District 6: Our Buckingham Palace

Reviewer's Rating

Between now and 12th July the studio theatre at Jermyn Street near Piccadilly Circus, small in size but big in the range of its work, is hosting a South African Season.  Among the works featured is the European première of a piece celebrating the life and work of the playwright and novelist Richard Rive, who was murdered at his home in Cape Town 25 years ago.  Back in 1989 a play based upon his most famous novel, Buckingham Palace – District 6, was just about to open in Cape Town.  The actor playing Rive himself was Basil Appollis, who has continued to pay tribute to Richard Rive throughout his career, although he has since concentrated on writing and directing for the theatre.  For District 6 : Our Buckingham Palace, of which he is co-author, he returns to the stage for the first time in over a decade.

Mr Appollis has not lost his acting skills in the meantime.  The play is a monologue in which he assumes the rôle of Richard Rive, but also of several of the colourful characters who populate the mixed-race district of Cape Town which is the setting for the eponymous novel.  District 6 was nicknamed ‘Buckingham Palace’ because of the patriotic practice of one of the shopkeepers there, who would give away prints of King George VI and his consort with the gramophones, crêpes de Chine and other ill-assorted items for sale in his shop.  For we are back in the old Union of South Africa in the `40s and `50s, before the Nationalist Party with its policy of apartheid came to power and eventually condemned District 6 to demolition.  In a series of lively episodes, Basil Appollis paints a vivid picture of life in this community before its inhabitants were evicted.  At times funny, at times bitter, this monologue affectionately evokes a lost era, without allowing nostalgia to gloss over its many faults.

For anyone with an interest in South Africa, this performance will be compulsory viewing.  But no one can fail to be touched by Mr Appollis’ evocation of life among the ‘Cape Coloureds’ at a time not so long ago.