The South Afreakins
Reviewed – 20th February 2019
“She is confident, technically brilliant, writes superbly and plays her roles entirely convincingly”
On the day of his retirement, Gordon is keen to slip into a life of white privilege, golf-playing and rugby-watching, expecting simply to wait and be waited on. To his wife, Helene, it’s now time to escape South Africa, leaving behind the terrors of pilfering maids, the violence of the disenfranchised black population – and her own imagination. It’s a short-lived debate. Despite the loss of lands, memories, dear old friends and Gordon’s flat-out ‘no’, they find themselves on a plane to New Zealand. They are an ordinary and hardly sympathetic pair, yet through their marital back and forth we get to know and like them better. Helene; bright and optimistic, with a lightly comic desperation, Gordon; leaden, stooped, but loyal and caring. Once settled in the promised land Helene thrives, Gordon declines, lost on the wrong side of his own life and yearning for home.
The script is an object lesson in writing about what you know. Robyn Paterson, an experienced TV and film performer and director south of the equator, has built up this play by listening with ruthless clarity to her own parents, and renders them both with deftness. Not only does she constantly toggle between the two throughout ninety minutes of rapid firing dialogue, she somehow word-paints the significant others in their lives in various one-sided conversations on phones and Skype. We get a sense, too, of the couple’s back story, most poignantly through Helene’s paintings of a tree outside, planted in memory of their dead son. The action itself takes us into planes, buses and a hospital room as well as their two homes, with scene changes effected endearingly by Helene herself, tidying away unwanted props in character while on the phone.
Dressed in a simple, black tee-shirt and jeans, Robyn Paterson seems to conjure up this whole world from within herself. It uses her childhood memories, her talent for mimicry and her family’s story, as well as playing all the parts; she even uses a practical lamp to operate her own light changes; The South Afreakins is a one-woman show of exceptional one-woman-ness. She is confident, technically brilliant, writes superbly and plays her roles entirely convincingly. How all this can apply to subjects other than her own family and to subjects other than white South African displacement in the 1990s, who knows? But in and of itself, this is a rare accomplishment that qualifies as a ‘must-see’.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Tom Chaplin
The South Afreakins
The Space until 23rd February
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: