Jaques de Silva and Ameera Patel in Whistle Stop. Picture: Natasha Brown
The POPArt Theatre in Maboneng will celebrate love this Valentine’s Day with a showcase of the award-winning and heart-warming production of Whistle Stop this week.

Penned by Naledi Award-winning playwright Ameera Patel, Whistle Stop is the quirky love story that begins with a woman on a park bench whistling to herself as she browses through a magazine. The production is directed by Frances Slabolepszy and stars Patel and her real-life partner, Jaques de Silva.

The critically acclaimed production enjoyed runs at the Baxter Theatre last year, and will be on in Johannesburg, then heads off to Durban’s Playhouselater this month.

Chatting to IOL, Patel explained that the now four-year-old production that first premiered at the National Arts Festival feels different every time they perform it.

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“It changes every single time we do it. What’s quite amazing is that when we pick it up again, we think we knew this play, this is the beast and this is how we’ll do it. 2015 we gave it a break, and it came back in 2016.

“Every time we rehearse it, we find something new in the script, something we can play around with. As we have gotten older as performers, we found the maturity of the piece,” Patel said.

Jaques de Silva and Ameera Patel in Whistle Stop. Picture: Natasha Brown

Her inspiration behind the play was her interest in relationships.

“I’ve always been interested in relationships and the energy that exists between two people which is visceral and yet invisible,” explains Patel.

“It is a magnetism that draws us towards each other in one instant and then with a single flip can repel just as strongly. It was this push and pull that I wanted to explore in Whistle Stop. What causes the attraction? And, more interestingly, what causes the reverse? Communication, or rather miscommunication, in all its various forms, showed itself as quite a complex and often humorous answer.”

The production was also written as a tribute to British playwright Steven Berkoff’s works on this subject.

Patel added that while she and Jaques have become comfortable with the production, there were some challenges related to ageing.

“When you’re younger you are almost certain that your body will do what you need it to in performance. Physically it’s easier to do the moves. You don’t think about how much your body will change in five years.

“That something that may seem really easy in your twenties, may become harder as you age. I think that one of the things that keeps it alive is that we bring where we are, to the show”, she said.

Patel said added that the play has also allowed them to learn new things about one another, as actors and individuals.

Jaques de Silva and Ameera Patel in Whistle Stop. Picture: Natasha Brown

“We have a daughter now. And he’s started to join in on the conversation around feminism a bit more It is becoming a bit of a buzz topic, more people are interested and aware.”

“Even the way the play is landing with the audiences, when they hear certain phrases, such as misogynist, when they hear certain turns of phrases or something Jaques’s character says, suddenly they see it differently. They were two characters that were equal, over the years, but now there’s a slant. Female audience members are siding a lot more with the female character,” she said.

On whether the production was written before its time, Patel said this was not the case. Rather, the production has remained the same over the years, with these issues still reflected, but there is now a greater awareness of the socio-political issues around gender relations.

“That’s the thing”, she said. “It’s always been there. But people didn’t notice it. It wasn’t (a case of being) more aware of it. I have always been a feminist. Lots of women were feminists before this, the idea is just that we’re being supported now,” she said.

The play takes place predominantly on a park bench. This setting, she said, allowed them to play around with the divisions between what is the public and what is the private.

“You can find a park bench in all cities. At Zoo Lake, in Emmarentia, and Cape Town, London and New York, for instance. We liked the play between the public and the private that the park bench offered,” she said.

“It looks at the he said-she said scenario and fills in the missing blanks. It’s a romcom on stage that’s full of physical theatre and lots of fun,” she said.

Whistle Stop is on at the POPArt Theatre in Maboneng from Thursday to Sunday.