Theatre review: The Lahnee’s Pleasure

Posted: September 3, 2010 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews

 First published in The Cape Times, August 2010

 Starring:  Lovie Ramas Rai, Ralph Lawson, Rajendra Chetty, Royston Stoffels, Thiru Naidoo, Christopher Naidoo and Nikhil Fataar.  Written and Directed by:  Ronnie Govender.  Designs by: Alfred Rietmann.  Lighting design by:  Faheem Bardien.  at the Artscape Arena until 28 August.  ASTRID STARK reviews

 

Historically significant play returns.

 

To commemorate the 150th anniversary, and in celebration of the role that Indian people play in South Africa, Ronnie Govender is directing his play The Lahnee’s Pleasure at the Artscape for the month of August.

The play revolves around Mothie, performed by Lovie Ramas Rai, who is a sugar worker that has been employed by the same boss and in the same job for thirty years, earning a pittance.   The play is set against the race segregated backdrop of Kwazulu Natal in the 1950’s. Mothie has discovered that his 15-year old daughter is having an affair.  After confronting her about this she runs away and Mothie ends up in the bar of the White House Hotel. Of course the bar is split into a white and non-white section and from this much of the ensuing dialogue sprouts as Mothie proceeds to get fall-down drunk whilst pouring his heart out to the barman Sunny and a kind stranger.

The Lahnee’s Pleasure tackles issues of belonging, oppression and exclusion through Mothie’s story. As we get to know the foursome in the bar, they each bring to the front their own tale of oppression and suffering.  We get to learn how the socio-economic disadvantages affected Indians from all walks of life.   Ramas Rai delivers a very moving performance as the doting father as his character frets, laments, sings and curses the drunker he gets. He is very funny at times but his antics become a little tedious and repetitive after some time. His character guzzled an unbelievable amount of ‘wine’ – I stopped after counting ten glasses – and it’s bit hard after half an hour to find empathy for such an inebriated character.

Some of the sketches about living in Kwazulu Natal in the 50’s were very touching and colourful, taking us back to an era long gone.  Rajendra Chetty, gives a lovely performance as the honest and hardworking Barman Sunny.  Mothie lambasts Sunny for sucking up to the landlord, played by Ralph Lawson, but yet he himself doesn’t hesitate to accept help from the landlord when it is offered.  Lawson appears only in a handful of scenes but he gives an excellent rendition of the old, white, colonial pub landlord who has probably moved in with the Dodo by now.

(L – R) Lovie Ramas Rai as Mothie, Rajendra Chetty as Sunny, the barman and Royston Stoffels as the Stranger.

Royston Stoffels as The Stranger has a commanding stage presence which also has a lot to do with his height. But his character feels two dimensional – slightly bored.

While it’s commendable that the play tackles issues of oppression and segregation – and it is important to remember our shared past – it feels too long and drawn out. There is also very little dramatic tension and, very few surprises, as the story unfolds.

It is however a historically important performance and should be viewed within context.  The Lahnee’s Pleasure was originally produced in the 1970’s. It received an invitation to be presented in London but Ronnie Govender turned this offer down as his part of the struggle against apartheid and the cultural boycott of the times.  Since then the Lahnee has staked its claim as South Africa’s longest running comedy.

Alfried Rietmann’s stage design is striking as it captures the spirit of an old pub in great detail.  The faded colours, the old Tassenberg wine jugs, the old-fashioned lemonade glass and the beige and maroon coloured telephone just ooze fifties nostalgia. The pub, where all of the action takes place, becomes a bit of a character, and with Faheem Bardien’s lighting the mood is set.

Ronnie Govender has a string of awards under his belt including the AA Vita Award for lifelong contribution to South African Theatre; a medal from the English Academy of South Africa for outstanding contribution to English Literature, a Literary Life Time Achievement Award from the Department of Arts and Culture and most recently South Africa’s third highest national award, the Order of Ikamenga for “Excellent contribution to democracy and justice through the medium of the theatre”.
The show starts at 20h15.   Tickets are R50 and R90 can be booked at http://www.computicket.com or Artscape Dial-a-Seat, 021- 421 7695.

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