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SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE PALACE (article first published : 2008-06-19; last edited : [an error occurred while processing this directive])

Paul Slabolepszy is one of South Africa’s most prolific and successful playwrights. His Saturday Night at the Palace explores issues of racism, the apartheid system and dysfunctional-often-violent behaviour, all the while wrapping it in a theatrical package that is both exciting, challenging and entertaining.

Saturday Night at the Palace was first performed in 1982 at the Market Theatre’s Upstairs venue in Johannesburg. Directed by Bobby Heaney, it featured Paul Slabolepszy himself as well as another South African theatre luminary, the late Bill Flynn, and Fats Dibeco. The show then moved to London in 1984 where it was performed at the Old Vic Theatre. In 1987, the play was made into a film with Paul and Bill working alongside top actor John Kani, supported by some of the cream of South African acting talent including Arnold Vosloo, Joanna Weinberg, Marius Weyers, Ramalao Makhene, Sean Taylor and Frank Opperman.

Paul Slabolepszy and Bill Flynn are one heck of an act to follow but up at Seabrooke’s Theatre at DHS and soon to be seen on the Fringe of the National Arts Festival, the DHS production of Saturday Night at the Palace is well worth a visit. Directed by Shaun Gray, the production is dedicated to the memory of the much-loved Bill Flynn who died last year.

The standard of this production is made the more remarkable in that all three performers are in Matric – Kurt Solomon and Thubelihle “T” Wela are 18 and, up until his birthday yesterday, David Jackman was only 16. Not surprisingly, all three are prefects! They also all appeared in the Durban Girls High production of To Kill a Mockingbird which won last year’s Fools Award for Student Production.

When the play was first produced, none of the actors were even born! Their understanding of their characters and the focus and maturity in which they carry out their roles is all kudos to Shaun Gray’s tight direction. This production could hold its own in mainstream theatre.

The scene is set early in the morning at an isolated roadhouse somewhere near Brakpan. The main character is Vince, a volatile young man operating on a very short fuse. He’s out of work and has just been thrown off the soccer team as well as out of his lodgings. Most of his frustrations get dumped on his dysfunctional not-very bright friend, Forsie. He continually humiliates him until a more suitable candidate in the form of the roadhouse’s black waiter, September, comes along. From then on, Vince’s anger gets vented on the unfortunate man until the confrontation ends in the death of one of them.

As Vince, Kurt Solomon shows huge promise as one of Durban’s most exciting actors should he decide to take theatre up as a career. Commanding the stage for most of the time, this role is a marathon, requiring stamina, control, strong articulation and focus. All these Kurt fulfils with the coiled destructive energy so necessary for the part.

As the gentler, kind-hearted Forsie, David Jackman makes the most of his humorous lines, the audience responding with a poignant sympathy to his naive comments. He maintains strength and power when things go horribly wrong and we discover that he may look dof but there’s a Machiavellian sense of survival behind it all.

All roles could easily swing to the stereotypical but this never happens. In Grahamstown, they will obviously need to make the production “bigger” to fit the Masonic Hall where they are performing at the National Arts Festival. However, at Seabrooke’s it works perfectly and as an audience we get the feeling that we are watching from the bushes surrounding the roadhouse as the action unfolds.

September, who proudly tells Forsie he won the title of Delivery Boy of the Month in August 1978, is a difficult role to handle because he is the (initially) non-responsive catalyst for Vince’s taunts and jibes. “T” Whela played this older character with dignity and restraint, while allowing September’s sense of fun to come through earlier in the play.

Saturday Night at the Palace runs at Seabrooke’s Theatre at DHS until June 25 with performances at 19h00. Bookings on 082 894 7541. – Caroline Smart




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