Review: Basil Appollis at the Homecoming Tafel & Supper Club

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district-6_4649The monthly Homecoming Tafel and Supper Club is a uniquely Capetonian event which brings people together around the supper table while an invited guest – somebody of interest to District Six and Cape Town as a whole – tells their story. As Bonita Bennett, Director of the District Six Museum said, in the tradition of the District Six families, “ons gooi ‘n tafel!” And gooi ‘n tafel, they do!

The gates of the Homecoming Centre in Caledon Street are not only elegant, but wise too. A Langston Hughes quote bedecks them: “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly”.

Through the gates and down a little alley from which the city noises are dulled, we found ourselves in the most unexpectedly beautiful place. Previously the Sacks Futeran textile and soft goods warehouse, the building was bought by the museum in 2002 and has been renovated back to its early 1900’s glory – a wonderful open space that whispers with the stories of District Six. Its walls are hung with old photos of the people who once called this area home.

The Homecoming Centre is an important hub both for visitors to the city and for the communities of Cape Town, especially those who were displaced when the Victorian houses of the area were famously bulldozed on the instruction of the Apartheid government who considered the vibrant area to be a hotbed of anti-apartheid activity. Serving as a space for education and memory work, and for simply encouraging conversations, the centre organises many regular events. It’s a place dedicated to keeping the memories and stories of District Six alive.

This evening’s guest was none other than actor extraordinaire Basil Appollis, who told his story and then treated us to a short piece from his one-man show, My Word! Redesigning Buckingham Palace, which he will be performing at the centre over the next two weeks. It’s a celebration of the life and work of master story-teller, Richard Rive, focussing appropriately on the stories of District Six in its heyday.

True to the family feel of the Supper Club, Appollis’ mother – a youthful octogenarian – sat with us to listen to his stories, as did his sister. His passion for theatre started at home, Appollis told us, with him and his cousins performing an annual Christmas concert for the family. As a young man in London he met Richard Rive – who had had most of his works banned in Apartheid South Africa – and they became friends. When the Baxter Theatre asked him to do Rive’s famous story – Buckingham Palace – he jumped at the chance. Rive attended the dress rehearsal before opening night and said to Appollis: “Now I can die.” That night he was brutally murdered at his home.

It was at this heartbreaking point that Appollis began his performance on the little stage in the Homecoming Centre for us, his tiny audience. What a privilege. The stories revolve around some of the central characters of the area – the Jewish shopkeeper, Mr Katzen; Mary Bruintjies, daughter of the pastor and madam of The Casbah, and Zoot the gangster to name a few. Funny, nostalgic, sad and – most importantly – utterly riveting.

district-6_46581We broke for dinner, served buffet-style. The tradition of the Supper Club dictates that the invited guest should choose the menu, and Appollis had opted for denningsvleis – moist pieces of stewed lamb, aromatic and sweet, served with mash and vegetables. Pudding was sago and homemade custard. It felt like a meal made by mom, shared by a bunch of strangers-becoming-friends around a communal recycled cardboard table (and that’s a story all of its own!)

After supper, over cups of tea and coffee served in fabulously mismatched cups, Appollis opened the floor to questions and a lively discussion ensued on the state of theatre and the need for story-tellers and story-telling. Our souls were filled, and our tummies too, as we made our way back out into the street and to the car, the lights from the windows of the Homecoming Centre shining onto the dark pavement.

Briony Chisholm
navelgazer101

The District Six Museum (D6M) Homecoming Tafel and Supper Club is a monthly event, taking place on the last Thursday of each month. My Word! will be performed on Tuesday, 30 September 2014 (7pm), Thursday, 2 October (3pm), Friday, 3 October (3pm), Saturday, 4 October (3pm), Tuesday, 7 October (7pm) and Saturday, 11 October (3pm). For tickets, contact Zahra Hendricks at 021 466 7200 or at reception@districtsix.co.za

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