Bringing lively spirit to a quiet church hall, The Year of the Bicycle is thrilling Cape Town audiences with a breathless story for which it won a Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award at the recent National Arts Festival.
Arriving early at the Methodist church hall in the residential part of Observatory, I was asked if I would kindly give the actors a few more minutes to get ready. There is no backstage to this venue nor dressing rooms for that matter. A seemingly secret venue, the Theatre Arts Admin Collective is a high ceilinged hall with a spacious floor area. For this production the audience is considerably elevated, looking down on the actors in a stage setting that is bare of all but a few props.
Amy Louise Wilson and Aphiwe Livi play Amelia and Andile, the two protagonists of The Year of the Bicycle. Two childhood friends – now estranged – are both lying concussed and confused, and the action takes place in their minds, in their colliding memories, most particularly the year when they learned to ride a bicycle.
A rhythmic soundtrack of African instruments, drums and the sanza fades with the lights. In darkness and silence a lamp is switched on, and a voice calls out. Through the actors’ acrobatic movements and erratic voices, an atmosphere of the dark, lonely space in the mind is created. As the two lie in an unconscious state, they try to connect to each other, reaching out as much as they did in their first encounter with each other, two children from different worlds in a place where those differences caused an unspoken cultural divide. The connection becomes stronger and more playful, and the two skip along through their happier days of bike riding, soccer playing and make-believe aeroplane flying.
Amy Louise Wilson and Aphiwe Livi portray their characters’ feelings with a finely nuanced tenderness, effortlessly interchanging their confused adult selves and the younger versions of their characters, encompassing a childlike inquisitiveness and sense of adventure in their body movements. Livi in particular gives real feeling to his role of losing and trying to find what really matters, while Wilson convincingly embodies the fearless, strong-willed Amelia, a child set on being the next Amelia Earhart. At the pinnacle of this meeting of minds, the audience is brought sharply back down to earth as the characters start to unravel faster than the ball of string that Andile uses to trace his 1997 timeline.
Then begins a piecing together of what caused the breakdown of their friendship. Viewing the disintegration from each character’s perspective in turn, the pain is undeniable. The atmosphere shifts from the glowing tone of make-believe and wonder to the dark emptiness of loneliness and longing.
Writer and director Joanna Evans has created an extraordinarily captivating play, steered by an intense array of emotions. Returning to the dark, the audience breaks the final silence with a lengthy booming applause.
The Year of the Bicycle runs from the 13th – 27th July at Theatre Arts Admin Collective, corner of Wesley and Milton Streets, Observatory.