A stirring Boesman & Lena gets a new coatPeter Feldman
Peter Feldman: A good play will always stand the test of time and in celebration of Athol Fugard’s 80th birthday the classic Boesman & Lena has been dusted off.
It is presented in a new coat for a new generation.
Director James Ngcobo has applied his own spin to this evergreen play and with two shining lights in Quanita Adams and Elton Landrew in the lead roles the production sparkles with power and insight.
The stage is empty and stark and the only props are the character’s meagre belongings
It’s a depressing play, we all know that, as it explores the explosive relationship between two bruised and beaten characters who seek their own freedom and dignity in an apartheid South Africa. Yet their state of mind and the challenges besetting them is as relevant in today’s society as it was when the play was first written.
“Lena & Boesman” takes place in the course of an evening. These two homeless people are trekking across the mudflats of the Swartkops River, near Port Elizabeth, carrying their miserable belongings with them.
They have been uprooted from their shack which has been bulldozed by the white authorities in order to drive them and other black and coloured people in the segregated settlement further away from their white neighbours.
This heart-wrenching tale is poignantly told by cast members who manage to tap deeply into the souls of their characters, especially Adams, as the over-talkative and emotionally scarred Lena. Her pain and suffering well up time and time again as she opens the floodgates to her emotions. She screams and shouts and is often reduced tears as the full impact of her wretched life takes hold.
Even the bread they eat has bruises, she intones, likening the food to her life which is bitter and brown.
Coloured people have a special place on the South African landscape. Their chatter-box style of communicating and their amusing and unique take on life are aspects brought vividly to life here. They form a unique race, but deep down there is a feeling that they lack a sense of belonging, a facet ingrained in Fugard’s powerful prose.
“You want to be like a white man and have a house,” Lena screams at the morose Boesman who spends a good part of the play sulking. When his emotions finally erupt, after consuming his beloved bottles of cheap wine, he becomes a ferocious being, given to hitting out at the unfortunate Lena. He is frustrated by what life has done to him and consumed by an inner rage that overflows periodically.
When a third character Outa, a lonely, sick black man, who speaks in a foreign language, and is played by East African actor Charly Azade, arrives the mood changes dramatically and Boesman’s mean instincts for survival kick in.
If one has to learn from this play it’s about man’s cruelty to man and the painful way we treat each other – even in the closest of relationships. One needs enormous courage and perseverance to break free from that which holds us back, and to find one’s own values.
These superb players, together with director Ngcobo, have certainly done full justice to this celebrated work.
“Boesman & Lena” is on at Old Mutual Theatre on the Square until 30 June.
Feldman has been a journalist and arts critic for over 45 years and served on The Star in various capacities for 35 years, ending up as a specialist writer on films, music and theatre. During that time he travelled extensively on assignments and interviewed many international film and pop stars, both in South Africa and overseas. He also covered some of South Africa's biggest film and musical events. He is active in the freelance field and his work over the past 12 years has appeared in a variety of South African newspapers and magazines. He writes regularly for Artslink.co.za, The Citizen, South African Jewish Report, The Sunday Independent and is a contributor to "Eat Out" Magazine. He also contributes movie reviews on Mondays to The Gordon Hoffman Easy Morning Show on 1485 Radio Today (www.1485.org.za) and has worked on TV in his specialist capacity. Over the years Feldman has been the recipient of several awards for his contribution to music journalism and the SA record industry. He wrote lyrics for some top artists, including Sipho Mabuse, and had a hit disco single, "Video Games," which was released in 1988. After retiring from The Star in April, 1999, Feldman joined the PR and events management company, Dlamini Weil Communications, where he currently works as an entertainment and media consultant.
Auto & General Theatre on the Square., West Street Sandown Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa