South End: the musical

Lee-Anne Butler

IN a tale unique to Nelson Mandela Bay, the Port Elizabeth Gilbert and Sullivan Society is planning a production later this year which highlights the period of the thriving, cosmopolitan community of South End before the forced removals due to the apartheid government’s Group Areas Act.

Sounds of South End is a new musical which will tell the story of the Dietrich family, who have been served with a notice to vacate their home in South End and move to the northern areas.

According to writer and director Herbie Clayton, the production will highlight the pain and aguish of the family to audiences, young and old, who do not comprehend the enormity of the event which changed the lives of many coloured and Indian people in the city during the 1960s and 1970s.

“It is one of the biggest stories untold. Everyone knows what happened back then but they do not understand the pain that those people must have felt.”

He said he also wanted to educate the younger generation. “Lives were changed forever and there is still a lot of grief. But it is not all doom and gloom. People will be able to relate because they will remember those times and laugh at themselves.”

Clayton said although he was not originally from Port Elizabeth, being born in Pietermaritzburg and raised in Durban, he could relate with how the lives of coloured people were affected by apartheid.

“My father died when I was very young and my mother, being fair-skinned, ‘played white’ so that she could qualify for better paying jobs. Many fair-skinned coloureds back then did the same, and because I was dark-skinned, taking after my father, I was shipped off to boarding school.”

Clayton said he lived with his grandmother until he was 23, and decided to move to Port Elizabeth in 1970.

“I fell in love with the town after coming to visit for a weekend. I lived with a family in Gelvandale and they showed me around and I remember walking up the road that is now Walmer Boulevard. I still remember the shops. Things looked very different back then.”

Clayton said he had been thinking for years about writing the South End story but he had met with considerable negativity.

“There were people who kept putting me off, saying I should leave the past in the past and that it was a bad idea.

“People were very sceptical, but I knew it is such an important story and one that needs to be told and remembered.”

Clayton eventually decided to start writing a script five years ago and after three years of writing developed a script he is passionate about. “I had been involved in theatre for years, since about 1972, and this is the third project I have written myself. Singing, dancing and concerts have been a lifelong passion.”

He approached the PE Gilbert and Sullivan Society president, Rose Cowpar, who took the script to her committee, and it was then placed on the schedule for the year.

Cowpar said Clayton was already known for his involvement in Fiela’s Child.

“With someone deeply involved in the Northern Areas Arts Festival, we decided we could have the production in May at the Savoy [Theatre] and then later in September at the festival. This would allow us to take theatre to a wider audience.”

Lead singer auditions are scheduled for next week and auditions for other roles will take place the following day.

Clayton said the principals should be strong singers, but besides them there are roles of all kinds to fill right up to children playing in the park.

He said there was something in the production for everyone and there was no age restriction.

“One dramatic thing which happens in the musical is that it starts with the father saying that he will die in South End, rather than being forced to move, but eventually he does die at his daughter’s wedding table and his wife says that it is due to the problems caused by the government.”

Clayton said he was excited to see his idea become a reality and that he had put a lot of work into it.

“I have done a lot of research just to ensure that no one is offended and that we do not step on any toes.”

The open auditions will be held on February 8 and 9 at the Savoy Theatre in Diaz Road.

Singing auditions for the lead roles will be held on the Friday evening from 6pm and everyone else who would like to be part of the cast should come on the Saturday at 1pm for a movement audition and readings.

No experience is necessary.

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