IT WAS APARTHEID’S jester Pieter-Dirk Uys who some years ago famously cited the shenanigans of the state as being the best possible script writers for his work. He wasn’t alone. Playwright Mike van Graan doesn’t miss a beat in using every dirty nuance and crass irony dished out to us through the political structures that be, casting a harsh and shaming light on the promises that failed and the catastrophic brokenness of our society. The third play in this stand up comedy model, with the delicious Daniel Mpilo Richards at the mic, Land Acts is even more potent than its predecessors, Pay Back the Curry and State Fracture.
With ten tightly honed and well-polished acts, Richards deftly describes the disappointing realities through the complex issues and status of land in our times. Whose was it? Whose it is? Whose should it be? Land wrapped in legislature and lies, in murder and turds. Land that is part of the beach and used as a weapon of guilt. With a range of characters that take you from a tour guide to a band leader, an Aboriginal bloke to a privileged black dog; as well as guitar, a didgeridoo and some mean beat boxing skills, Richards rocks the stage.
But this is not a giggle a second stuff. You laugh from recognition. And you laugh, as you do at Uys’s repartee, from a sense of fear. And somehow when you’re equipped with the ability to laugh, all safe and sound in the darkened audience of a theatre, your biggest terrors seem less huge. But while you’re laughing in this play, you’re fraught with the urge to stifle those guffaws because the language is so crisp and tight and intricate and peppered with a million relevant barbs. The more noise you make, the less you hear and the more jibes pass over your head. And it’s exactly at that point that you imbibe the poetry: there are lyrics here that will make you think of Johannes Kerkorrel’s magnificent, haunting and vitally politically relevant ballads.
Featuring beautifully reworked standard songs that embrace giants such as Louis Armstrong and John Lennon which they examine the messy catastrophe that puts the homeless of Cape Town in a position of car-scratching power, the colonialist on his horse in a construct of hate, and BJ Vorster alongside Nelson Mandela and Cyril Ramaphosa in a band. And then there’s Hey Julius, premised in part on Hey Jude. It’s a bitter and biting, clever and insightful piece that puts everything from the EFF’s values to Shakespeare under the loupe, and takes no prisoners.
Richards is easy on the eye, and his musical skill and interpretation of the text really make it sing as he takes impeccable ownership of the material. In a sense he’s like van Graan’s secret weapon, which takes brilliant repertoire and pushes it even further. It’s one one-man show you shouldn’t miss!
- Land Acts is written by Mike van Graan and directed by Rob van Vuuren. It is performed by Daniel Mpilo Richards until July 29 at the Auto and General Theatre on the Square in Sandton. Call 011 883-8606