REVIEWS of DIE VAN AARDES VAN GROOTOOR: THE MUSICAL in CAPE TOWN — DECEMBER 2015
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
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
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
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.
– 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
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
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.