DIE REUK VAN APPELS. Written by Mark Behr. Directed by Lara Bye, with Gideon Lombard at The KKNK, from 10 to 15 April, 2017.
TRACEY SAUNDERS previews
All roads lead to Oudsthoorn this weekend, and one of the many debut productions is the stage adaptation of Mark Behr’s 1993 debut novel, Die Reuk van Appels. The Smell of Apples was the coming of age story of 11 year-old Marnus Erasmus. A personal story which eloquently captured the broader political situation at the time. The son of a South African Defence Force (SADF) general, Erasmus faces agony in unexpected places. The novel captured the brutal consequences of apartheid and the militarisation of South African and the stage adaptation promises to be a seminal event
Upon publication and subsequent translation into English (The Smell of Apples) , this landmark Afrikaans novel catapulted Behr into the ranks of young and talented dissident voices such as Etienne van Heerden and Koos Prinsloo (Tony Eprile, New York Times). Before his untimely death on 27 November 2015, Behr was a professor of creative writing at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee in the US.
A stellar team of theatre-makers
It tells the story of Marnus Erasmus an Afrikaans boy who lives in Cape Town with his family. The Erasmus family, as white Afrikaners, live in a country where black and coloured people are in the majority but they are governed by a white minority who, for the most part, support apartheid. Marnus’s father is a general in the SADF and the Cold War will reach its apex within a decade. South Africa is involved in the civil war in Angola and young conscripts serve as cannon fodder to bolster the apartheid regime against increasing criticism and punitive measures and sanctions from abroad.
However, Marnus and his best friend, Frikkie, are unaware of these complex political issues. The separation of people according to race is their reality and, being children, they accept it without interrogation. Marnus is briefly exposed to the complexities of international diplomacy and politics when a Chilean general pays a courtesy visit and stays with them.
He gradually becomes more sensitive to injustice and has to start distinguishing between right and wrong when the son of their domestic worker is viscously attacked, and he is continuously challenged by his sister Ilse’s probing and uncomfortable questions after she visits the liberal Netherlands.
The audience become fellow-travellers on his journey towards manhood and adulthood and are left wondering whether he will choose critical thinking over indoctrination and conditioning. Marnus’s life is irrevocably changed when a foul deed destroys his innocent existence. From that moment onwards the smell of rotten apples will permeate everything Marnus experiences.
Since reading the novel for the first time, Johan van der Merwe of the newly established production company Theatrerocket has hankered to produce Die Reuk van Appels for the stage. When he teamed up with co- theatre aficionado Rudi Sadler in 2015, it was an obvious choice for their first venture as a production company.
Van der Merwe and Sadler have assembled a stellar team of theatre-makers to realise their dream. Johann Smit, versatile writer for stage and screen from Pretoria, has turned prize-winning novel into a viable theatre script. Gideon Lombard (miskien, The View, Special Thanks to Guests from Afar, Orpheus in Africa) performs the role of the hapless Marnus under the guidance of award-winning director Lara Bye (Yellowman, London Road, Oscar en die Pienk Tannie, Vaslav)
At a time in the country’s history where an interrogation of the past may be one of the solutions to a fair and just future, this is a timely production which will resonate with many.