Love shows the way to reconciliation
Paul Slabolepszy’s play ‘Suddenly the Storm’ showing at Hilton Arts Festival
I HAVE to confess upfront, I am a fan of Paul Slabolepszy. I am also a friend of his.
I was the fan first, the friend part came later. That started off almost 25 years ago when I began my publicity business.
I first worked with Slabolepszy — known to his friends as “Slab” — and the late Bill Flynn in the madcap comedy production, Heel Against the Head in those heady days when the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup back in 1995.
Since then I have worked on most of his productions on tour to Durban.
It is because of our long-standing connection that I also find myself the self-appointed guardian of Slab’s words — like when the Oxford Book of Idioms attributed the first print use of the word “moegoe” to Slab and they spelt his name incorrectly. I wrote to tell them.
Recently I had a conversation on Facebook with a well-known South African author debating whether you spelt “poephol” with or without the “h”. I knew it was with an “h”. It’s a word Paul uses. A lot.
I have always loved his depiction of our uniquely South African stories.
The characters have always resonated for me. I see them. I know them — both the tragic and comedic and many of those in between.
And what amazes me is that Slab continues to pen story after story, offering South African society varying opportunities for self-reflection: an ongoing open invitation to share and explore new vistas on the fascinating, forever challenging world that we at the tip of Africa inhabit.
An accomplished, award-winning actor whose career began way back in the early 1970s, Slabolepszy is one of the country’s most prolific playwrights.
He has penned 33 plays, many screen and television plays, as well as countless radio plays.
His latest offering Suddenly the Storm which has enjoyed critical acclaim in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg (winning the Naledi best new South African play award), will have two performances at this year’s Hilton Arts Festival which begins today.
Suddenly the Storm is Paul’s first play after seven years and took him five years to write.
He describes it as “a thriller, shot through with dark humour and many twists and turns” which plays out when Namhla Gumede, born on June 16, 1976, arrives at a plot on the Far East Rand, belonging to Dwayne and Shanell Combrink, to seek answers to questions that have been buried 40 long years.
“Suddenly the Storm is in essence the story of our country. It’s a profoundly poignant tale — heart-breakingly sad and at the same time gloriously uplifting,” he explains.
“Inspired by events that have taken place in our country over the past 40 odd years, the play throws into focus the lives of three ordinary people and how living in this tortured yet glorious land has shaped them.
“I had a need to tell a story that would reveal that — beyond the injustice and brutality of a racist system that caused untold misery in the lives of the majority of its citizens — love can flourish; love can heal.
“The sins of the past will never be forgotten, but it is love and sharing that will show the way to reconciliation.”
Dare I ask him the question that so often gets trotted out by those who do not know the extensive body of Slab’s work — the one which asks about “his fascination with the plight of the lower middle class white South Africans and in particular its men”.
He is quick to respond: “Not all my plays are about lower middle class white men.
“This might have been true in my very early plays. If you look at Pale Natives, Whole in One, Crashing the Night, Not the Big Easy, Art of Charf, to name only a few of my 33 plays, the entire spectrum of our society is covered, with strong women featuring in Braait Laaities, Art of Charf, Over the Hill, Fordsburg’s Finest, Crashing the Night and Suddenly the Storm.
“Having said that, it is important that we need to continue to probe and to question. Right now a terrible old white man is running the most powerful nation on the planet. Should he be ignored because he is both old and white?
“Everything that happens in our society impacts on everything else. There should be no life or personality, male or female, that remains unexamined. There are lessons and stories everywhere and the theatre is the ‘conversation’ amongst all humanity that can never ever stop.”
Spend any length of time with Slab and you will soon realise that he is constantly scheming and plotting stories. His brain is bubbling with ideas and themes that could be potential plays. What helps him to gather the material to write?
“I think observing, listening and taking note of what people say and how they say it is important. Everything — the secrets, lies, the pain and the happiness.
“I collect stories or snippets of stories that melt into other tales that lurk around every corner. I am constantly curious, inquisitive about absolutely everything.
“I believe we can only ever tell our own stories. I sat with Suddenly the Storm for a long, long time. I had to tell it.
“We cannot go forward as a nation unless we take stock of what has gone before. This play is my ‘love-in-a-time-ofhate’ story.
There are still so many questions (around 1976, for example) that need answering. This story may or may not have happened at that particular time in our history. One thing is for sure — this is a story that springs from our past.”
Finally, because we always want to know, what are his three favourite plays?
“They all are my favourites but Suddenly is up there along with Saturday Night at the Palace and The Return of Elvis du Pisanie. Palace is about hatred. Elvis is about redemption. And Storm is about love.”
• Catch Suddenly the Storm in the Grindrod Bank Theatre at the Hilton Arts Festival tomorrow and Sunday, September 16 at 10 am.
The play is directed by Slab’s longtime friend and colleague, Bobby Heaney, and features Slab alongside Charmaine Weir-Smith and Renate Stuurman.
Durban designer Greg King created the evocative set.
Tickets are R199. Please note: not suitable for under 12s.
• Paul will also feature in A Slice of Slab in conversation with director and friend, Heaney, tomorrow at 5 pm in the CFI Lecture Theatre. Tickets are R80.
If you love Slab’s plays, are studying or teaching about him at school or varsity; here’s a superb opportunity to get some fascinating insights into his inspirations and work.
A scene from Suddenly the Storm, written by Paul Slabolepszy, featuring Renate Stuurman, Charmaine Weir-Smith and Slabolepszy. Paul Slabolepszy.