Die Halwe Huis

When and where: The Wave Theatre, 44 Long Street, July 17-25 at 7.30pm
Booking link: https://catchthewave.co.za/tc-events/die-halwe-huis/  
If you have issues booking online: WhatsApp 066 236 8700 or e-mail liezel@catchthewave.co.za
Wave venue wheelchair access: Yes. There is a lift

Starring: Marlo Minnaar
Writer: Ricardo Arendse
Director: Lee-Ann van Rooi
Music: Les Javan
Lighting design: Roland du Preez  
Language: Afrikaans 70% & English 30%
Age advisory: Language, sex, nudity, violence. No under 15s. No late comers
Producer: Bossikop Productions
Duration: 70 mins, no interval        

Die Halwe Huis is on at The Wave Theatre (ex Space Theatre], in Cape Town, until July 25, 2023. The award winning play, written by Ricardo Arendse, stars Marlo Minnaar. This exceptional play hinges around a character, Bumper Jansen and his journey from his birth place in Outdthoorn to the Cape Flats, to Brixton in Johannesburg. The intensely dense text is compacted with layers of pain and anguish which include chronic depression, suicide, physical and emotional abuse, substance abuse, poverty, generational trauma and senseless cycle violence perpetuated by damaged individuals. Poetry and prose is threaded into the play so although it is not an easy piece to encounter, the writing is extraordinarily lyrical and beautiful and offsets the brutality, cruelty and despair, with the thrum of the music score, by Les Javan. Die Halwe Huis puts the gaze of the inner private life of Bumper Jansen, on stage as art, as theatre so that we may engage and reflect – with uncomfortable truths in our society.

The play is partly biographical with heightened fictional elements. Arendse did grow up in Outshoorn. He is divorced but he did not personally experience everything in this harrowing play. He is not Bumper Jansen. Lee-Anne van Rooi, the director of the play and partner of Arendse, says that a lot of the play is “fabrication – making sense of truths”. She also points out that Arendse is a poet – “before anything”. One of his poems made the cut as one of the best Afrikaans poems of the century. His writing gigs, includes scribing screenplay for international films. Die Halwe Huis is his first staged theatre play. In addition to being in the director’s seat of Die Halwe Huis, van Rooi has designed the image laden, set. She is also the producer.  

The genesis of the play began as a Facebook post, during lockdown, with the character, Bumper Jansen popping up. That post sparked interest and led to it being presented at a Teksmark [a KKNK project, in partnership with NATi and The Baxter Theatre]. It was then commissioned by the KKNK as a fully-fledged play, for its festival in Oudtshoorn. The play has had considerable success on the Afrikaans festival circuit.  Minnaar won a Woordtrofee for Best Actor at Woordfees 2022. His immersion in the character is breathtaking as he climbs inside this man who has retreated into his own world, with his demons and the past throttling him, with the lure of pills to numb him out of his despair. The final cut- to end it all –is summoning him. Minnaar prowls around the stage, through the metaphorical spaces of his life.

The title of the play, Halwe House may be literally translated as “half-house” but idiomatically it is tricky to translate, said Arendse when I asked him, after seeing the play: “I have given this some thought, but it remains a huge challenge. If I had to be pressed, I know it wouldn’t be a direct translation from Afrikaans, it just doesn’t work. It could possibly be, A NEEDLE TO MY SKIN, or BEFORE I GO, or  WHEN THE SHADOWS GROWL…God, ek weet nie…lol.”

Bumper Jansen is a man who has been shattered by life – broken and into pieces. He has no way of anchoring himself. Van Rooi’s stage design images this miasma of broken-ess, being halved, fragmented and crushed. The setting is the 1970s with a writer’s chair of the period. There is half-moon table propped up against a wall – with no long term support. Grey cement bricks which are typical of RDP homes are propped up by boards and stuffed with toys – totems from Bumper’s life- scraps of paper. Van Rooi says that in conceptualizing the set, she thought of “when you are going through townships- anywhere- there are papers blowing everywhere – papers and plastic …” I love the set which for me speaks of nesting. Despite the mess of Bumper’s life- there has been the quest to hold and keep things, stash them, into cubby holes, as treasures.

Van Rooi has used a palette of oranges and reds. She says that she was inspired by the colours of the Klein Karoo – where Bumper comes from – the saturated oranges and bleeding reds of the sunsets and the red scorched earth.  For me a potent image is at the start, when we see Bumper stripped back, in his underwear and then he wraps himself in his ruby wine coloured bath robe. Yes, he is retreating to his inner life of agony but for me, it speaks about the quest to demarcate a space, his space, within his head. It is an image of disquiet and also of comfort. I think this is what makes this play so engrossing for me – is the softening of the edges through images/objects, music, words, poetry.

With my less than perfect Afrikaans, unfortunately, I missed out on a lot of dialogue – although the sheer visceral presence of Minnaar as Bumper, transcended language. Speaking to people afterwards at the show and in the week, some people (with Afrikaans as first language), admitted that they also were unable to grasp all of dialogue. In a conversation with van Rooi, she pointed out that much of the language is dialect – steekstaal (language of ‘the district’) and if you are from Outshoorn, for example, you would understand the language and idiom and that may be foreign to a Cape Town person who is versed in Cape/Kaapse Afrikaans (tagged as Afrikaaps, by many). Certainly, this holds for most countries, where language is shaped by local argot/dialect and nuance in different regions and locations. I think that Die Halwe Huis is an important play and it would be great to see it staged with surtitles (perhaps in English and isiXhosa). Van Rooi says that they would be amenable to a translation but would need someone else to embark on the task and somehow deal with the trickiness when translating idiom. There is so much in Die Halwe Huis. I need to see it again.

Grave issues: Marlo Minnaar as Bumper Johnson in Die Halwe Huis, the play by poet and writer, Ricardo Arendse. This pic by Jeremeo le Cordeur is from the July 2023 season of the play at The Wave (ex-Space) in Cape Town. Note the wine coloured bath robe, worn by Bumper. The set design by Lee-Ann van Rooi (also the director/producer) includes a palette of reds, oranges and yellows. Van Rooi: “The orange of the Karoo – the yellow of the sun- the red orange of the sun and the red earth that is in the Klein Karoo.” The play is set in the 1970s and the furnishings reflect that time – more oranges and burnt umber etc.

✳ Images by Jeremeo le Cordeur. Related coverage on TheCapeRobyn: https://thecaperobyn.co.za/preview-die-halwe-huis-award-winning-drama-with-poetry-storytelling-and-music/