Since Theatrerocket Productions first premiered Die reuk van appels at the 2017 KKNK, audiences have been enthused by this very emotive drama. It tells the coming-of-age story of 11-year-old SADF ‘nurtured’ Marnus Erasmus during the late 1970s and early 1980s, as first penned by the author Mark Behr. I was lucky enough to be in the audience the day Gideon Lombard took his first steps onto the stage and into the role of Marnus, and I regard myself as very fortunate to have seen it again during its current run at the Fugard Theatre. What was initially a fantastic play, has grown and settled into something quite phenomenal.
Lombard’s performance is flawless as he switches between a diverse range of complex characters with ease, but also with buckets of emotion, stirring up a myriad of humanity versus justice-ignored questions that still today need, deserve, and in fact demand contemplation and answering. Everything in his performance is carefully considered, from the tone of voice, body language and even facial expressions, to the use of the boundaries of the set – the latter a stark reminder of the physical and emotional restrictions of that time.
Under the amazing direction of Lara Bye, this powerful one-man play has grown into an unstoppable force. Every once in a while you find that golden moment, where you know an actor and director speak the same language, because theatre resonates with such a duo at the same frequency. That moment is Die reuk van appels, and that duo is Lombard and Bye. Their combination of vision and talent presents itself as something so poignant and astonishing that no one who sees the play can declare themselves unmoved.
At the heart of it, the story of Marnus is one of abuse of power at various levels. But that is not where the heart wrenching punch lies. The impact of the abuse is most compellingly revealed when it stares back at you through the eyes of a child: eyes through which you witness how innocence turns into a question, then disbelief, and ultimately a broken spirit. Yet, that spirit, regardless of the war that rages around him and inside him, still clings to the dream of a better, different, reality, in the face of his mortality. It is that spirit of Marnus that leaves with you as you step outside the historic, but relevant, flashback – with watery eyes and an appropriately bruised heart – to take his narrative further and engage in the conversations that need to happen, instead of turning a blind eye to evils still at play.
If there could be only one must-see production this year, Die reuk van appels would be it. Book your tickets at Computicket to see it at the Fugard Theatre before run ends 11 November 2017. Please note this production is staged in Afrikaans with English surtitles. It carries an age restriction of 16, as it contains scenes with sex, nudity, strong language, violence, and prejudice.