I have to admit that I was worried.
In his first produced play, Nicholas Spagnoletti has undertaken to write an all-female two-hander, writing the voices of a Nigerian illegal immigrant and a Jewish old age pensioner.
But it works. It works beautifully.
In ‘London Road’, Seapoint, one block of flats is occupied by two very different women. Stella has a husband; Rosa two children. So why are they both living alone?
As it turns out, loneliness is the key that brings these two women together, where they discover in each other a feisty independence of spirit that transcends their different backgrounds and social circumstances.
Spagnoletti’s script is a beautiful exploration of an unlikely friendship between women. It’s clearly drawing on personal experiences of Seapoint characters and local flavour, but Spagnoletti never falls into the trap of inserting the self or ego into his writing. The setting may be his, but the voices, issues and stories are wholly theirs – a rare maturity with a relatively new playwright.
Of course, much of the credit for the piece’s success must also go to the two actors. Robin Scott plays a woman in her seventies. In reality she’s in her thirties, yet I was completely taken in. Try to swallow that transformation over your glass of red.
Indeed, Scott’s portrayal of the aged Rosa is, quite simply, captivating – an absolute master class in movement and breath. Her make-up, which apparently takes longer than the play itself to apply, is a tour de force, but the real magic is in the little things – an open mouth, an intake of breath, a word left hanging slightly too long. The theatre space itself is so intimate with the three sided horseshoe layout and lack of raised stage that, at times, audience members may find themselves a little close to the action for comfort. When this happens, Scott holds the gaze, nods almost imperceptivity…and it is the audience member who turns away.
Ntombi Makhutshi matches Scott with a strong performance as Stella – she carries herself with both a controlled strength and a hearty laugh, making her at once instantly likeable and a strong stage presence.
Accents bothered me slightly throughout the piece – I didn’t feel either of them were maintained fully over the course of the performance – but this will, no doubt, take shape during the run. At times, I also found the transition between time periods in the play confusing, though I hear that plans are afoot to bring in some additional design elements that will help clarify this.
‘London Road’ won the ‘audience choice’ award during the PANSA scriptwriting competition in 2007. With time taken before the first run and clear evidence of expert direction and collaboration between a talented team, this is a real success story of new South African writing. It’s such a pleasure to see a proper investment in new scripts from young writers. Spagnoletti is clearly a very talented playwright. I look forward to his next offering.
The Kalk Bay Theatre is a beautiful venue. Intimate and interesting – theatre here is a special experience. With direction by Lara Bye and an ingeniously simple set designed by Craig Leo, the play runs until April 10.
“London Road” runs at the Kalk Bay theatre from 10 March – 10 April, Wednesdays through Saturdays. Bookings – 073 220 54390.”