All the Jewish men went home and called their mothers. A few elderly women trembled a little in fear of what lies ahead, while any Nigerian drug dealers reckoned they came out of it looking pretty decent. And everyone in the audience agreed they really had seen a very special piece of theatre. By LESLEY STONES.
“London Road” by Nicholas Spagnoletti is a simple story of two ladies interacting in their block of flats in Sea Point. It’s a run-down area where Rosa (Robyn Scott) represents the old-guard Jewish contingent and Stella (Ntomboxolo Makhutshi) is an illegal Nigerian immigrant.
How their lives come together is shown through a series of vignettes played out against the appropriately plain stage set of a table and two chairs.
What makes it remarkable is the astonishing way Scott – who turns out to be quite young – transforms herself into the ageing, abandoned, but undefeated Rosa. She’s an amazing actress, giving us a saggy-jawed, slack mouthed, frizzy-haired pensioner who ages visibly as time moves on. Scott makes Rosa feisty and opinionated, makes “Australia” sound like a swear word, annoys you with a grating accent, but still makes you want to reach out and hug her.
She’s utterly mesmerizing, and the script hands her some wonderful one-liners. Rosa’s children have emigrated, her husband has died, and she’s all alone, passing the time by spying on the neighbours and occasionally pulling her once-powerful social strings to help anyone she can. Yet she tells wicked tales of her glory days, and still puts the fear of god into unscrupulous slumlords.
It’s a script full of poignancy softened and spared from sentimentality by rich and perfectly timed humour. You don’t feel sorry for Rosa as her breath and her energy slip away, you feel admiration for a character that many people in the audience either recognise or could become.
Spagnoletti has written a very real story, and it’s been enhanced considerably by the actresses and director Lara Bye who brought their own experiences and insights to the script. Bye has brought it together beautifully so everything flows perfectly as the scenes, times and moods evolve.
Rosa brings the wisdom of age into the troubled and tough life of Stella, and Stella responds by opening up to this little old lady who most would shove out of the way as a meddlesome busybody.
Makhutshi maintains a convincing lilting accent and that air of reserved independence that comes from being on the sidelines of society. She too is a formidable presence, but there’s no way she’s going to shine against the brilliant luminosity of Scott.
Now go, book some tickets – and call your mother. DM
“London Road” runs at Sandton’s Old Mutual Theatre on the Square until 19 March.
Read more of Lesley’s writing at her great website.
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