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SCENE IT: A broken life honestly explored in DIE HALWE HUIS

Barbara Loots

 

DIE HALWE HUIS, currently onstage at the Wave Theatre in Long Street (the old Space Theatre), reveals a moving story told from the perspective of a broken human. Broken by both his own choices and a past out of his control, the character of Brendan "Bumper" Jansen stands exposed, honest to his core.

DIE HALWE HUIS is inspired by the life and last moments of poet and writer, Bumper Jansen, who was born into poverty in Oudsthoorn at the height of apartheid and led a life of survival which took him to Brixton, Johannesburg, via the Cape Flats.


The play, penned by Ricardo Arendse, invites you to question if the scars left on a child by his family is a case of nature or nurture or nationalism. It puts a face to the issues being explored and cleverly draws the audience in to care about Bumper the protagonist before he starts revealing characteristics of him becoming the antagonist in the story of others.


Generational sins are front and centre in this production as it holds up a family-tinted broken mirror to the architects of apartheid whose discriminatory tendrils stretched all the way into the sanctity of the family unit.


DIE HALWE HUIS encourages the audience to look beyond the alcohol, drugs and violence that break families apart and dares them to ask why such vices are embraced by people trying desperately to escape indignity: the type of indignity that reveals itself as oppressive poverty, the type that clings to a soul for life. The message of this one-person play is one that amplifies a need for true healing.


Bumper Jansen (played by Marlo Minnaar) steps onto the stage as a talented yet flawed human being, tormented by monsters from his past. So familiar with the reality of existing purely to survive, you see him oscillating between numb existence and self-inflicted pain in pursuit of escapism. The play introduces him moments before his suicide; his life flashes in front of the audiences’ eyes. It highlights his fall into the trap of drugs, sex and self-mutilation as he spirals towards an end, the end, that he chooses for himself.

The set design is arranged to guide the audiences’ experience of Bumper at various stages of his life, and exhibits a clever use of bricks as the character takes you on a journey from Bridgton to Brixton. The sound design introduces a growl that lingers every time ‘Shadow’ (an initially soothing counter to the threats posed by other ‘monsters’) speaks to Bumper at cross-road moments in his life.


Minnaar, under the direction of Lee-Ann Van Rooi, fully embraces this journey into the sins of the father as rooted in the evils of a country. DIE HALWE HUIS has a clear trajectory from the start, revealing that no matter how hard people try to bend to circumstances to prevent themselves from breaking, the risk is that they bend so far that they become the monsters who tried to break them in the first place.


DIE HALWE HUIS is a tale of life, love, loss, oppression, survival and escapism (even if ultimately through death). The undertone of sadness is introduced from the first utterance and hangs in the room for the full 70-minute run, with occasional comedic moments offering temporary relief to the promise of the unavoidable tragic end. The one draw-back of that design is that it sets a trap that invites the performer to step onstage with heightened emotional vigor. This heightened tone does not allow much room for emotional differentiation throughout the unfolding journey: every moment then stands to be measured against the initial intensified emotional pitch, which deprives the audience of the opportunity to discover that sadness throughout the journey for themselves.


This however doesn’t mean that the play has no impact, on the contrary it still packs a very powerful punch and offers audiences the opportunity to experience an exceptional theatrical moment. It's a necessary telling of a captivating, tragic tale and deserves to be seen.


Part autobiographical, part fiction, THE HALWE HUIS tells a broader fictionalised story about men and the impact of patriarchy upon their daily lives. Following acclaimed runs at festivals over the last year, this is the last chance for Capetonian theatre lovers to see this work. It's onstage at The Wave Theatre until 25 July 2023, before it heads to Johannesburg and ultimately takes a final bow in Oudtshoorn.


Book your tickets for the Cape Town run at https://catchthewave.co.za/tc-events/die-halwe-huis/

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