Balbesit, directed by Jaco Bouwer, starring Neels Coetzee, Mark Hoeben, Brendon Daniels, Albert Pretorius, Bongi Mantsai, Wessel Pretorius, Christiaan Olwagen, Andile Vellum and De Klerk Oelofse. Shown as part of the kykNET Silwerskerm Festival in Camps Bay until 30 August 2014.
STEYN DU TOIT
Saartjie Botha’s Balbesit has been one of the most significant local plays to emerge in recent years. Presented as a plain-spoken, unfiltered gaze into the minds of South African men, not only does it reveal a mixed bag of insights, but under Jaco Bouwer’s direction this Naledi-winning piece also challenges conventional methods of storytelling and constructing a narrative.
Presented as part of the kykNET Silwerskerm Festival in Camps Bay, the play now makes its highly anticipated transition from stage to screen. Free from the ephemerality of theatre and live performance, the production now, more than ever, becomes a crucial document of our time. A permanent, audiovisual catalogue of our fears, dreams, wounds, insecurities, hatred and shared experiences.
Featuring a star-studded cast physically making up an entire rugby team (plus reserves), the script’s foundation was laid using actual opinions found under News24/IOL’s comment sections, as well as status updates from Facebook and other social media platforms. The result, as you’ll no doubt know from scouring these online rostrums against your better judgment, is more often than not a very distressing affair. Everyone has an opinion. And everyone wants to be heard.
Through rugby as metaphor, Balbesit’s racially diverse ensemble represents these kinds of (often anonymous) typed utterances. Similar to a computer’s binary code, the performers represent the ones and zeros making up the operating software South Africa runs on in 2014. Described as “an exercise in voices,” what emerges is one big maul of machismo, white guilt, inequality, land ownership, religion, politics, love, entitlement, ambition and the Springboks.
Shot during the production’s run at Artscape in June, Bouwer’s film provides the perfect vehicle to bring the viewer even closer to what made this play so arresting in the first place. Favouring synchronised choreography, vocal harmonies and raw emotion over a linear, plot-driven narrative, the camera does not miss a beat. Shuddering Adam’s apples, strained muscles, facial hair, dirty bare feet and evocative eyes – no drop of sweat is overlooked and no emotion left uncaptured.
Through Michael Cleary’s cinematography we get to see the nuanced facial expressions – often difficult to see the further you sit towards the back of the theatre –on the actors’ faces while they make their way through their physically and emotionally demanding performance. Similar to the voices they represent, no two scenes are ever framed, shot and presented in the same way. As a result one never feels like you are watching a filmed play, but rather a series of vignettes randomly plucked from the populace.
Divided into 24 chapters – each depicting a far-reaching event/notion/trend, from alcohol-fueled shenanigans around the Saturday braaivleis fire to a coloured performer emphatically remembering how his grandmother wept when Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated – Bouwer and the rest of his team manages to successfully place the dialogue into a broader context for the viewer. It is a context through which to consider these spewings, and against which you can measure your own personal behaviour.
Poetic, rhythmic and raw, one can only hope that Balbesit’s film will be shown far and wide. It’s a crucial piece for anyone who considers themselves emotionally invested in this country’s future.