More than 60 years after his death, Herman Charles Bosman remains a major voice in South African literature. His work, which clearly displays the varied influences of Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain, is unique in our literary canon. His perspective on the Afrikaner lifestyle that he observes in the "Oom Schalk Lourens" stories, and about which he wrote in the English language, is unsentimental and laced with a tantalising sense of humour. Four of Bosman's stories are dramatised in The Pink Couch's MAFEKING ROAD and it is in the bringing together of the abovementioned aspects of the author's work that company members Tara Notcutt, Andrew Laubscher and Mathew Lewis succeed in serving Bosman's vision, even as they deconstruct everything that is traditionally accepted about his work and the way it has hitherto been performed.
This was my third trip down MAFEKING ROAD, which premiered in 2010 and has toured to 10 different festivals around the country before settling in for an extended run at the Kalk Bay Theatre in Cape Town. I enjoyed it as much on this outing as I did the first time and seeing the piece develop as it has, has been exciting. Since I last saw the show, "A Bekkersdal Marathon" has been added to the mix and is used to link together the other three stories ("The Withaak's Shade", "The Love Potion" and "Willem Prinsloo's Peach Brandy"). This choice works beautifully, slotting in seamlessly with the meta-theatrical framework that sees Laubscher and Lewis stepping out of the world of the Groot Marico to comment on what they are doing as storytellers.
The performance starts with a moment of stillness. Laubscher and Lewis enter and, for a moment, size each other up, conspiratorially linked by what they are about to create in the space. When they spring into action a second later, they become a force to be reckoned with. Laubscher and Lewis deftly transform from character to character, each distinct from the other both vocally and physically. Sometimes the transformations are nothing short of astounding. When Lewis is sprawling around on the ground as he plays a leopard in the veld or Laubscher takes on the persona of Grieta Prinsloo in all her post-Edwardian colonial splendour, you really begin to realise the extent of these two young actors' abilities.
At the helm, director Notcutt is their absolute equal every step of the way. Her hand is clear in the shaping of the piece as it alternates between breathtakingly fast-paced sequences and brief respites from the action that allow the audience to go on this journey with the actors without feeling left behind.
The show works on many levels. It is great for younger generations of audiences who want to see something cool and vibrant. It is super for tourists who want to gain a rounded perspective on South African culture, of which MAFEKING ROAD is a celebration and, indeed, a striking alternative to the kind of theatre that is most commonly produced and commodified as a showcase of our culture. And, perhaps most important of all, it is a fantastic outing for those of us who remember reading the stories about Schalk Lourens and company in our own schooldays. Watching MAFEKING ROAD makes me feel as though I am discovering Bosman's stories for the first time. It is invigorating, engaging and will leave you with a silly grin on your face that lasts long after the curtain falls.
MAFEKING ROAD runs at the Kalk Bay Theatre until 8 September. The show can be seen alone or following a 2- or 3-course meal in the restaurant at the theatre. Bookings can be made through the Kalk Bay Theatre website.