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THE RETURN OF ELVIS DU PISANIE (article first published : 2004-04-30)

Listen up, anyone who considers themselves a performer or those contemplating a career in professional theatre! You will learn more from one man’s performance - particularly if that man is incredible actor, director and playwright Paul Slabolepszy - in this production than many textbooks can ever hope to teach you.

The production? A show with the whacky name of The Return of Elvis du Pisanie, generally considered his finest brainchild. Paul “Slab” is probably better known by younger theatregoers for his hilarious Heel Against The Head which generated the magical, whacky partnership of Paul and Bill Flynn. Other sports-oriented plays followed, like Tickle to Fine Leg where James Borthwick shone in the role of beer-swilling, chauvinistic pocket philosopher Corkie Labuschagne.

In The Return of Elvis du Pisanie, Paul goes it alone in a highly physical and demanding role that would tax many of our younger actors – even those who consider themselves fairly fit. He runs the gamut of emotions and takes on such a dizzing array of characters that you have to remind yourself that there’s only one person up there on the stage.

Elvis du Pisanie, an uncomplicated fun-loving boy from Modderfontein, grows up to be an Elvis Presley fanatic. He gets married. He has children. He sells underfloor heating. “In an age of global warming?” he quips. He’s also a loser. Or so he feels.

When we meet him, Elvis is standing on the corner of Union Crescent in Witbank revisiting his youth 33 years ago and bemoaning the fact that they don’t make bubblegum like they used to. Across the road is the bioscope where he used to revel in Dick Tracey movies – and he’s inspired to renact a fight scene where the punches are punctuated with music. The lamp post he’s standing under should still bear the initials he carved for his first love. He can’t see them but he’s sure they’re there somewhere.

This trip down memory lane was born of a compulsion. To end what he considers his unproductive life by gassing himself. Tightly closed inside his vehicle and more than a little nervous, he turns on the car radio. Who’s singing? You guessed it. So, he heads back to where there was an apparent sighting of the King of Rock, right there opposide the movie house on Union Crescent. Standing underneath his lamp post, waiting for his hero to make an appearance, he reflects on his past and some of the highly amusing incidents that shaped it. He is also forced to face one of the terrifying incidents of his youth that haunts him.

Master of the hanging sentence, Paul goes at full tilt for over an hour and the audience revels in every second. His characters are beautifully drawn - his war-damaged father; uncouth Uncle Alfred; boat builders Oom Karel and Joseph; his early sweetheart Lydia Swanepoel whose pony tail used to “bob-flick” him into a daze, and - my favourite - the compere of the Elvis look-alike competition!

Some 12 years after its first performance in 1992, The Return of Elvis du Pisanie has lost none of its brilliance and neither has its performer. It’s easy to see why it once won more awards in a single year than any other play in the history of South African theatre. Miss it and you’ll really lose out. The Return of Elvis du Pisanie runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until May 22. Book at Computicket. – Caroline Smart




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