Boykie and Girlie: Engaging classic couple stakes

Contemplating life, the universe and everything, Boykie (Robert Hobbs) sits on the most comforting seat of all. PHOTOGRAPH BY EVANS MATHIBE.

Contemplating life, the universe and everything, Boykie (Robert Hobbs) sits on the most comforting seat of all. PHOTOGRAPH BY EVANS MATHIBE.

With direct points of homage to the likes of Samuel Beckett, Athol Fugard and Ariel Dorfman, Boykie and Girlie is a fresh new piece of theatre which sparkles with its own beauty, but lacks punch in its denouement.

Meet the eponymous characters: he’s a writer waiting for work, for inspiration, for something to give his life a level of cohesion. Dressed in a ‘Time of the Writer’ t-shirt which has been rather self-consciously made holey, he’s hungry, starving for something to give meaning to it all. She’s a self-made lawyer, holding the relationship together financially, pragmatically. Their almost anonymous names, denoting their gender more than much else, lend them a universality which is quite breath-taking, making you think, on various levels of other classic couples, like Athol Fugard’s Boesman and Lena. Overlooking the specifics of their issues, they are in a sense every couple.

Robert Hobbs opposite Khutjo Green simply sing in relation to one another, and as they breathe performed life into this beautiful script, replete as it is with cutting and barbarous insult and acrimony that comes of familiarity, the combination of performers, words and context are simply delicious to watch unfold. They’re backed by a fabulous set which casts a nod in the direction of Ariel Dorfman’s Delirium, staged in South Africa a few years ago, replete as it is with an ostensibly functional toilet onstage.

There’s a realistic grubbiness to the work which in exploring this well-established relationship between two adults, doesn’t relent in unpicking petty malice that becomes borderline threatening in its approach. Do they love each other? Certainly. Will he leave her? Will she leave him? Probably not. But the viciousness of their repartee at times reaches almost tidal proportions in its ebb and flow. The choreography of the work is splendid.

But the project in entirety is hurt by the narrative’s lack of a meaningful denouement. When you watch Green opposite Hobbs, you get this happy but almost frightening sense that this could go on forever: it’s both a positive and a negative realisation, simultaneously. The work is strong and impassioned enough to hold its own for a considerable time – way beyond its designated hour – but, conversely, there are no great revealing elements to puncture the plot enough.

There’s a moment of theatrical experimentation involving donkeys and casting a self-critical eye at the performance art arena and its habits, which is glorious but under-exploited, and ultimately the work leaves you hanging: as the clapping and bowing begins, it leaves you feeling vaguely cheated of a theatrical or narrative nub to hold on to.

Boykie and Girlie has the potential of slipping into the realm of the classic South African couple, representing the quintessential values and contradictions of being a mixed-race couple in this hurly burly world, but the writing just doesn’t go far enough.

  • Boykie and Girlie written and directed by Allan Horwitz, features Khutjo Green and Robert Hobbs, and performs at the Wits Downstairs Theatre until August 1, and in the Nunnery on August 2. It is part of this year’s Drama For Life SA Season.

 

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