Fiona Gordon – “Friends become family in London Road”

Fiona Gordon: She is the original doddery old lady, ‘ya know…?’ With her granny support-shoes, slow drawl, and wide-poppy-out-eyes, ‘ya know…?’

We all know her, or some version of her – sticking her nose into everyone’s business, because old people have licence to do that somehow… And because we know her, the pain of her loneliness feels that much more real.

It’s an unlikely friendship – that between Stella, who pays five thousand rand a month in rent for the converted storeroom, and the Jewish granny Rosa who lives on the fifth floor, of a block of flats in Sea Point’s London Road. But they become functionally more ‘family’ to each other than their blood or legal relatives. Without any expectation of return.

The set is simple – a table and two chairs, which easily become whatever and wherever they need to be, from Rosa’s lounge, to a bench on the Sea Point Promenade. And every other prop or aide comes from the Mary Poppins drawers of that central desk. From Family photo albums, and tablecloths and ‘ready-made’ cups of tea and a plate of ‘biccies’, to alcoholic tonics; the visual prompts are so effective one hardly needs imagination.

It takes Stella (Ntombi Makhutshi) a little while to settle into her accent. Or perhaps me to settle into placing it and following with ease. But perhaps also it is evidence of the disparity of character she must feel – an emigrant in this hostile place she must call home.

Robyn Scott is phenomenal as Rosa Kaplowitz. In her cardigan and pearls, I am truly convinced she is in her eighties. All right – perhaps in her sixties, playing someone in her eighties. But old.

But the woman that emerges from the stage door after the show is a 36 year old blonde bombshell. It makes the touching performance all the more (in)credible.

Perhaps it is the intimacy of the Kalk Bay Theatre that helps too. I feel somewhat embarrassed to realise I am tearing up, and hope nobody sees me wiping my eyes. Until I notice that even she – Rosa – has real tears running down her made-up face.

I never cease to be amazed by how perfectly Braam du Toit’s original compositions fit the feel of the stage action, and combined with Faheem Bardien’s finely-tuned lighting, and real attention to detail from director Lara Bye, this emotive story is told with such sincerity and sensitivity.

Granted, I am Capetonian. I did not grow up here, but after nearly a decade I certainly feel I can call it home. Someone who doesn’t might find that they miss out on significant detail – so much is portrayed through nuance and intimation. The connotations, sometimes, of a single word uttered must provide so much context. But that is also part of what makes it beautiful. And perhaps that is okay. With any theatre, one comes to, and leaves with, your own ‘stuff’… The emotion of ‘London Road’ really resonated with mine.

London Road is presented by KBT Productions at the Kalk Bay Theatre, from Wednesday – Saturday at 20h30 until 10 April 2010. Theatre-goers can enjoy a light meal before the show. Doors open at 18h00. Ticket prices for the performance only are R100.

To book contact 073 220 5430 or visit

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London Road will be presented at the 2010 National Arts Festival as part of Cape Town Edge, a collective of independent theatre makers working together to promote ground-breaking theatre from Cape Town. Performances will take place at 12h00 daily at the Princess Alice Hall from June 20 to June 27 and from June 29 to 4 July.

Written by: Nicholas Spagnoletti, in collaboration with the director and cast
Directed by: Lara Bye
Cast: Robyn Scott and Ntomboxolo Makhutshi
Set, props and costume design by Craig Leo
Lighting Design by Faheem Bardien
Original Sound by Braam Du Toit

Fiona Gordon