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

OUT OF BOUNDS (article first published : 2007-10-11)

Tonight at Seabrooke’s Theatre was the third time I have seen Rajesh Gopie’s one man show, Out of Bounds directed by Tina Johnson, which has garnered numerous theatre awards around South Africa since its first viewing at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 1999. I first saw it in Grahamstown and then again in the Playhouse Loft a few months later.

As I said in the review for the Loft performance, Rajesh Gopie “proves himself a consummate storyteller, relating his tales with sensitivity, humour and panache”. Eight years on, this multi-layered dramatic piece still offers compelling theatre.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Lal Lalchand, growing up in a working class Indian community in Phoenix, Durban, after his early years as part of an extended family in Inanda. Perpetually reminded by his various uncles that he comes from proud Lalchand warrior stock, young Lal finds that his male relations are often found wanting in the success and role model stakes.

There is an intricate scene in which Rajesh plays all four men – Uncle Beam being the aggressive one – as they steadily get more drunk on cane and coke after an argument. Another hilarious scene takes place in the kitchen between his mother Leela and his aunts Sushi and Ruby whose tempers rise when Auntie Kantha swans in and informs them that she has decided to employ a maid, Toko.

Toko and her stories form a stabilising haven for Lal and, in his stout little heart, he swears to preserve her from harm. Until one night, drawn by strange sounds of seeming agony coming from Toko’s outside room, he discovers a figure of evil (his uncle, in fact) on top of her, bouncing up and down ... “and eating her!”

He tells of his beloved grandmother’s annual birthday when the entire Lalchand family goes to the beach. Before long, they are interrupted by two white policemen (“I had never seen a white person so close before”) and are made to move to the Indian part of the beach. Suddenly the Lalchand warriors are not so war-like and Lal gets his first taste of apartheid.

The story continues through the violence in Inanda in 1985 when the family was forced to flee and split up. Now settled in Phoenix, his father Arjun starts a shoe repair business from home but goes downhill on a steady stream of alcohol. The fairer sex starts making an impact on Lal and we meet the busty Sheryl Ogle, the “man-eating” Manju and barbie doll Alicia Maharaj. His cross-dressing cousin embarrasses the family at a celebration and Lal is the only one to recognise the internal suffering of the young man, a suffering which is to end in tragedy.

Rajesh plays no less than 28 characters, all well-drawn and identifiable from either a slight toss of the head, a distinctive body movement or a wave of his long sensitive hands. Auntie Kantha has a flamboyant wave, the school principal (who reminds Lal of an Indian Buddy Holly) lifts his spectacles precisely; a stomach thrust produces the Afrikaans policeman, and bowed legs identify the neighbour, Spitter. Most endearing is his beloved grandmother helped by a simple piece of draped material over the head.

The setting is ultra simple – a raised dais on which stands the framework of a door with two window frames hanging either side, a chair and a rustic bench. For the rest, Rajesh’s interpretations of his characters take you to wherever they go – a party, a school principal’s office, university orientation day, the seaside, the tragic scene of his cousin’s bedroom. Your imagination does the rest. There are some lighting problems when Rajesh is often under-lit and this can be very frustrating for an audience member.

The title Out of Bounds can be looked at in several ways – the obvious reference to the apartheid regime, as painfully reminded in the beach scene, and the fact that Lal breaks out of his bounds, as it were, and makes something of his life. However, this is not achieved without pain and bitterness.

In its short eight year history, Out of Bounds has made an impact. It’s an important dramatic work – a reminder of a past we must never forget but at the same time reminding us that humour is a major component of survival. You’ll laugh, your heart will ache in some scenes but then you’ll laugh again as Rajesh skilfully steers you through this riveting piece of theatre.

Performances of Out of Bounds, presented by Rasa Productions in association with the 1860 Pioneers Foundation, Lotus Fm and Community Projects, take place from Mondays to Fridays at 19h30 until October 27 with two performances on Saturdays at 17h00 and 20h00 (Sundays at 17h00). Tickets R70 Mondays and Tuesdays, R80 Wednesdays and Thursdays and R100 Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Book at Computicket on 083 915 8000. Charities and corporate bookings on 084 203 7362 or email rasaprod@icon.co.za – Caroline Smart




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