Tuesday, July 3, 2007

1976 Apartheid Durban, Natal University Actor

< 1976. Mark Esslemont playing Tiger Man in 'The Incredible Jungle Journey of Fenda Maria', Natal University Open Air Theatre, Durban.

My BA Honours degree began at Durban Theatre Workshop Company, where I played Baldy for our children's theatre production Mister Magic's Magic, directed by Pomlet, who objected to my attending Kudokwai Karate. Poorly prepared Pomlet wasted rehearsal time. We toured Durban and 'Maritzburg white primary schools, other Natal white schools and Indian schools. I was paid R50 a month.

After completing his Walvis Bay basic, Fraser worked as a Standard Bank clerk in Durban. We did karate together, and Fraser surpassed me, rising high in karate gradings. Most weekends, Fraser fished, water-skied and boozed with pals. Sometimes we played tennis together on Natal University courts with pals.

Pomlet, three girls and I toured Joan Little's adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities, to thousands of white pupils, riding the donkey wagon in Natal high schools, from northern Newcastle to southern Ixopo, giving two performances during school hours - hot work. We played multiple parts, using minimal costumes and school chairs as props. My hardest acting was weeping, as I'd grown up hard-arsed, unable to weep. During my weepy Dr. Manette performances, Pomlet tried corpsing me, by tickling my armpit, while holding me upright. I didn't laugh.

Fade in, Madame Defage's opening line, stage left: "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

Me, centre stage: "It was the age of wisdom."

Pomlet, stage right: "It was the age of foolishness..."

Me, one performance: "It was the age of sagacity."

Pomlet: "It was the age of f-f-foo, ha-ha, f-f-foo, ha-ha, foo-hoo -hoo-lishness!"

Madame Defage giggled and piddled. As the stage had no curtains, we couldn't mop up, cut scenes and faded out.

During the Bastille attack, we left the stage, stalked audiences, and harangued mobs, screaming, "Kill! KILL! KILL!..."

Unrest: Soweto Riots: "Liberation before Education" black pupils resisted Afrikaans-medium teaching in crappy Bantu Education schools. About 600 people were killed by rioting black youths and trigger-mad cops. (Guy Arnold, Africa A Modern History, Atlantic Books, London, 2005). Thousands of black youths fled SA, doing military training in ANC Mkhonto We Sizwe camps in Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, becoming the "Lost Generation." I wondered how many exiled youths were properly educated by the ANC, instead of enduring terrorist training and soldiering in Angola. (Lynda Schuster, A Burning Hunger, Jonathan Cape, London, 2004).

Other white Honours students were beautiful girls and drama-queen Variola, who after I'd finished touring said, "Glad you joined us! We thought you were a Workshop employee [which I was] and not an Honours student." We performed Fenda Maria in the Natal University Open-Air Theatre before schools and public audiences. I played Old Man and Tiger Man.

After another tiff with mom, aunt Dorothy (70+) phoned, "Yoiks Mark! Your mother needs help. Phone me when your mother's cross with me!"

"For sure," I said. Dorothy expected me to betray mom. I wrote to Dorothy: "I won't spy on mom. Stop sending your doctor nephew to spy on mom, while he pretends friendly visits. Your quarrel with mom is your problem, not mine. Perhaps you, like mom, should see a psychiatrist."

Dorothy phoned mom, "Yoiks Valmai! I've never been spoken to like that in my life. Moya's dad only makes friendly visits!"

Mom said, "Years ago, Cato Millions were inherited by your brother Lesley, instead of the money going to my mother. Our father, The Old Fox made my mother beg for every penny."

Prof. Sneddon, deducing immutable laws from Greek classics said, "Like Oedipus, we make civilized choices eh?..." Pomlet and I choreographed karate moves for an assessment, using Yeats's The Second Coming as prophetic backup. Avoiding conscription, and having given little back to SA where he was educated, Pomlet later emigrated to Australia.

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