Theatre Review: London Road

Posted: April 4, 2010 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
Tags: , , , ,
Review:  London Road
Directed and produced by:   Lara Bye
Written by Nicholas Spagnoletti in collaboration with the director and cast.
Cast:  Robyn Scott and Ntombi Makhutshi
Review:   Astrid Stark

First published: Sunday Independent 4 April 2010

Sea Point simply teems with Jewish ladies of all shapes and ages.  Some enjoy taking their immaculately coiffed hairdo’s and poodles for an early morning amble.  They wear their finest garb, with practical training shoes, and carry a walking stick, as much to make a statement as it for aid. Blue rinse ladies sit on a bench, alone or sometimes with a caretaker, and stare at the ocean; lost in their private memories, their faces immovable; stroking a pretty golden chain or watch. On Wednesdays they play bridge, and if they’re lucky, their grandchildren visit them once a month. I see them on my walk every day and have often longed for a glimpse into their world.  It’s these old ladies that actress Robyn Scott cornered when she started researching her character for London Road.  And when the 38-year old Scott is transformed into the old and feeble Rosa, you will barely believe our eyes. 

London Road,  Ntombi Makhutshi as Stella and Robyn Scott as Rosa Photo Christine Gouws

London Road, Ntombi Makhutshi as Stella and Robyn Scott as Rosa Photo Christine Gouws

London Road tells the story of an unusual friendship that is born from a violent incident in a block of flats in Sea Point.  Rosa Kaplowitz is a widow whose remaining family has emigrated overseas.  She has an impossible relationship with her daughter which fills her with sorrow.  She stays busy by being vigorously involved in many aspects of her community. If there’s a body corporate; she’s on it.  Stella, played with great artistry by Ntombi Makhutshi, is a young and angry Nigerian woman who lives in fear of her shady business partners.  When the two meet, their differences in culture, upbringing, and their attitude to life is like a gaping void through which neither can reach.  As they spend time together and really start to engage with one another, their affection starts to blossom.  Soon they find a healing love within each other’s words and gestures that bridges culture, colour and age.

Makhutshi’s performance as Stella the Nigerian is convincingly sullen and angry.  She’s a woman, alone, and illegally, in a country where she has to resort to shady deals to make a living.  Her husband has decamped and the landlord is abusing her situation by charging her excessive rent for a damp storeroom.  And now this old Jewish lady is interfering in her business.  Makhutshi’s character’s transformation from bitter and fearful anger, to a lovingly generous companion, is handled with great skill.  Her Nigerian accent and mannerisms, such violently sucking her teeth in disapproval, is simply brilliant.  She radiates beauty and empathy.

Scott’s portrayal as Rosa may very well win her another Fleur du Cap nomination for best actress.   It takes her about an hour-and-a-half to get into Rosa’s character. Her long blonde hair has to be covered by Rosa’s rinsed ginger mop and her 38-year old hands and face must be severely aged.  The magic is in the detail.  Her ill-fitting cardigan, proudly worn pearl necklace, reading glasses on a string atop the pearls, and the supporting stretch bandage that covers her ankle; all tell their own stories.  Despite the enormous age gap between Rosa and Stella, it soon becomes clear that the young-hearted Rosa is far from old-fashioned. She knew all along about Stella’s shady dealings and her growing love and concern for Stella forces her to discuss it with Stella.  Her accumulated wisdom allows her to do so judiciously.  As Stella starts to blossom at the possibility of a better life for herself, Rosa gets frailer and frailer, and we know she has not much time left to reminisce. Bring tissues.

Nicholas Spagnoletti as a long standing Sea Point resident says the play was born out of his overheard conversations within the community.  It is the stories of the Sea Point minority groups such as Stella that has inspired the production.  Spagnoletti’s writing, in collaboration with Lara Bye r and the cast, is poignant. The dialogue feels very natural and it allows us to completely immerse ourselves in Stella and Rosa’s world.

Lara Bye’s direction feels firm and confident as she steers the two women across the stage and closer to each other.   A delicate balance between tragedy and humour is maintained right to the end.

Craig Leo’s designing set, costumes and props, and Faheem Bardien’s creative lighting are inconspicuous in their effectiveness. You are not really aware of the lighting changes as it gently alters the mood on stage.  The props don’t look much like props; it feels like Rosa’s living room.  

The intimacy of the Kalk Bay Theatre lends itself to the voyeuristic peep into the lives of two vastly different women on a journey of discovery.  London Road will travel to the National Arts Festival as part of Cape Town Edge.  Performances will take place at 12h00 daily at the Princess Alice Hall from June 20 to June 27 and from June 29 to 4 July.

London Road runs until 10 April.  A special Easter performance will take place at the Kalk Bay Theatre on Sunday 4 April at 7.30pm. Doors open at 5.30 pm and a special Easter ticket will be available at R175.  This will include a ticket to the show, a glass of wine on arrival, a plate of snacks and a chocolate Easter egg.  To book contact 073-220 5430 or visit http://www.kbt.co.za

 The End

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