Stage works calling back the past

The cast and director of To House, opening in Durban soon. Pictured clockwise, from back left, are Sandile Mthembu, Ashwin Singh, Rowin Moonsamy, Sivani Chinappan, Michael Gritten, Ralph Lawson and Menzi Mkwane. Picture by Val Adamson.

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BY BILLY SUTER

THIS month marks the Johannesburg run of a musical memoir tracing the life of former Soft Shoes pop group member Jervis Pennington, while in Durban a revival of a drama by actor-playwright Ashwin Singh is scheduled for October.

Extraordinarily Ordinary Life, written, composed and performed by Pennington, opened at Montecasino’s Studio theatre on September 22 and runs until October 15. It has been described by one reviewer as a solo work that is raw, brutally honest, uplifting and hilarious.

In 1983, almost 35 years ago and long before Idols, SABC gave us our own national televised talent show, Follow That Star, and it made its winner, Jervis Pennington, an overnight teen idol and household name with his pop group The Soft Shoes and their No 1 song, Elvis Astaire.

As with many before him, in true rock ‘n’ roll tradition, this brush with celebrity at an early age ultimately led Jervis all the way down to Skid Row. This is that story: fiercely funny, at times raw, always self-deprecating.

Jervis, alone on stage with his acoustic guitar, delivers a truly compelling performance: from famous to homeless to fearless.

Performances are at 8pm Wednesday to Fridays, 4pm and 8pm on Saturdays and 3pm on Sundays. Tickets range in price from R130 to R165, with discounts for seniors and students. Booking is at Computicket.

In Durban, Ashwin Singh’s To House, directed by Ralph Lawson, is scheduled to run from October 5 to 7 at the Playhouse Drama. It is presented by The Singh Siblings in association with The Playhouse Company.

First staged at The Playhouse in 2006, To House is said to be as relevant now as it was a decade ago, with South Africa’s continuing racial divisions and increasing class conflicts.

Jervis Pennington, former lead singer with South African pop band The Soft Shoes, in Extraordinarily Ordinary Life, now running in Johannesburg.

The new staging features a cast including Michael Gritten, Menzi Mkwane, Rowin Munsamy, Sivani Chinappan, Sandile Mthembu and Ashwin Singh.

The drama is set in a multicultural sectional titles development in a typical middle-class Durban suburb. It is essentially about the clash of the conservative cultures which dominate the Durban socio-political landscape in post-apartheid South Africa.

The focus is on Jason and Sanjay, who have a tentative friendship based on mutual needs and their increasing condemnation of hotshot lawyer, Sibusiso Khumalo, who lives in the same sectional titles development.

Jason is increasingly alienated from his community and is battling to deal with the consequences of his recent job loss and pending divorce. Sanjay is in a professional battle with Sibusiso and is struggling with his attraction to Sibusiso’s live-in girlfriend, Kajol, which he cannot express.

Meanwhile, Sibusiso longs for greater independence but has to deal with the consequences of Kajol’s mother’s ill treatment by her extended family.

The arrival in the second half of the play of Kajol’s Machiavellian uncle, Deena, serves as a catalyst to expose the truth behind the characters’ courses of action, which ends in a brutal confrontation between Sibusiso and Jason.

To House was first published by UK publications company Aurora Metro Books in the 2006 collective anthology, New South African Plays. In 2013, it became a headline play in Singh’s individual anthology, Durban Dialogues, Indian Voice, also published by Aurora Metro Books. The  work has been studied at universities in South Africa, India, Canada and Europe.

Indian scholar Prof Pranav Joshipura presented a paper on the play at the international conference on South African theatre in Brussels this year, and Canadian academic Dr J Coplen Rose wrote a chapter on the play in a new book entitled Relations and Networks in South African Indian Writing.

Singh says he is delighted to be working again with Lawson. The two collaborated earlier this year on the production of Singh’s one-man play, Reoca Light at The Playhouse (performed by Rory Booth).

“Ralph is a meticulous and sensitive director. He also has a substantial appreciation of South Africa’s complex cultural milieu, so I believe he is the perfect director for this work. I am particularly excited to be working with him on this project as it won’t just be as a playwright but also as an actor,” says Singh.

The playwright also believes To House will find an emotional resonance with a wide audience because it deals with real issues in South Africa’s contemporary socio-political landscape and features characters with which people will identify. The innovative set which Lawson has designed will also enhance the play’s visual appeal.

To House is set for 7.30pm performances from Thursday  to Saturday, with an additional 3pm Saturday performance. Tickets cost R100, with concessions for pensioners and students. Booking is at Computicket.


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