PAUL SLABOLEPSZY is, according to his Wikipedia page, “Arguably South Africa’s preeminent playwright after Athol Fugard, Slabolepszy is a prolific writer and performer. He was a founder member of The Space Theatre, South Africa’s first non-racial theatre company, with Athol Fugard, Yvonne Bryceland and John Kani in 1972. Also a founder member of world-renowned The Market Theatre in Johannesburg, together with Mannie Manim and Barney Simon in 1976”.
He’s also very smooth.
After the performance last Saturday night of his new play, Fordsburg’s Finest, at Theatre On The Bay, he and co-star Chi Mhende entered the packed foyer where theatre-goers were sipping wine and waiting to shower them with applause (following a standing ovation). It was through this crush of well-wishers, my friend said we needed to move. Right then. Coming nose to nose with the living legend was inevitable and because there was eye contact, I said “Well done! So wonderful to see you…” I was going to say “on stage” but before I could finish, Mr Slabolepszy grinned, threw his arms around me and said “Wonderful to see you too!” And that, my friends is how it is done. Oh, I should mention we have not met before. I glanced back over my shoulder to see my friend in an embrace as well. As if I could love him more.
The play is wonderful too, and honestly I’d expect nothing less. it’s pure theatre – two actors on a stage, no smoke or mirrors or microphones (Theatre On The Bay being perfect for this intimate piece), telling their stories in 1996. For there are two: that of Thandi, who has recently returned from the US, where she has lived since she was a small child; and Freddie, old white man, used car dealer. We’re all familiar with that dodgy stereotype. But he’s embracing the new South Africa as best he can while still dealing with the traumas and demons of the past.
Thandi on the other hand feels lost and displaced. The place she has come to, Freddie’s dealership, is where she was born. She has fragments of memories of it, where the gate stood, where the front door was, but she’s all grown up now and seeking her home, her roots.
Conversation is initially awkward between the two, but gradually they understand they are not so different from each other; their experiences are are not the same obviously but they both suffered under the Apartheid government. A seed of underlying tension is subtly planted that tells us not everyone is as open to change, which brings the play to a tense conclusion.
Do go see this, it’s a treat for theatre lovers, and of course to see Slabolepszy in the flesh being a master of his craft, and how Mhende competently shares the stage with him. Bravo!
- Dates: 19 August – 10 September, 2022
- Venue: Pieter Toerien’s Theatre On The Bay
- Starring Paul Slabolepszy and Chi Mhende
- Directed by Bobby Heaney
- Written by Paul Slabolepszy
- Set design by Greg King
- Age restriction: PG13
- Duration: Approximately 85 minutes, no interval.
- Ticket prices: R160 – R240
- Click here to book.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jesse Kramer