A stage, empty but for an army general’s uniform hanging from the ceiling, a carpeted floor and a chair, Die Reuk Van Appels relies on the story telling skills of Gideon Lombard to draw the audience in to the world as seen through the eyes of an 11 year old, coming of age in 1970’s apartheid South Africa. The story is compelling, and I remained hooked from beginning to end. I was born a year after the story is set, and this play reminded me of aspects of my own childhood, but also reminded me just how liberal my own upbringing was.
Growing up in apartheid era South Africa, Marnus Erasmus, son of a South African Defense Force general is innocent and naive. Indoctrinated too, by his parents, his school, schoolmates and the radio. Gideon Lombard relays tales about his parents, sister, domestic worker and her son in a way that reminds me very much of the schoolboy character that I have played regularly over the last 12 years on comedy stages. The show has its moments of comic relief, but there are many laughs brought about in the audience, startled into laughter by shocking reminders of beliefs white South Africans once held about others.
There are elements to the storyline that I do not wish to give away, but even in the buildup to a dramatic plot twist Gideon Lombard, under the direction of Lara Bye, grips tight to the audience’s attention. Die Reuk Van Appels is based on the debut novel of the same name by Mark Behr, translated and published in English as ‘The Smell of Apples‘. The original Afrikaans novel was out of print, but thanks to the praise this production has received on the stages of the KKNK and National Arts Festivals, is back on the shelves.
Having seen the play, and being held spellbound for the duration, I now plan to get my hands on the book. Die Reuk Van Appels is on stage now at the South African State Theatre as part of their Afrikaans Season which opened on Saturday evening. My advice: Go and see it!