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ART OF CHARF (article first published : 2005-09-20)

Based in KwaZulu-Natal, we usually only get to see most of South Africa’s best actors and actresses on television or film. This means that we tend to lose sight of the fact that they are highly skilled in theatre craft.

So, as always, it was a joy to head for Hilton last week to the 2005 Witness Hilton Arts Festival which again offered a feast of drama in its line-up with a number of productions coming from Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The first production I saw was Paul Slabolepszy’s new play The Art of Charf (subtitled Lady Lonely Hearts). Directed by Bobby Heaney, it is billed as a “quasi-romantic comedy”.

The Dictionary of South African English offers several meanings of “charf”, all referring to a mode of speech: to tell someone something; say something; chat someone up or make a pass at them..

Whether he does it consciously or not, newly divorced plumber Cedric Tidbury handles the art of charf well. However, it’s not your romantic, charming approach. He’s vague, disorganised and hardly lovable, with non-existent dress sense. For Gloria van der Vyfer, an Afrikaans "agony aunt" for local women's magazines for 25 years, he’s the last thing she needs in her life at this moment.

Technology in terms of the internet and on-line “chat rooms” has rendered her computer dating service redundant and she is in the process of packing up her office and coping with a heavy breather on the phone when Cedric wanders in - all fired up with money to pay … and looking for a suitable date. He couldn’t be more unsuitable dating material if he tried and Gloria has neither the energy, inclination or patience to deal with him. However, she hasn’t bargained on Cedric’s persistence! Or his genuine nature.

Paul’s characters are beautifully drawn and he always hits the nail on the head with his acute observation of people’s personalities. Elise Cawood and Wilson Dunster give fine performances of these two disparate people who eventually warm to each other after a hugely entertaining journey of arguments, corny jokes and insults, as well as exchanges of memories and disastrous experiences. Much amusement is created with Cedric’s attempt at Swedish and he’s got all the break-dancing movements off pat.

I laughed and cried and laughed again. If you missed it in KZN, it’s worth a trip up to Gauteng as The Art of Charf goes on to play the Liberty Life Theatre on the Square from October 4 to November 12. For tickets, call the Liberty Life Theatre on the Square on 011 883 8606. – Caroline Smart




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