[Scroll down for original Afrikaans]
The opening night of a debut piece is always nervewracking. London Road by Nicholas Spagnoletti was no exception. As winner of Audience Choice in the 2007 PANSA new South African playwrighting competition expectations were even higher. And it did not disappoint.
London Road is the story of a friendship between a young Nigerian woman and an elderly Jewish widow. Although social issues like illegal immigration, drug abuse and HIV/Aids are brought up in the piece, they are treated as coincidental rather than as the dominating themes and the play never becomes preachy. London Road shows in a simple yet striking way that compassion and friendship is a person’s only salvation from the cruelty of a lonely existence and alienation in a violent society.
Rosa (Robyn Scott) and Stella (Ntombi Makhutshi) come together due to a violent incident and gradually develop an unusual but close relationship. Spagnoletti takes his time to let the friendship settle without using awkward time leaps. The different scenes are well bridged by Braam du Toit’s excellent music. Director Lara Bye hasn’t gone out her way to create a realistic set and rather relies on text references and the odd sound effect to indicate time and space. Imagination takes care of the rest.
36 year-old Scott in the role of the elderly Rosa Kaplowitz is breathtaking. One would have thought you’d seen the breadth of her abilities in Dario Fo’s Elizabeth: Almost by Chance a Woman – but clearly not. She turns from poking your rib cage one minute to pulling on your heart strings the next but especially impressive is how her character is all “rage, rage against the dying of the light” (to quote Dylan Thomas) even though her children are absent, her husband has been dead for twenty years and everything around her has changed beyond recognition.
Makhutshi is beautiful and has strong stage-presence. What guts it takes not to shrink back from Rosa – as an actress Makhutshi is strong enough not to be overwhelmed by Scott’s tour de force. Makhutshi also makes easy work of the difficult Nigerian accent.
The ending is slightly soppy but by then you are so in love with the two characters that you “aaaaaah!” along with the rest of the audience. Go get to know Rosa and Stella. They are our people.
[Translated from Afrikaans]