Reuk van Appels: Art liberated from a stained hand

From one who has been fucked over by the security branch in the 80s, it burns me to watch a play based on  former impimpi  Mark Behr’s novel Die Reuk van Appels.

But this is Johann  Smith’s reworking of the original and art has a way of liberating itself from the stained hand of its progenitor.

It’s a good piece of theatre. Gideon Lombard, directed with sensitivity and insight by Lara Bye, offers a sublime performance and Smith and others have made, I suspect, an effort to make the Afrikaans accessible.

Perhaps the dark, cruel, perfidious world of the author has given us the key to unlock the internal workings of a racist, militarised, white Afrikaner family.

Think Hitler and his love for Eva Braun, and you will get the idea of a surreal morality of a “happy family” led by an SADF brigadier general, as seen through the eyes of his young son.

Like all good horror stories, unfortunately this one probably spawned by truth, we slip slowly through the social-psychological layers. We journey back to 1973, and straight into purgatory. The secret of white happiness is revealed as dystopian, patronising and profoundly racist, and there is an inbuilt self-destruct button avoided only when Cuban MiGs do the job and take out our character in Angola.

Be prepared for the penis moment when Lombard’s character, about to die on someone else’s border, sadly says goodbye to his mannetjie. In full glare of stage lights, he delivers a Morrison-like monologue to his cock, but includes his balls. And he takes his time about it too, turning his bits and bobs over slowly. It is shocking, taboo and tragic, but it works as theatrical device.

Die Reuk van Appels is on the main programme at the National Arts Festival. One show left on Saturday 8 July. book here.

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