“How do you do I …. see you’ve met my …. faithful handy man …” a dozen simple words that opened worlds of possibility to us. Sexually sure – what with all the bed sharing, swapping and gender bending – but even more than that, the anarchy of it all was glorious. And we revelled.
In the mid seventies, SA was a ‘verkrampt’ country. The Nationalist Government tried to control what we read and saw. And learned. And talked about. Sandown was fairly conservative too – but had a small group of teachers who liked to stir things up a bit by looking the other way when we got up to no good, or by putting on subtly subversive stage shows.
When the movie came out, my pal Manu got a group of us together to perform “The Time Warp” at the school concert and it went down a storm. We took note. A year later we danced to “I love the dead” by Alice Cooper – we were graduating and this was our final offering to the school. As the last line “cadaver eyes upon me see …. nothing…” died away, I looked out into the audience and saw my brother Mark and our friend Eddie laughing hysterically. Everyone else was silent.
The Drama Department was run by Ms Hofmeyer. Who, despite her Afrikaans surname, had no truck with the Government’s ‘rrraaaadiculous’ policies. Gretchen encouraged me to direct a satirical play about censorship. The cast performed in blackface, which now seems unthinkable, but the idea was to show how the truth will out – regardless of media restrictions. This was 6-months or so after the 1976 Soweto uprising. A friend and I had hitched to the edge of Johannesburg to see what was happening. We stood on one of the mine-dumps on the dark side of town watching as the army laid siege to a city. As the inhabitants set it on fire. As people were shot without warning. It was a time of martial law, of disappearances, of detentions without trial.
Now here we were poking the government with a stick. My parents didn’t know what to think. People were frightened. But the times, they were a-changin’.
36 years on and I am standing in the foyer of the Fugard Theatre waiting for ‘the boys’ to show. We’ve come to see Rocky Horror. Christiaan is 22, he tell me that this movie came out before he was a ‘twinkle’ in his parents’ eyes. But he knows every word and sings along delightedly throughout the performance. The guys are dragged up and look sensational – having tailored local domestic worker’s uniforms (their little poke at the past) to resemble Magenta’ and Colombia’s get ups . A couple in their seventies come across for a hug and a picture, a little girl wants to touch their teased out hair, a group of hipsters whoop and whistle: they are thrilled and excited, loving the attention.
But when we sit down the woman behind us orders them to take off their wigs … she “can’t see and I paid good money for my ticket”. Polite Afrikaans boys that they are, I see their joy fizzle and droop. They reach for their bird’s nests and I think “fuckit, no”, so I shut her down. This isn’t the goddamned opera. Nor is it the seventies.
Things have changed. My friends are openly gay, one of them is married, the theatre is filled with Capetonians of rainbow colours, of all creeds and religions. The cast is young and hip and having fun. Frank-N-Furter is arch and ribald and the very straight man next to me is screaming with laughter. There are cocktails to be had in the foyer and we’re all throwing confetti at each other. I am not letting anyone spoil this party.
South Africa, you’ve come a long way baby. Don’t blink now.