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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

ONE FOR THE ROAD (article first published : 2005-07-22)

Harold Pinter is not an easy playwright to handle from a director’s point of view – the work is powerful yet with a surreal quality that could easily tip over into the bizarre. His official website carries a comment he wrote in 1958 where he says that he believes “there are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false." Pinter’s contemporary response to his own words are that while the writer in him still stands by these assertions, as a citizen he must question what is truth and what is false.

Pascar Dube is a young director who graduated as recently as last year from the Durban Institute of Technology’s drama studies department. If his handling of Harold Pinter’s One for the Roadis anything to go by, then an exciting new director is moving onto the theatre scene. His young cast – mainly made up of drama students from Durban Institute of Technology – do him proud, putting in professional performances in a production that I hope will grace the Playhouse in the not too distant future.

One for the Road was first performed at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith, in London in 1984. Directed by Pinter himself, it featured Alan Bates in the lead role of Nicolas, the head of secret police who delights in psychological torture. Nicolas uses no weapons or instruments - it’s all through words or terrifying pauses where the victim’s imagination is encouraged to create its own horrific scenarios.

Handling this brutal role in Pascar Dube’s production with maturity and a steely strength is Tsepo S’dumo Mtshali who continues to impress with his appearance in DIT student productions. Nicolas strides comfortably around his office of antique-styled furniture, occasionally displaying unctuous concern about his victim’s well-being. He pours endless glasses of whisky, pontifically excusing that it’s just “one for the road”.

In the role of his victim (which Pinter oddly names Victor) is Junior Simpiwe Ngidi with Busisiwe Mgabhi as his wife, Gila. They have difficult roles to play as we need to feel their suffering although they have little dialogue. Junior is credible as the so-called enemy of the state, reduced to a shivering wreck by Nicolas’s machinations. While he is being interrogated, Gila is repeatedly raped in a cell nearby. While the audience can see her, he can’t – although he can guess at what’s happening through Nicolas’s smooth-tongued and taunting insinuations. Busisiwe’s silent screams and grunts tear the senses and her eventual interrogation by Nicolas is masterly.

Bhekani Biyela is another actor to watch closely. He plays one of the interrogating soldiers alongside Siyabonga Ndlela with young Mpumzi Swana as Victor and Gila’s young son, Nicky.

While One for the Road could be set in any country where there is a police state, Pascar Dube positions it in the old South Africa by the placing of the former national flag in Victor’s office. “My intent is not to try and open wounds from the past era,” he says. “However I am merely reminding the nation of what happened in order that we never repeat the same mistakes again.”

Good to see the Stable Theatre going from strength to strength and the introduction of an attractive bar-cum-restaurant is very welcome. Involving the use of scaffolding and chicken wire, Dean Mellor’s set is effective and workable, allowing for action in the cramped cell to happen alongside Nicolas’s office. However, if the venue is to stage works of the dramatic quality of One for the Road where the silences and pauses are vital, serious attention needs to be given to improving the acoustic quality of the theatre.

One for the Road has a short season of only three performances at the Stable Theatre, with the final two shows tomorrow at 14h00 and 19h00. Tickets R15 and R10 at the door. Catch it if you can – it’s only about 50 minutes long. - Caroline Smart

The production is supported by the National Arts Council and the Stable Theatre Art Centre.




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