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THE BITTERBEK BLUES OF BEN (DIE BREKER) BAARTMAN (article first published : 2002-07-14)

Harry Kalmer’s excellent Die Bitterbek Blues of Ben (Die Breker) Baartman, tells the story of Ben Baartman, a 350lb wrestler who fell asleep in front of the TV only to wake up 14 years later after being in a coma.

When he wakes up he finds himself in the New South Africa - his wife remarried, his kids grown up and things just aren’t the way they used to be. Kalmer’s clever script provides for funny, absurd, yet thought-provoking theatre.

Tobie Cronjé displays an astonishing maturity and richness in his portrayal of Baartman. Known mostly for his comedy roles it has always been somewhat difficult to take Cronjé seriously. In Bitterbek he brings much depth to the character without ever confronting the audience with the comic picture one associates with the actor. The “funny” Tobie is still hilarious at times, yet poignant, honest and intense. The ideal actor for the play and vice versa.

Baartman’s recollection of his life before the coma, happily married with wife Rita, takes the audience through a memorable experience of ducktails, his wrestling career, politics, Bob Marley and others and progresses comparatively into a freedom struggle of his soul. The character’s journey into his past brings him to terms with what he has lost but also creates an acceptance thereof, eventually finding inner peace.

The commentary on his marriage, the funny condom sketch and (my favourite) the death sequence evolves into a beautiful love story with his new neighbour, Elaine.

Well-known and loved Cronjé, certainly one of my favourite actors, is simply beautiful and shines in his first ever one-man play.

The Bitterbek Blues of Ben (Die Breker) Baartman has played successfully at several arts festivals and the 2002 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown is no exception. - Thomie Holtzhausen




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