Last night the Longhair broke a long standing ban on going out during the week and acquiesced to accompany me to the premiere of the Sounds of South End currently on at the Savoy Theatre until 13 June 2013. Just shows how much we anticipated sharing and viewing a unique Port Elizabeth production written by local writer, actor and director, Herbie Clayton, all about our own ‘District Six’.
The audience was mainly made up of many of the old South End stalwarts and invited guests. Oom Ben unfortunately let his date down but she did manage to get a standby!
The two absolute highlights in the show for me was the rollicking opening number by Desmond Marks who plays Harry Dietrich, the family patriarch, and the wedding duet by Dietrich’s daughter Patty (Joylene Groener) sung with her dark skinned boyfriend James, played by Jody Butler. Pure goosebumps stuff for me as we sat enthralled by Joylene and Jody’s singing.
The jury is still out on how we would classify the Sounds of South End – a tragic-comedy, a farce, a musical, protest theatre? All the elements are there and I found myself concentrating hard to connect the dots between each act.
Attempting to distill years of experiences by a community into 3 hours of musical must be a daunting task and not one that I would never profess to have the ability to do. I do feel though that certain of the acts could have been cut or shortened in order to keep the pace going. The roles of Harry Dietrich’s three friends and the three ‘Skinnerbekke’ helped a lot with the continuity.
The inclusion of some more modern tunes didn’t quite fit with the ‘Sounds of South End’ theme and I found my attention wandering as I scrabbled around in my brain for replacement tunes more fitting with the era.
Sounds of South End will always be judged against David Kramer and Taliep Petersen’s hit musical, District Six which was first performed in 1987. As a result I see, just as Kramer and Petersen did in 2001 and 2002 for District Six, a few rewrites ahead for Sounds of South End as Clayton and company tighten up a show with loads of promise.
In some way the show reminded me of a number of Northern Areas ‘no liquor weddings’ I have attended – Well dressed, lovable, erudite and handsome people wandering about throwing wicked humorous barbs at each other, not quite sure of their identity in a global sense, looking for meaning and the nearest pub for dutch courage.
If the purpose of the Sounds of South End was to make audience members explore and study once again the inequities of the apartheid system then the musical has certainly succeeded insofar as the Longhair and I are concerned.
What the Sounds of South End brought home to me was that whatever empathy I thought I had with this dissociated group may just have been incorrect as the audience members would laugh at actions and words that I thought were sad, tragic and embarrassing. One of the theatre goers at intermission agreed with my wondering; “Is it just me that feels uncomfortable to hear former victims of apartheid in the audience laughing at situations that make me feel sad and outraged at what the White National Party government did?”
The ending was a bit beyond me and I failed to see the symbolism. If anything the duet between Patty and James should be the finale as that duet had the entire audience on their feet – how great would it be to end the play on such a high with it’s symbolism of reconciliation between people of different colour?
Would I recommend you go and see Sounds of South End? Yes I would, as it is a very brave and entertaining start on telling a story which could have been presented as a very bitter one and was not.
Related: Sounds of South End Cast Announced.
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