The Herald – “Bye’s look at life a top attraction at Fest”

IT has been said of director Lara Bye that everything she touches, turns to gold. And her latest acclaimed production at the National Arts Festival is no exception.

Everybody is flocking to London Road which has found its way into the Top 20 grossing productions at the Festival so far, something that in previous years has been mainly the turf of stand-up comedies.

Stripped to its bare bones, the play written by Nicholas Spagnoletti, is an intimate glimpse on growing old, loneliness and the healing power of friendship that unfolds between two women from vastly different backgrounds living in the same block of flats in London Road, Seapoint.

Stella is a Nigerian woman living in a converted storage room while Rosa, an elderly Jewish widow, lives in a flat on the fifth floor from where she partakes in the “simple and ancient joy of people watching” through her binoculars.

Their relationship is based on honesty. They simply do not have the time to hide anything from each other.

And this makes for hard-hitting theatre circling the core of our human condition like the seagulls on Rosa’s beloved promenade.

The health of Rosa, whose children are living in Israel and Australia, is rapidly deteriorating and her short-term memory is starting to fail.

All her friends are either “dead or dilly” and she confesses that after her husband’s death, the “evenings were eternal”.

Stella and Rosa are performed by two of Cape Town’s leading actresses – Robyn Scott and Ntombi Makhutshi. And they do not disappoint in the least. The 37-year-old Scott, who has recently earned a Fleur Du Cap nomination for best actress for her role in Elizabeth –- Almost by Chance a Woman, goes through a masterful transformation to become the elderly Rosa. And we are not just talking about the skillfully applied make-up and the curly orange-red wig of a Jewish Seapoint “tannie” .

She lovingly creates a Rosa – from her shuffled steps to the faraway fear in her eyes when she tells Stella that she is “petrified” of death. Makhutshi who has been in action on stage in Iago’s Last Dance and Die Storie Van Die Vertaalde Mense, delivers an equally powerful performance as one of Seapoint’s community of immigrants.

Interestingly enough, the play also touches upon the urban and moral decay of places like Seapoint: the arrival of Nigerians and Congolese, and elderly people like Rosa who have no choice but to stay behind.

Bye is a master in the theatre of suggestion.This is reflected in the seemingly simple set. The table and chairs which are the only props against a clever black backdrop, are not just any old table and chairs. According to her, she and renowned theatre designer, puppeteer and performing artist Craig Leo, searched high and low before they finally found the “perfect” table at Milnerton market. She gently distills London Road until only the essence is left. You will laugh –- and you will cry as the uniting universal themes are shown. Truly beautiful.