BWW Reviews: Folksy and Nostalgic OOM SCHALK: FROM THE HEART Brings the Groot Marico to Life Once More
The stories of Herman Charles Bosman are an essential thread in the literary fabric of South Africa. Their popularity has not dimmed as the years go by, with groups like the Herman Charles Bosman Literary Society championing their namesake's work and new anthologies of the short stories being published from time to time. The stories themselves have also made appearances in school curricula and, of course, have been the source of a number of performance pieces that have captured the minds and hearts of South African audiences over the years.
The legendary Patrick Mynhardt told the stories in the persona of Oom Schalk Louurens which can be revisited today through video and audio recordings of his performances; Tara Notcutt deconstructed the Bosman tales with Mathew Lewis and Andrew Laubscher for their comic book styled MAFEKING ROAD; and BOSMAN'S PATRIOTS, by Angus Douglas and Tim Sandham, investigated the relevance of the stories in a post-colonial, post-apartheid context, using key elements of Bosman's biography to structure their presentation. It is in this post-colonial, post-apartheid context that David Muller joins the ranks of Bosman page-to-stagers with OOM SCHALK: FROM THE HEART, as he assumes the persona of Oom Schalk to share five of Bosman's much beloved stories.
Under the direction of Celia Musikanth, the play takes on a folksy tone that is augmented by Ian Davidson's musical bookends to the two halves of the show and the use of only a beautifully crafted wooden bench for a set. Muller manages to capture the spirit of both the narrator and his stories as he winds his way through the twists and turns experienced by Bosman's characters. Even if one knows the quintet of tales presented here - which include "Veld Maiden", "In the Withaak's Shade", "A Bekkersdal Marathon", "The Gramaphone" and "Willem Prinsloo's Peach Brandy" - there is much to enjoy as Muller brings the vivid imagery in Bosman's prose to life.
Despite a disclaimer in the programme that the show might 'raise the eyebrow' or 'press a button', there is nothing challenging about the show or this staging of Bosman's writing - and that is not meant to be taken pejoratively. Rather, OOM SCHALK: FROM THE HEART is like visiting an old friend, the kind where you can easily pick up where you left off. It is warm, comforting and except for the occasional slip of the tongue, there is little fuss about what has happened in the meantime.
While some of Bosman's stories might not seem politically correct to contemporary minds, the five selected for OOM SCHALK: FROM THE HEART transcend the colonial shackles some that would use to justify locking away his entire body of work. The show makes for an easy and relaxing evening at the theatre, perfect for unwinding after a day spent facing the stresses of the busy contemporary world, which soon fades away once the houselights go down and the Groot Marico of the 1920s lives again.
OOM SCHALK: FROM THE HEART will be performed at the Kalk Bay Theatre from Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm and on Sundays at 6pm until 6 April 2014. Tickets cost R85 and R70 for Gallery seats. To book visit the Kalk Bay Theatre website.
Photo credit: Amitie Lee, Christine Skinner