Uys’s political family drama biting, relevant

– Tracey Saunders, Cape Times, 28 December 2015

DIE VAN AARDES VAN GROOTOOR Written and directed by Pieter-Dirk Uys with Clarissa Roodt, Tankiso Mamabolo, Caely-Jo Levy, Schalk Bezuidenhout, Dean Roberts, Shalima Mkongi and Louw Breytenbach. Musical composition by Godfrey Johnson with Keenan Stevens and Charl Clayton. At Theatre on the Bay until January 9.

If five episodes of a 708 episode radio drama, the first set in 1928 strikes you as a crazy and daring endeavour to stage, it is. Die Van Aardes van Grootoor: The Musical is the audacious re-staging of Uys’s original script written in 1977 and banned in 1978. The banning was challenged, by Mannie Manim amongst others and the production followed a mediocre reception in Cape Town with an unprecedented 18-month run at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg.

Staged in a style more reminiscent of Chekhov than Schuster the satirical political family drama is as biting and relevant almost 40 years later. While the censor board were responsible for curtailing the activities of Uys during the apartheid era he could have fallen for the self censorship which political correctness imposes in the current climate.

This is Uys though and this musical seals his reputation for being brutally honest and fiercely passionate. The five-act play has lost none of its sharp wit and searing political commentary. Vestiges of nostalgic conversation have become more pronounced recently in South Africa and Uys will quickly dissuade any longing for “the good old days”. His brittle humorous renderings of the Van Aardes capture a time and place with a cynically vivid accuracy. The origins of the rancour expressed by the Afrikaners towards the British is parodied in the first act with the literal consequences of the encounter between the British Officer and the Afrikaans farmer’s wife evident in later acts. The plundering, pillaging, sexual harassment and land grab in the first fifteen minutes of the play leave one quite giddy. In later scenes the casual plundering and asset stripping done with a disturbing nonchalance is a stark reminder of the looting of state coffers which is not only a current phenomenon.

The cast promise to “share the truth and tell it all, the speedy rise of power and then the messy fall” and it’s a promise they keep. The family story which unfolds against a dense political backdrop is a hodge podge of the story lines more familiar to keen followers of Generations. While watching you will be reminded of Days of Our Lives, until you are hit with the revelation these are our days and our lives.

Each act takes place in a different era, indicated by the set, costume and the musical style. The first in 1928 is riddled with old boere liedjies, the traditional songs familiar to everyone of a certain age regardless of your cultural upbringing. The Boere kitsch ups its ante in the second act set in 1948 as the reign of the National Party is heralded with a dour conservative mood. Elvis takes control in the third act where rock n roll captures even the most conservative family members. Flower power and the imminent 1960s hippie culture are evident in the penultimate scene where things continue to fall apart. Dark strains of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera are appropriate for the final scene where the changing of the guard is heralded.

The set does justice to each decade with changes in artwork from Pierneef to Tretchikoff all taking pride of place. Some of the more impressive items are the radio sets which feature in each act. Between each scene the quintessential “soap advertisements” are performed and although brief they are worth playing close attention to for their devilish humour.

There are moments in the play where the writing strikes a raw nerve and you can feel the collective wincing of the audience. Uys is an equal opportunity satirist and shows no mercy as he wields his pen.

The young cast, many recent graduates from UCT, carry off their roles admirably. Given that they portray a history which they have only encountered in books they seem to have immense fun in careening from one decade to the next. Their ageing is less credible, but it doesn’t detract from the intensity of the acting. Bezuidenhout manages to elicit laughter just by breathing. He plays two oppositional roles and in the opening sequence as the British gentleman and debt collector he is odious and hysterical. His observation that a “bit of irrigation and a miracle “ is what is required for “paradise to spring forth” is rendered with a canny grasp of the banal. Caught between cringing and laughing at him his later incarnations as the flamboyant Van Aardes son and finally a cabinet minister take you by surprise.

Roodt established her credentials performing in the UCT production of Black Dog/ Inj’emnyama! earlier this year. She is already an accomplished actress and is delightful as the daughter of the family posing uncomfortable questions at the most awkward moments. Roberts has made the Groot Trek from the North to perform in Cape Town. He is not seen often on local stages which is a pity. He is the perfect foil to some of the more flamboyant antics of the cast and his resolute dourness only serves to amplify the absurdity of some of the scenes. Van Der Merwe, seen recently in Dragging 30 shows the full range of her vocal talents and is particularly good as the disillusioned Mevrou Van Aarde. Mamabolo’s voice is magnificent and it is a pity that her role doesn’t allow her more exposure.

Don’t let Levy’s lilting lisp fool you as she plays the innocent and is bashfully demure when faced with some rather awkward life situations. Her naivete is not coincidental and Uys has constructed each character to convey a certain aspect of society In the final scene the matriarch declares with no trace of irony that she has “always lived with wild hopes and that maddening vicious thirst for truth and survival”. Followed by an acknowledgement that her “greedy hunger has become a bloated handout” and her “technicolour dream a monochrome nightmare” she unwittingly summarises a large swathe of South African history.

Godfrey Johnson brings his considerable talent to the production performing the musical score which he composed. The eclectic music spans a variety of genres and there is no one definitive musical style, a musical as varied and diverse as South Africa. Adapting the original text to music heightens the absurdity and makes the comedy seem even darker.

The lyrics of the closing song, “Don’t have to know a language to understand the words, It’s just a lovely giggle, deep drama’s for the birds” underscores that knowledge of Afrikaans is not a prerequisite for enjoying the show. While some of the more intricate and fast paced Afrikaans references may escape you, don’t let that deter you from attending. Younger people will leave the show brimming with incredulous questions while for older audiences it is a dark reminder of our history and how the future must be guarded with vigilance lest we repeat the mistakes of our past.

As a tumultuous political year in South Africa draws to a close this is the perfect synopsis of how far we have come and a harsh caution of how far we still have to go. Both are impossible without humour and insight.You will find healthy doses of both in this musical satire.

Die Van Aardes van Grootoor is at Theatre on the Bay until January 9.  Tickets R100 to R250, 0861 915 8000.



*** Karakters met oorgawe vertolk in ‘Die Van Aardes’

– Mariana Malan, Die Burger, 23 Desember 2015

Elke groot sage word die een of ander tyd ’n musiekspel. Dis dus logies dat die verhaal van die Van Aardes van Grootoor ook hierdie pad sou loop.

’n Sage is dit beslis, met 780 episodes en gebeure wat trek oor meer as vyf dekades.

Wat begin het as ’n spottery met radioverhale van destyds, pas netjies in die musiekspel­genre. As ’n mens mooi daaroor dink, is musiekspele eintlik maar absurd, dié dramatiese uiting aan gevoelens deur sang.

Hier is nie liedjies wat met treffers uit die grotes gaan meeding nie, maar dis lekker om van hulle te herken. Bestaande liedjies soos “Wat maak oom Kalie daar?” kry ’n nuwe baadjie en “O Boereplaas” moes mos net hier wees.

Die oorspronklike Van Aardes van Grootoor was 18 maande lank op die planke en elke groot naam van deesdae het op die een of ander tyd ’n rol hierin vertolk. Dink Antoinette Kellermann, Trix Pienaar, Bill Curry. Lizz Meiring, Nomsa Nene, Elize Cawood . . .

Daar is darem ’n paar van die stemme wat wel weer gehoor word — wanneer die dramatiese inleiding en die advertensie van dáárdie skoonheidseep volg.

Die musiek word gemaak deur die komponis en verwerker van die musiek in die stuk, Godfrey Johnson, en sy eie klein musiekfabriek in hul klein ateljee agter op die verhoog.

In die nuwe rolverdeling is daar ’n jongspan wat nie eers behoorlik kon weet watter invloed radioverhale op die mensdom gehad het nie. Hulle is die geslag van sepies op televisie en moes vertel word van klankeffekte wat die akteurs van destyds sommer self moes maak.

Die meeste van hulle speel verskillende rolle en van die karakters wat oor dekades verouder. Hulle is met oorgawe Aia Siena, Dolla, Mimi, Brenda, John Firestone Junior, Tertius, Ouma, Elana van Aarde, Fanie en Evert.

Van almal is Schalk Bezuidenhout seker tans die bekendste. En as ’n mens eerlik moet wees, die sterkste op die verhoog.

Vir die ander kan dit net ’n belewenis wees om hul eerste treë op die professionele verhoog saam met Pieter-Dirk Uys en sy ikoniese satire te stap en soms selfs te huppel.

Die stuk eindig met ’n knal, maar begin nie op dieselfde noot nie. Behalwe as jy Ouma se gedrag in dié lig sien. Maar wanneer dinge begin ontwikkel, raak dit ligweg doller as kopaf. Danksy veral Dolla van Aarde (Natasha van der Merwe).

    Tot 9 Januarie. Bespreek by Computicket of 021 438 3301.



**** Uys’s satirical soapie cleans up

– Beverrley Brommert, Cape Argus, 22 December 2015

THEATREGOERS who like to flex their mental muscles occasionally will relish this vitriolic take on one of the lowest forms of entertainment known to man, namely the soap opera.

Pieter-Dirk Uys has outdone himself in lampooning drama that exploits the universal greed for voyeurism, and although Die Van Aardes… was first staged nearly 40 years ago, it has lost none of its relevance between now and then. The saga of a South African family’s evolution over 50 years covers the whole sorry range of human depravity, including incest, drug addiction, adultery, closet sexuality, rape, lust for power and money, and all the consequences thereof.

The characters portrayed in this drama are mostly antipathetic, which means the audience has little or no empathy with any of them — hence a certain coldness is inevitable in the reaction to the piece. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since it promotes a wholesome detachment in judging what unfolds before our eyes; the show invites a reaction from the intellect rather than the heart.

Staging is meticulous in the attention to detail, evidenced by the regular up-dating of pictures on the walls and the portable radio in the background, marking the passage of time from 1928 to 1978.

Sly, intelligent humour abounds in the prefatory soap commercials reminding us who is sponsoring this extravaganza, as well as the syrupy music (Rachmaninov) that ushers in each new episode. The recording studio, centre backstage, is monochromatic in accordance with period style, and there is no shortage of references to the classics — Dolla van Aarde’s dementia recalls Ophelia’s madness, and Gilbert and Sullivan make their appearance as well, while the proliferation of corpses at one point of the drama is strongly reminiscent of Shakespearean tragedy.

This grotesque package is neatly presented, with some outstanding performances. One has to admire the versatility of Schalk Bezuidenhout, who is equally convincing as the super-Brit John Firestone, the frustrated ballet dancer Tertius van Aarde, and South Africa’s No 1 citizen complete with wagging finger. Clarissa Roodt in the pivotal role of Elana van Aarde is compelling and impressive, as is CaelyJo Levy in the strongly contrasting roles of Mimi and Brenda.

Billed as a musical, Die Van Aardes has its share of music, most of which gestures to tradition with a fair amount of innovation to inject freshness — a balance nicely maintained thanks to composer Godfrey Johnson, who also provides indefatigable live accompaniment.

Those seeking escapism in the serial nonsense of soapies will find this saga disconcerting, but anyone who enjoys intelligent satire will be highly diverted by this show.

At Theatre on the Bay until January 9





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Archived Reviews


Die Van Aardes van

Grootoor: The Musical