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Review: FORDSBURG'S FINEST Takes You on An Emotional Trip Down Memory Lane

Review: FORDSBURG'S FINEST Takes You on An Emotional Trip Down Memory Lane

Paul Slabolepszy’s script is brought to life for a second run 25 years later

It's quite amazing that a script written in 1997 about a fledgling democratic South Africa can still be so relevant and haunting in 2022. FORDSBURG'S FINEST by Paul Slabolepszy delivers in heart and in asking some truly tricky questions of the characters and of the audience members.

There are two major themes at play in FORDSBURG'S FINEST for me - nostalgia and the need to find home. The play opens with a radio station playing adverts that everyone in the audience over the age of 30 recognised probably instantly. I was immediately transported back in time with warm, fond memories.

The year was 1996. South Africa was in a time of reconciliation and pretty much everyone was still feeling the afterglow of winning the Rugby World Cup in 1995. It's so easy to look back at this time with rose coloured glasses. What this play does so beautifully is it slowly starts to peel back the layers and remind us that all wasn't well in the world. The country and its people still had a lot of healing to do. In fact, we still have a lot of healing to do 26 years later.

The two characters in FORDSBURG'S FINEST have been created so cleverly by Slabolepszy. First, we have "Foxy" Freddie (played by Slabolepszy himself - what an honour) and then we meet Thandeka (played by Chi Mhende). Freddie is an older white man who owns a used-car dealership (the setting for the play). Freddie hides behind the persona of the car salesman - slick, full of jokes and always ready with a smile. However, when confronted with Thandeka's desire to reconnect with South Africa and heal from past traumas, Freddie's own traumas and wounds come to the fore.

The character of Thandeka appears to be the polar opposite to Freddie at first. She's the daughter of two musicians who left Apartheid South Africa in 1959, when she was just a baby. Thandeka grew up in New York and is a strong, confident young woman - or so she appears. Her whole life she has wanted to come back to South Africa and reconnect with her roots. The problem is those roots don't really exist due to the ravages of Apartheid and the passing of time.

These two strangers who seem to be so different have both been damaged by their pasts, and are somehow connected through what they've lost and what they yearn for.

Review: FORDSBURG'S FINEST Takes You on An Emotional Trip Down Memory Lane

Mhende and Slabolepszy facing off against each other is beautiful to watch. They move through the awkwardness of strangers meeting under unusual circumstances, to slowly opening up and then facing their own sadness and anger. There are some superbly timed comedic moments from both that give the audience and the characters a release. Additionally, there is a genuine warmth that can be felt between the two. I did feel that some of the rises to anger or heightened emotional states were a little too abrupt and didn't always flow naturally. However, the overall impact of the play is still incredibly powerful.

For me, it's always a privilege to see Paul Slabolepszy on stage. Add to the mix legendary director Bobby Heaney and a beloved actress in South Africa Chi Mhende and you have something extraordinary.

Photo credit: Jesse Kramer

FORDSBURG'S FINEST is on at Pieter Toerien Montecasino Main Theatre from 16 September until 9 October. Tickets are available via Computicket and range between R135-R240.


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From This Author - Faeron Wheeler

Faeron is a Cape Town based actor, writer and producer who has been involved in theatre since she was only three years old. She studied drama and dancing throughout school and then went on to d... (read more about this author)


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