Of family meetings and other lies

WITH an ‘eff you’ face, Kim Blanche Adonis in Mike van Graan’s My Fellow South Africans at Theatre on the Square until 2 September. Photograph by Philip Kuhn.

THERE IS NOTHING quite like the anger of an articulate playwright to get the currents of electricity flowing through the veins of an audience. My Fellow South Africans by Mike van Graan charges up the levels of political satire with strong potency and his best weapon of choice for this revue is performer, Kim Blanché Adonis. You can see her in this work at Theatre on the Square in Sandton until 2 September.

Everything about this work, even up to its title, is about the faux-polite terms in which a political figure – such as our President Cyril Ramaphosa – will traditionally begin addressing the conflicted mass of South Africans, generally about something that affects everyone. Generally, with a message that has been spun and sugared so that it will go down easily.

My Fellow South Africans, like other political stand-up shows in van Graan’s repertoire, hits hard and fast and oft below the belt. There’s a rhythm to the material, in which, in your mind’s ear, you can hear the drums roll and cymbals shimmer with each punch line, and Adonis is there, flicking her tongue to the rhythm of the hypocrisies she addresses. She takes apart everything from the privilege of youth, to pre-flight shtick in an aeroplane, to the messiness of pronouns in a borderline right-wing woke youth, to the thoughts of a chicken in a quandary, with a bit of Leonard Cohen and John Lennon tossed into the mix.

There is a comedic tradition of the horse race commentary spoof, performed by the ilk of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in 1979 and 1940s boy band Spike Jones and the City Slickers, to name a few. It’s a fabulous opportunity to play the race card in a novel and hilarious way, with horse names and the interaction of values. There’s a horse race in My Fellow South Africans in which, what it lacks in the speed and momentum stakes, it makes up for in the rude names category.

And then there is Zapiro. The opening event of this show featured a wonderful selection of prescient political cartoons by South Africa’s top cartoonist, as projected background. But during this particular evening, the projection failed some of the time. This didn’t hurt the show even slightly. The cartoons are glorious and biting, but Adonis is able to hold her own, onstage, without images backing her up.

The problem with quick fire political jibes, the bulk of material in this show, is it starts dating from the moment it’s been uttered; while van Graan has a body of close to 40 plays under his belt so far, the texture of the material is similar and rolls in tandem with the news of the day. These plays are like pinpricks: they impact directly, and some draw blood, but the wounds are short-lived. The writing is loaded with innuendo and trend, meme and gesture which you will recognise and laugh at through the power of familiarity, but often your smile turns into a rictus as the jokes turn sinister and you realise the hopelessness of where we stand with our leadership: showers à la Zuma, sofas à la Ramaphosa and all.

Having said that, with the ilk of local satirists such as Pieter-Dirk Uys, Marc Lottering, Conrad Koch and John van de Ruit and Ben Voss, each offering a brand of political humour of their own, but a subject matter that slots into a uniformity, van Graan’s approach is distinctive by its sheer bold anger and its unequivocal roots in the diatribe surrounding the coloured community – too dark to be white, too pale to be black. The work is thus without empathy in its content and articulation and though it takes Adonis through her physical and vocal paces, it leaves you, in the audience feeling a little broken and despondent – not about the performance itself, but the content: you get your face rammed up tight against a mirror reflecting the state of the nation, and it’s not comforting.

But see it, you should. Van Graan remains one of South African satire’s princes and his gift for weaving text on and around socio-political jingo and slang is beautiful and significant.

  • My Fellow South Africans is written by Mike van Graan and directed by Daniel Mpilo Richards and Rob Van Vuuren. It is performed by Kim Blanché Adonis and features professional input by Nic van Graan (music); Zapiro (cartoons); Blaze Zimba (stage management); and Daphne Kuhn (producer); and is at Theatre on the Square in Sandton until 2 September. Tickets are through Computicket.

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