Langarm: Find a new vein

Flaring those dresses… Paxton Simons, Rushney Ferguson, and Shaneé de Beer swing up front. Junaide Abrahams and Byron Klaasen behind them. Photo: Claude Barnardo


Court injects new life into D6 while theatre reminisces

The wound of empty land that is District Six can finally begin healing, perhaps. Late last month the Land Claims Court ordered the government to develop a plan for the resettlement of families pushed out by the apartheid bulldozer blades. And there’s timelines. The rural development and land reform department has to report back to the court every three months and tell the judge how their housing plans are coming along. The ruling is way overdue. It’s 20 years since the deadline for land claims, and 50 years since the homes of a vibrant mixed race community started being torn down and families ripped from their roots and tossed onto barren sandy wastes.

The court ruling was bittersweet victory for the 1,078 families wanting to move back. Those who were 18 when they were uprooted are now 70-years-old. An entire adult life lived in exile from the city center where they were nurtured. If our government really cared about the people they are supposed to serve, those who were shifted to the Cape Flats on government trucks as young adults could have returned to the pulse of their birthplace when they were closer to 50. And many who have since died might have at least taken their last breath secure that their children were back on the slope of the mountain.

But the hope brought by the court ruling is tempered with our knowledge of the government’s ability to drag its feet and offer feeble excuse after feeble excuse.

In the meantime, there’s theatre. David Kramer’s Langarm is playing at The Fugard, right on District Six’s edge. It’s about ballroom dancing at the Canterbury Hotel, which is just around the corner from the stage, in, you guessed it, District Six. The title might throw some people off track, especially whiteys who associate langarm with sokkie music at a platteland municipal hall, but for coloured mense, particularly of a certain generation, it’s really just another word for ballroom dancing. But the title is also a clue to who’s going to get the biggest kick out of this much hyped song and dance, which is pretty much the generation who was still alive when District Six was full of people rather than rubble and weeds.

Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. Although the musical is set in 1965, which was the year before the District Six was declared white, it is also about ballroom, which is moerse popular among all generations. So there is that. But there’s no getting around the fact that being stuck in 1965 for two hours does make it long in the tooth. Particularly since we’ve been there before. With the late Taliep Petersen, David did District Six – Kanala, Fairyland, and Kat and the Kings, among others. All set in, yep, District Six. Taliep was born there so it’s not surprising he fixated on it. It’s just that the setting now feels done, and although the story damns the twisted apartheid thinking that made it illegal to fall in love with someone whose hair could or couldn’t pass the bizarre pencil test, the song and dance of it all flirts with a misplaced nostalgia. The format of the musical casts a romantic veil over everything. Even the bastard of a race-classifying petty government official – who is very well played by Pierre Nelson – seems more comic than mundanely evil. While musicals have this tendency, they can break through the glamour when they try hard enough. But it doesn’t help that the murder that eventually jolts the show out of complacency takes place offstage. Blood was as red and death as dark in 1965 as it is now. Hiding it keeps the story behind its glittery facade of long ago and reproduces memory’s tendency to gloss over pain.

Maybe it was just not the best performance. The second night after the nerves of opening could explain the dancing seeming a bit stilted at times. The Fugard certainly put a lot of work and wizardry into the set – although the box forming a stage on the stage to house the band was possibly not the best decision – and David knows what he’s doing when it comes to writing songs that can push a tear even as they tap a foot. The plot has enough turns to keep it interesting and Elton Landrew as the war-wounded Eddie perks up the dull moments. Then there’s Shaneé de Beer keeping the dances flowing gracefully despite not been given the spotlight.

So if you smaaked David’s other work and enjoy all the bells and whistles, you’ll have a ball. Just don’t expect anything groundbreaking. This one plays it safe.

Langarm is on at The Fugard all month, including a New Year’s Eve show for a lekka party.

Bookings and more info at

Langarm is written and directed by David Kramer.

Musical direction and arrangements by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder, choreography by Grant van Ster, set designed by Saul Radomsky.

Costume design by Widaad Albertus, lighting design by Gerda Kruger, sound design by David Classen.

Rushney Ferguson in the lead as Angelina, partnered by Cameron Botha as Jeff, with Kim Louis as Dinah, and Elton Landrew as Eddie. Pierre Nelson plays Van der Byl and Julio Jantjies plays Lulu.

Ensemble cast: Nadine Suliaman, Nathan Muller, Byron Klaasen, Paxton Simons, Shanee de Beer, Junaide Abrahams, Alexis Petersen, Lindokuhle Makanda.

Covers: Alistair Izobell for Eddie and Maya Spector for Dinah.

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