Theatre Review: The Return Of Elvis Du Pisanie – Pole Position, Or Beyond Exhausted

May 16, 2024




The Return Of Elvis Du Pisanie / Directed by Paul Slabolepszy / Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre


This one-hander, first staged in 1992 starring its writer and the director of this production Paul Slabolepszy in the title role, is to some degree the theatrical equivalent of a mass therapy session, with the patient on the stage and a roomful of counselors sitting in the stalls. It’s not a happy story, but newly returned Elvis Ashley Dowds makes the character relatable and likeable, even as he relates stories of his past struggles, trying to process what he went through and what could lie ahead.

Slabolepszy’s voice – written and spoken – is audible in Dowd’s delivery and the way the script is written. The vocabulary, and the way the story references specific South African details that add to the richness and texture of the tale, recall Herman Charles Bosman, relocated to Witbank and chugging a beer rather than sipping mampoer in Groot Marico. The tone and some of the way the narrative is structured to take the audience one way and then another in terms of their expectations are more Samuel Beckett, making for a powerful merging of mood, thoughtfulness, drama and dark comedy.

Dowds has nothing more than a street pole and the aforementioned beer to bolster his delivery as he takes the audience through an introduction to deeply depressed and recently retrenched Eddie Du Pisanie, into the psychological (and comedic) complexities of the man’s being saved and inspired by Elvis and all the pathos of the points between as he unpacks his mental and personal labours.

Betrayed only be the occasional hint of his own very recognisable accent, hinted at beyond Eddie’s (and Slabolepszy’s) flattened Witbank vowels, Dowd commits deeply to giving Eddie heft, layers and a vulnerability that invites engagement and care, even if you’re aware that the man’s flaws might frustrate further commitment to him.

Compelling and melancholic, delightful and dark, this is a script and a performance that rewards the investment its challenging themes require.