Unlikely duo find support in shared predicament, writes Marianne Thamm
Iconic American writer, filmmaker and actor, Orson Welles, once observed that “we’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone”.
In some respects, this stage debut by Cape Town software developer and playwright, Nicholas Spagnoletti, explores Welles’s reflection with subtle wit and compassion in London Road.
Two women, an elderly Rosa Kaplowitz (Robyn Scott), and Stella (Ntombi Makhutshi), a spirited Nigerian refugee, find themselves physically and emotionally marooned in Sea Point’s flatland.
We first encounter Rosa and Stella when they burst onto the stage in a panic about what appears to be a break-in at Stella’s flat.
The historical migratory ties between the women make for an interesting connection and backdrop. In the ’30s, Hillbrow was home to a large and vibrant Jewish community. Temple Israel, considered the Mother Synagogue of Progressive Judaism in this country, opened in 1936 and still stands in Paul Nel Street.
In the ’90s, refugees from the rest of Africa displaced this community, so both women’s journeys from Hillbrow to Sea Point are plausible.
Stella and Rosa’s encounter then is not as unlikely or unexpected as many would think and their friendship, intimacy and recognition of their shared predicament is where the play’s heart is.
Spagnoletti’s text is simple; he has not gone for or sought out the poetic. The humour is gentle, the drama and pathos understated, and his words are ultimately brought to life by two formidable stage talents, Scott and Makhutshi.
Scott as Rosa is perfectly cast. And while she might feel a little overwhelming at first, Scott’s precision performance grows on you. In her Clarks old-lady sandals, with her bandaged ankle beneath her thick stockings, her gaping mouth, odd vocalisations and other nervous tics, she is no longer Robyn Scott the actress with heavy stage make-up, but a full-blooded and very real 74-year-old Jewish widow.
Makhutshi does a lovely job of capturing Stella, a woman whose life has been as difficult as Rosa’s has been comfortable. She holds her pain, longing and compassion in a quietly dignified and loving performance.
If there is one criticism, it is that Spagnoletti has not explored the more universal existential themes that beg to be mined. This would ultimately take the play one step beyond storytelling and imbibe it with deeper meaning. A meaning that would dovetail with Welles’s comment on the human condition.
Director Lara Bye has teased two equally measured and powerful performances from her cast. The pace never flags as the action unfurls in and around Craig Leo’s deceptively simple but functional set (a desk with draws from which worlds emerge) and a simple piece of carpet shaped to suggest the sea and the beach front. Braam du Toit’s music, too, creates a gentle and containing atmosphere.
This is a tender, moving and often funny theatre experience. See it.