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GRAHAMSTOWN - DRAMA (article first published : 1999-07-3)

Presented by the Baxter Theatre, As the Koekie Crumbles provides a new insight to life in Africa. Written and performed by Fiona Coyne, it is a one-woman show directed by Ralph Lawson with sensitive lighting by Brian Collins.

It probably appealed particularly because Kenya is the land of my birth and upbringing so I empathised strongly with the longing for Kenya in the opening remarks: “I was first aware that I had a problem when I saw Out of Africa.”

The epitome of sophistication, Fiona Coyne sits on a set of matching luggage dressed in an short (very) black cocktail dress, black stockings, high-heels and pearls, a pith helmet on her dark red hair and a bush jacket which she manages to turn into a fashion statement. The three angled screens, like windows, are lit to match mood and time of day.

It’s the window image that sparks off the narration. Unlike Karen Blixen who could look out of her window onto the stretches of the Athi Plains, our heroine was born in an area that presented her with the scenic view of a mine dump outside her bedroom window. She dreamed of “going to live in some place sophisticated - like Pretoria.”

Arriving in Kenya, the first person she meets is Sonia Schoeman, an Afrikaanse meisie trying to come to terms with spiders which terrify her and a lifestyle in which she is expected to get a four-wheel drive as well as some servants (at least nine).

Donning a flamboyant long red chiffon scarf, Fiona becomes Alice Hartley-Cooper presenting a totally accurate portrayal of a colonial socialite, long out of love with her husband and finding consolation in the ever-handy gin bottle and drawling “I can remember when you lot (South Africans) weren’t allowed off the plane, let alone into the Country Club!”

Then there’s the rather crass American Gillian Howes and a Russian artist who is constantly eating.

Fiona Coyne has produced a well-written script with much refreshing humour and beautifully defined characters. Having spent four years in Kenya, she is able to portray accurately the kind of life still led there today among the white `elite’. She also articulated for me so clearly for the first time the question of whether the Africa of tomorrow will ever accept white people as her own. “Will Africa ever show signs that we’ve been here?” she says. “Will the plains ever reflect a colour we wore?” and, finally, “While we may be thinking of leaving Africa, Africa may very well leave us.”

As the Koekie Crumbles forms part of the Baxter Theatre’s New Writing Programme launched in 1997 to develop new South African playwrights and offer opportunities to those already established.


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