Stage play echoes concerns of gentrification

Nicholas Pauling and Lesoko Seabe star in Clybourne Park.

Two southern suburbs actors believe the South African premiere of the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Clybourne Park, comes at a very relevant time for Cape Town, particularly in light of concerns over increasing gentrification.

Woodstock resident Nicholas Pauling and Kenilworth’s Lesoko Seabe are two members of the all South African cast who have taken up the challenge of Bruce Norris’s acclaimed dark comedy, which is being staged at the Fugard Theatre from August 16 until October 1, Tuesdays to Saturdays from 8pm.

The script explores the fault line between race and property, and, essentially, is a play of two halves.

In the first, set in 1959, the characters of Russ and Bev are selling their desirable two-bedroom Chi-cago Bungalow in Clybourne Park, which enables the first black family to move into the neighbourhood, creating ripples of discontent among the cosy white suburbanites.

Then, after fast forwarding to 2009, the same property is being bought by a young white couple, Lindsey and Steve, whose plan to raze and redevelop the house stirs similar echoes of unhappiness in the now all-black community.

The cast also includes stage luminaries Andrew Buckland (Tobacco, and the Harmful Effects Thereof); Susan Danford (Broken Glass, Missing…); Scott Sparrow (Strangers On A Train); Pope Jerrod (Othello) and Claire-Louise Worby (Court).

Sitting down with the Tatler last week, Pauling and Seabe said audiences would be lulled into a false sense of security by the first half before the second half “shocked” them out of their comfort zone.

“I think in the first half you will find people will relax and just enjoy the humour, believing the situation is something ‘over there’ in America.

“But, in the second half, they will start to recognise the situation as being something very close to home,” Seabe said.

For both Pauling and Seabe, it is a welcome return to the stage as in the past few years they have worked mainly on television, film and voice projects.

Most recently, Pauling worked on the film The Dark Tower alongside Hollywood star Matthew McConaughey, while one of Seabe’s last outings on the boards was as part of the cast of Siembamba, which was nominated for a Best New South African Script at the 2016 Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards and won the Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award in the previous year.

Pauling said he felt privileged to share a scene with McConau-ghey, whom he described as incredibly professional and a “hard worker”.

“He stays in character the entire time.”

Seabe is also delighted that she has been able to return to the stage, something very close to her heart.

Being able to act alongside theatre doyens Buckland and Danford has been the icing on the cake.

“It is a privilege watching them work. They are so focused, and seeing how they approach their work is amazing. It is almost like there is a process of osmosis that happens, and you improve just by being in their presence,” she said.

Pauling agreed wholeheartedly, describing Buckland as someone whose humbleness stood out, despite all that he has achieved on stage.

“I have so much respect for him and the way he goes about his performances. You learn so much working with him.”

Turning to aspects of the South African theatre industry as a whole, the actors said a positive was that there were a lot of up-and-coming young writers whose contemporary work was offering audiences new and fresh perspectives.

“Theatre makers like Amy Jephta, Louis Viljoen and Rust Cooperative’s Penny Youngelson and Philip Rademeyer are examples of young SA playwrights who are writing about the contemporary South African moment and I think audiences appreciate having their own world represented on stage, “ Seabe said.

Clybourne Park will run at The Fugard Theatre, from Tuesday August 16 to Saturday October 1, Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm.

The Fugard Theatre is in the heart of District Six, on the corner of Harrington and Caledon streets, Cape Town.

Tickets for Clybourne Park ranging from R120 to R240, and can be booked through Computicket, at any Shoprite Checkers outlet or through the Fugard Theatre box office at 021 461 4554.

There is a 15 percent discount for the Friends of The Fugard members.