Poignant tale of forced removals

Lee-Anne Butler

THE production of Sounds of South End is ready to take audiences down memory lane with a laugh and a tear next week as the musical recalls the forced removals of the apartheid government’s Group Areas Act.

Organisers say the Port Elizabeth Gilbert and Sullivan Society stage production is on track and will be a must-see in recreating a highly significant era which impacted so heavily on the former South End community.

The musical – set in 1965 – zooms in on the Dietrich family, who live in the thriving and cosmopolitan suburb of South End and who have been served with a notice to vacate their home in South End and move to the northern areas.

The show starts on Wednesday May 29 at the Savoy Theatre and runs until June 13.

Writer and director Herbie Clayton said: “We’ve been rehearsing non-stop since the beginning of March and because this is a brand new production, it has been a lot of work and a real learning experience.

“Some modifications had to be made here and there but now we are confident we are putting on something that will be a success,” Clayton said.

He said the production would highlight the pain and anguish of the family to audiences, young and old, who may not comprehend the enormity of the event that changed the lives of many coloured and Indian people in the city during the 1960s and 1970s.

“Many people turned me down when I presented this idea because they thought it might be racist but this is a story that needs to be told.

“It has affected nearly the entire coloured community in Port Elizabeth up until today and has caused so much pain and heartache,” he said.

Clayton said the 30-strong cast, made up of 16 principal actors and 10 children, were mostly inexperienced but very enthusiastic and motivated.

“I believe this will be the beginning for many of them. This will definitely not be their last production. They are all extremely talented.”

The show’s music is from the 1960s era, with songs from Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Cliff Richard, Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones.

Desmond Marks, 70, who stars as Harry, the head of the Dietrich family, said the story was very close to his heart because he was born and raised in South End but moved with his family as a pre-teen.

“It is not unlike District Six and so many other places in this country where people lost their homes. We actually had to move twice during the Group Areas Act, so I understand exactly what happened,” Marks said.

He said his late grandfather chose to sell his home in Webber Street in 1956 rather than wait for an eviction notice.

Marks moved, along with his grandparents and five siblings, to Fairview. His father had died before the move.

“I was 12 or 13 when we moved but I have very fond memories of walking up and down Walmer Road to get to school and back home again. I also remember playing on the greens and walking down to the tramways. I missed it when we could not do it anymore.”

The Marks family were evicted from Fairview in 1972 and moved to Sanctor in the northern areas.

“I was young during the move so only later as a man did I realise the reasons behind it all. But now that I am playing a character who was impacted, I can understand what my grandfather and so many other families felt. He probably felt a lot of pain – my mother too, while trying to rear six children on her own.”

Marks has since moved back to Fairview, where he has lived since 1995.

“It is important for people to come and see the show because the youngsters do not really know what happened but we have all been affected in some way.”

Joylene Groener, who plays Patty, said her father, Peter, and his family were also forced to move from their home in Upper Pier Street in South End, when he was young.

“He and my mother will unfortunately miss the show because they are going to be overseas until July but we are recording it for them.

“Now that I am taking part I can definitely understand what he must have gone through.

“The show will have a little bit for everyone, some comedy, some action, some sadness and also some romance,” Groener said. Other main actors include Jessica Sutton as Helen, Beverley-Ann Blignaut and Carmen Cairncross alternating in the role of Shirley, and Jody Butler as James. Other actors are Marlon Primo, Gavin Harry, Henry Muller, Valencia Stone, Annelize Abdoll and Christina Fortuin.

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