Rooiland, it was in an effort to document the drama and create an archive. It was a slightly easier prospect since that play was set in one space – a prison cell – and featured four actors in dialogue with each other.
Balbesit, the film, is a different ballgame altogether since it has multiple characters, not all of them with a specific narrative – they do not speak to each other, but do at times break the fourth wall to engage the audience.
So, to create a feature film Bouwer is having to rethink the action and figure out how to turn the audience into the opponent on the receiving end of the dialogue.
The plan is to complete the film in time for a premiere at the Silwerskermfees at the beginning of August, then who knows where the film goes? The stage play though – because of the considerable budgetary demands – must be caught now at Artscape, before it becomes something your friends talk about in reverential tones around the water cooler.
• Balbesit is on at Artscape Theatre from tomorrow to June 29. Tickets: R120 to R160 at Computicket or Artscape. Dial-A-Seat at 021 421 7695.