One of my first interactions with poet and author Chris van Wyk was with the poem 'In Detention' that the Riverlea resident is said to have penned when a 19-year-old.
The amount of nuance and pure pain laced with tongue-in-cheek humour struck me as something that could have been written by someone with a lot more life experience.
It seems fitting that the anniversary of the writer’s death is marked by the staging of the play Van Wyk, the Storyteller of Riverlea, to celebrate his life.
The one-man show stars veteran actor Zane Meas under the direction of Christo Davids.
When catching up with Meas, who plays Neville Meintjies in 7de Laan, among other roles, he makes it clear just how much of a passion project this production is for him.
His own interaction with Van Wyk’s work dates to his teenage years in Riverlea, so one can understand why he is so passionate about this particular project.
Meas explained: “I was in my matric year at school; we knew Chris in the community because we lived two streets away from each other.
“The first time I worked with him we had adapted one of his short stories, Flats, into a play.
“We took it to the Raps Schools Festival and I won an award for my portrayal.
“It was after this that my teacher encouraged me to study drama. So my journey as an actor really started with Chris’s work.”
He added that the gift of Van Wyk’s work was his uncanny ability to make the ordinary seem extraordinary.
“Chris had a way of looking at things and expressing himself that was quite unique.
“He had another insight that was attached to humour. Whether it was sad or dark, Chris would find a way to put in something quirky.
“His brain just worked like that I would imagine,” Meas added. Davids and Meas have worked together on numerous occasions over a period of 12 years.
The pair have played roles in Janice Honeyman’s adaptation of Van Wyk’s Shirley, Goodness & Mercy.
Being reunited for this project, almost feels like the solidifying of a brotherhood.
On working together for the umpteenth time, Meas said: “James (Ngcobo, artistic director of the Market Theatre), heard all the names of people I wanted to work with for this project and suggested that I work with Christo because he knew the history between the two of us.
“I believe Christo is one of the outstanding young theatre writers, directors and practitioners of theatre in this age in South Africa.
“Of course I taught him everything that he knows… but that goes without saying,” he chuckled.
The banter between the two lends a certain level of intimacy to the process that the pair is going through in bringing Van Wyk back to life one more time, he said.
“Christo and I, for as long as we have known each other, stimulate each other intellectually. We have worked with each other across all platforms – radio, TV, theatre, etc, and we trust each other.
“He’s one of the people that I am willing to listen to,” he said. The play itself, Meas said, was born after he felt it would be a good way to remember his friend and colleague, “especially as we approach the fifth anniversary of his death”.
It is a one-man show, he added, because it is Van Wyk coming back after a few years, one last time, to walk down the pathways of the memories
of his life.
“I thought this would be a good time to commemorate Chris’s life. I’d always wanted to do a one-man show of Chris’s life.
“The opening scene of the play is of Chris almost being transported back to earth, and his first line is: ‘I died on October 3 2014.’
“So he’s back, and he looks back over his life, what he’s accomplished, his family and how he became this storyteller that became so beloved,”
Van Wyk, the Storyteller of Riverlea will run at the Market Theatre from January 30 to February 24.