Picture this: it’s Saturday night. The night is balmy and vibrating with energy. It’s a night out on the town, with unknown faces and unscripted interactions. That feeling of nervous energy and excitement is the essence of Skemerdans, a neo-noir murder mystery. During filming, we had the opportunity to visit the set and take a sneak peak at the first episode, and let me tell you, there is something truly special here.
A classic who-dunnit murdery mystery, Skemerdans centres around the successful Fortune family, and the lies, deceit, and success that threaten to unravel them. It’s the story of the iconic Oasis jazz club. By definition, an oasis is a fertile spot in the desert where water is found. But in this neo-noir drama, the Oasis is a Cape Flats watering hole, attracting all sorts of characters and their drama. And the King of this wild? Glenn Fortune; a successful entrepreneur whose empire is threatened by a power struggle with his brother, a troubled relationship with his wife and family, and the infiltration of an organised crime syndicate.
The once bustling nightclub is facing a changing Cape Town, with underground casinos and shinier, fancier night club offerings threatening their dwindling revenue stream. The Oasis is in trouble, not just in terms of business, but also in the decline of the Fortune family’s united front. In Episode 1, a fatal gunshot wound sets the drama in motion and episode by episode, the viewer is taken through a riveting game of Cluedo.
Cape Flats as the leading lady
The Cape Flats serves as the series’ backdrop. Director, Amy Jeptha, explains that “[it] has so much life; so many stories in the cracks”. Its shadowy streets have a mystery and a charm; its history a palimpsest of years of trauma, culture, drama, highlights, low-lifes, career takers and career makers. With large parts of the series shot in Club Galaxy, an iconic Cape Town night club which opened its doors in 1978, Jeptha and co-director, Ephraim Gordon, expertly uses setting as a classifier of the series’ overall look and feel. It’s grungy yet glamorous, sexy and dangerous.
It’s a side of Cape Town that is mostly unexplored in the South African entertainment industry and Jeptha and Gordon heroes its potential in glorious fashion. They showcase the city, so beloved for its tourist attractions, as multidimensional and diverse. “We wanted to show a side of Cape Town we don’t normally see, to share our vision of what Cape Town is,” explains Gordon. Shot mostly between dusk and dawn, DOP Chris Lotz does a fantastic job of playing with shadows and the dangers that lurk in them.
The Family Fortune
As director Amy Jeptha explains, “Skemerdans is about a legacy built by one man and how everyone still lives in his shadow, and how this family is bound by a secret in their past.” As family dramas go, this one is about as tumultuous as you can possibly find. The show does a fantastic job of portraying familiar family dynamics, but further accentuates it when a core member is murdered. All at once, no one can be trusted and everyone is a suspect.
The casting of the show’s family members and those on the periphery is superb – you might recognize some familiar faces like Kevin Smith, Vinette Ebrahaim, Ilse Klink, Brendon Daniels and Carmen Maarman. Their roles in the Fortune family feel as welcoming and comfortable as a weekday soapie, but they each shine in their own right.
The characters are well-rounded and each performance is sincere. I am especially impressed by the natural flow of dialogue between them. From easy-going interactions between Oasis employees to the harsh words uttered between feuding spouses; these interactions feel, at times, unscripted.
Raising the bar
Skemerdans is unlike any other South African series or film I’ve seen before. While I may have only had a sneak peak at the introduction to this 13-part series, I can see massive potential in the type of storytelling that has been employed, the creative liberties taken with setting and sound, and the shying away from stories that might be too crass or too liberal for South African television.
Skemerdans excels in its representation of previously unexplored spaces and untold narratives. It’s about time that South African entertainment is shaken up and brought alive by the sounds, sights, and experiences of the viewers it attempts to entertain. This is a fast-paced show worthy of the same enthusiasm with which international shows are binged, and I believe it’s setting the pace for the type of storytelling that South Africans have longed for.
Delve into the neo-noir world of murder and mystery, and binge Skemerdans on Showmax from 28 April.