Review: The Year of the Bicycle (Cape Town Fringe)

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year of the bicycleFor one hour the experimental epic, The Year of the Bicycle, presents stark performances and chilling brilliance to evoke a childhood enmeshed in turmoil during the twilight of apartheid. The story focuses on Andile and Amelia who, despite conflicting racial and socio-economical backgrounds, share a profound enthusiasm for change. Both Amy Wilson and Aphiwe Livi grace the audience with a mischievous and entertaining charm, which instantly strikes a chord. This production relies on the strengths of these two heart-warming actors: Livi glistens during his enigmatic monologues, while Wilson switches seamlessly between bouts of excitement and overwhelming melancholia.

The Year of the Bicycle positions the vantage point of children – the generation of the future – as paramount. And it is not just about what children see, but how they see it. While the interpretation of their experiences may arguably be overly-romanticized, it still follows a shocking and profoundly unsettling view of events. Our two protagonists find themselves in the big bad world of adults with only their vivid imaginations as sanctuary. Through the minds of these children, we are offered a blissful, yet distorted, world where the influence of the Power Rangers is all-consuming and the worth of Simba Tazos is immeasurable, all while appalling injustice is being meted out to others.

Joanna Evans’ peerless directorial command powers the production to masterful effect with various episodes functioning as pure visual storytelling, while the harsher, more adult themes of a serious production are deliberately toned down. Evans’ hypnotic direction allows the action of the story to recede, with emphasis placed rather on the presentation of the characters’ psychological states and their developing attitudes towards issues of morality and conscience.

Many of the scenes rely on heavy performance art layers which add a marked degree of artistic intensity to the simplistic dialogue. Expert manipulation of lighting sets the mood and tone for each scene. Andile’s cooped up and dire living space is chronicled through his huddling in an uncomfortable cart, and with a somewhat modified composition, the same cart serves as a symbol of Amelia’s privilege and abundance. The division of the two friends is skilfully curated with a symbolic white rope, while a systematically lit circle signals their coming of age.

Sequences such these made The Year of the Bicycle one of most surreal productions of the Cape Town Fringe Festival. It is not as graphic and dark as the unpleasant world in which Andile and Amelia live, but also it doesn’t aim to sugarcoat the effects of apartheid. It reads more like a sprawling modernist novel with a dense narrative, mastered by two talented actors.

The Year of the Bicycle gives a splendid reassurance of the greater good in humankind, and is nothing if not clear-cut in its message. It is a fascinating and whimsical tale which leaves a somewhat bitter aftertaste, vividly potent with its social rendering.

Benn van der Westhuizen

The Year of the Bicycle runs at Cape Town City Hall from 25 September to 5 October as part of the Cape Town Fringe Festival.

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