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TO HOUSE REVIEW (article first published : 2006-11-29)

In their continuing project of encouraging contemporary South African Theatre, The Playhouse Company has revived To House by Durban lawyer and playwright Ashwin Singh and first produced in the Catalina Theatre in 2004.

The story is set in a housing complex in Durban, and the main protagonists are neighbours Jason (Thomie Holtzhausen) and Sibusiso (Arifani Moyo).

Jason is in trouble - he has been retrenched, his dubious financial honesty is under some scrutiny and his wife is divorcing him - and demanding more and more of his furniture, including his beloved recliner.

On the other hand, Sibusiso is on the way up, a university law lecturer with massive ambition, happy to climb on the backs of others to get what he wants. But he has furnished his flat, complete with recliner, to ape Jason's.

Sibusiso is living with his Indian girlfriend, Kajol (Shika Budhoo), but she comes with the baggage of an extended family, and that is not part of what Sibusiso wants in his quest for success. The awful thought that her mother might move in, and the presence of her smooth operator Uncle Deena (Santhiran Moonsamy) is proving too much for him. Also living in the complex is Sanjay (Pranesh Maharaj), like Sibusiso a law lecturer but with far less ambition - he rather fancies the idea of giving it up to run a take-away.

Using the space of the Drama Theatre, director Caroline Smart has managed to get around one of the major problems of the first production by splitting the stage and creating Jason and Sibusiso's apartments as side-by-side mirror images of each other. The numerous short scenes that made the original To House uncomfortably jerky now flow more easily into one another, with both apartments always visible. Irek Karamon's set and Richard Parker's lighting design facilitate this and are both excellent.

The play offers comment on the social aspirations and fears of South Africa as people, artificially forced into their own compartments for so long, find themselves dealing with a new situation, their certainties and the protection they gave now under threat by a changed environment. There is humour - aided by the addition of a new character in the gardener who was only an offstage voice first time round - and tension, and the competitive interaction between the two main characters, laced with racial overtones, is well realised by excellent performances from Holtzhausen and Moyo. It is a fine debut on the professional stage for Moyo, a former Pietermaritzburg student who looks set for big things.

To House is still very "talky", with a lot of explanation needed to justify why the characters act as they do. And I still have something of a problem with the character of Sanjay - he is a loser, but an apparently kind and generous one and for me, his motivation is not sufficiently clear. I half expected him to do something startling, but he never did. But nevertheless, this is a good production of a play that, despite some flaws, offers considerable interest as a look into how South Africans are coming to terms with themselves and the problems and opportunities of their new society. - Margaret von Klemperer




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