Business Day – A compassionate tale of friendship

Special Thanks To Guests From Afar

[By Penny Haw]
Special Thanks To Guests From Afar

FRIENDSHIPS, even those that withstand the turmoil of puberty, strain of separation and distraction of relationships with others, can be difficult to maintain — particularly if you’re both lonely and enjoy being together but live thousands of kilometres apart. Sometimes it takes an outsider to remind you just how precious such a relationship is, even if it’s less than ideal.

Special Thanks To Guests From Afar tells such a tale. Written by award-winning playwright Nicholas Spagnoletti, the play examines the affection, frustration and insecurities of two long-time South African friends, who are reunited for a wedding in a small town on the Baltic Coast.

Spagnoletti once more looks at what happens when people leave South Africa, the resentment felt by those left behind, and the justification and detachment experienced by the ones who go.

Luke Upton (Nicholas Dallas) is a gay economics professor at the University of Cape Town and Thabisa Buhle (Chi Mhende) is a banking executive and the daughter of a struggle hero. Tired of living in her father’s shadow, Thabisa left to work abroad and is based in Zürich. She and Luke have been best friends practically all their lives and, after a long separation, are excited to share a room for the weekend of the wedding. But they’ve barely unpacked before an argument ensues.

Luke wants Thabisa to return to Cape Town. She is disdainful of Luke’s bookish life and his unwillingness to move on from a relationship that ended three years ago. Then the groom’s brother, Markus Weitig (Gideon Lombard) accidently walks into their room from the beach. He’s half-naked and magnificent. Thabisa and Luke’s jaws drop. But is he gay or straight? Who has a chance with him?

What unfolds is a funny and touching story about friendship and exclusion — and the kind of people party planners agonise over when arranging seating. And although at the end, the cheerful (but rather weird) Markus — who wonders why, in a world in which one so easily finds prostitutes, gay bars, strip clubs and the like, there are no “tickle bars” — returns to Berlin, Thabisa to Zürich and Luke to Cape Town, the weekend won’t be easily forgotten.

The play is superbly cast and boldly performed. It’s a compassionate tale that might prompt you to give an old friend a call.

• Special Thanks To Guests From Afar runs at the Artscape Arena Theatre in Cape Town until November 24,