Basil Appollis. Picture: Supplied
Basil Appollis. Picture: Supplied

‘My Word! Redesigning Buckingham Palace’ pays homage to iconic writer Richard Rive

By Kedibone Modise Time of article published Sep 23, 2021

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The Artscape is currently showcasing the much anticipated one-man show titled “My Word! Redesigning Buckingham Palace” in honour of legendary South African writer, Richard Rive.

Rive was found bludgeoned and stabbed to death at his home in Cape Town in 1989. He was aged 58.

The play also pays homage to District Six, the heart of Cape Town, which was demolished because it stood in the way of “grand apartheid fantasies”.

The production forms part of this year’s Artscape Heritage Festival, and emphasises the need for South Africans to celebrate unity in diversity through promoting social cohesion and inclusivity of our unique cultural heritage.

The production borrows from an earlier work co-written with Sylvia Vollenhoven and performed by Basil Appollis called, “A Writer’s Last Word”.

The play tells the story of Rive and District Six, using the writer’s most memorable characters.

Mary Bruintjies, the pastor’s daughter and Madame of the Casbah, Zoot the lovable gangster and Mr Katzen ... they are all there in colourful profusion.

Basil Appollis. Picture: Supplied

Elaborating on the play, multi-award-winning performer Apollis admits that it’s always a challenge to interpret a role of an iconic character such as Rive.

“When I was first approached to play Rive, I didn't know him at all. I was fortunate to get to know him for a full month before his tragic murder.

“I became a silent observer and was happy when some of his closest friends thought it was almost a ‘reincarnation' of him,’” reveals Appollis.

He adds:"I was playing Rive in his own adaptation of ’Buckingham Palace’.

“After his death, I felt inspired to look at his life and work for this production.

“It was the early eighties, and yes, I was intrigued by the fact that his works, like ’African Songs’ and ’Emergency’, were banned.

“’My Word! Redesigning Buckingham Palace’ pays homage to Rive, the teacher, the private person, as well as his many literary works.

“Rive is a son of District Six, and his most popular novel ’Buckingham Palace District Six’ had been a prescribed work in high schools for more than two decades. Iconic characters like Zoot, Mary, and Mr Katzen are all seeking attention in this production, we just couldn’t leave them out.”

Basil Appollis. Picture: Supplied

Appollis plays several fringe characters that impacted Rive’s life significantly.

“There’s Mary, the Madame of the brothel, Zoot, the petty thief and reformed gangster, Katzen, the Jewish shopkeeper and owner of Buckingham Palace and many more,” he shares.

Appollis expressed his desire for South Africans to celebrate the lives of many ordinary people who helped free this country from the injustices of the apartheid regime.

“Hats off to Marlene le Roux and Artscape for bringing and showcasing a diverse number of voices as part of the heritage month.

“District Six remains a symbol of tragic loss.

“An entire vibrant community was forcibly removed from the inner city because of the colour of their skin. We need to tell these stories so that we never forget them.

“These days, we have to guard against what is now called gentrification and other such concepts. It remains an evil we live with to this day,” he adds.

In 2014, the show was invited to form part of a 20 year of democracy celebration in London's West End, and the play received rave reviews.

In 2020, Oxford University's Magdalen College named a seminar room after Cape Town author Richard Rive. Basil did an extract from My Word! as part of the online presentation.

“I was chuffed about that invitation, but I’m sure Richard was elated. More credits came his way when a seminar room at Oxford University was named after him in 2020,” said Appollis.

The show runs till Saturday, September 25. Tickets are available at Computicket for R80.

For more information visit the Artscape website.

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