More hilarious horror from the news

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A man for all caricatures: Daniel Mpilo Richards. Photograph courtesy Auto & General Theatre on the Square.

YET ANOTHER BRISTLING piece of repartee, rich and seething with the material spewed out by our world, Mike van Graan’s State Fracture is a fitting sequel to his Pay Back the Curry, which graced this theatre at the end of last year. Boasting the same cast and team, the work is as slick and quick and biting as ever: and while you’re laughing, with the knife-edge flick of a nuance, the work turns sinister, freezing that grin on your face. It’s the genius of director Rob van Vuuren and van Graan with Daniel Mpilo Richards at the proverbial coal face that makes this collaborative energy so fresh, tight and cohesive.

Like Pay Back the Curry, this revue of different characters, from Dean the front man at the Saxonwold Shebeen; to a local battery chicken who resents the American chicks with their fat brine-infused thighs; to Hlaudi Motsoeneng, a man so full of Jesus and the SABC he knows not one from the other, offers a peek at the madness, the alternative facts and the blatant stupidity within. The lyrics of songs by Abba, Leonard Cohen and Bob Marley are gutted and reinstated in van Graan’s characteristically sophisticated and angry manner to hilarious effect which will keep you restraining those guffaws because you need to hear all the words and consider how they resonate with the originals. Like Pay Back the Curry, and novels such as Paige Nick’s recent Unpresidented, the work will date rapidly, but it is articulating stories and scenarios which are relevant, and in doing so, it serves an important function in society.

As you sit there, in the audience, however, something else might flicker through your sensibilities. It has to do with works such as the 1972 Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret, in which Joel Gray, the inimitable MC represents the messy and rotten state of the world at the time, situated as it is in the 1930s – between the wars – with humour and horror spiced by song so richly cooked together it makes your head spin. What van Graan is doing in work of this nature is holding a mirror up to society – as do practitioners such as political jester Pieter-Dirk Uys and political cartoonist Zapiro. While State Fracture is a couple of spoofs too many (or too similar), which finds your focus dwindling toward the end, it’s a well-crafted work that hits the mark. Resoundingly.

  • State Fracture is written by Mike van Graan and directed by Rob Van Vuuren. It features creative input by Stephanie Papini (lighting) and is performed by Daniel Mpilo Richards at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square in Sandton until July 29. Visit theatreonthesquare.co.za or call 011 883-8606.
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If we had nothing but love

Brel

BREL trio: Jannie du Toit leads Chanie Jonker (left) and Susan Mouton. Photograph courtesy Auto and General Theatre on the Square.

THERE’S NOTHING QUITE like a dollop of Brel on a cold winter evening to warm the cockles of your heart. Embraced as schmaltz by generations of song-lovers everywhere, the rough and drunken, sad and maudlin brilliance of Belgian singer/songwriter Jacques Brel (1929-1978) bring together a mix of wisdom and poetry in a way that reminds you why his songs are unequivocal classics; they’re songs that can knock generations-old memories to the foreground within their first three bars and it doesn’t even matter what language they’re sung in.

Led by Jannie du Toit on vocals in English and Afrikaans, French and Flemish, this collection of 20-odd songs are deliciously hand-picked, and feature a gentle extrapolation on the lyrics before the performance of each song. They’re magnificent pieces, some boasting the status of “Brel anthems” and others less well known but no less beautiful, but in performance, they’re sadly not always as crisp and audible as you might wish: the cheek mic on du Toit’s face and the mics on the instruments tend to grind the sound together in a way that flattens it, and the physical arrangement of the stage lacks the kind of finesse that you might expect in a Brel production.

All of this is, however, utterly forgivable. What this production lacks in polish, it makes up for in heart. Du Toit’s reputation as a Brel specialist is significant, and stretches over decades: his rendition in all four languages is utterly competent, with his Madeleine in Flemish topping the evening with a mix of pizzazz and clowning, poetry and tragedy all rolled together.

This heart-warming show doesn’t aspire or pretend to be anything more or less than a body of beautiful work celebrated by seasoned musicians. And you’ll leave with a spring in your step and a song in your heart and a tear or two on your cheek.

  • Bonjour Monsieur Brel is compiled by Juanita Swanepoel comprising songs originally written by Jacques Brel. It features creative input by Clinton Zerf, Matthys Maree, Coenraad Rall, and Jannie du Toit (musical arrangements) and is performed by Jannie du Toit (vocals and guitar), Susan Mouton (cello and piano), Chanie Jonker/Coenraad Rall (piano and piano accordion). It performs until July 16 at the Auto and General Theatre on the Square in Sandton. Call 011 883-8606 or visit http://www.theatreonthesquare.co.za

How to spice Christmas with shlock, shock and socks

cyrilandshirley

GETTING on like a house on fire: Son and mother, Cyril Dene (Robert Colman) and Shirley (Toni Morkel). Photograph by Dean Hutton.

THE YEAR’S BEEN grim, callous and ugly to most of us. We’ve lost people we’ve loved. And jobs we’ve relied on. War’s been apparent all over the place. As has disappointment in those who lead us. What better way to herald its closure than to indulge in easily the best nativity play you can imagine. Taking the earnestness from the tale and sprinkling it liberally with cabaret, intimate drunken mother/gay son dialogue and other fine spices, this nativity was a sock puppet drama, with schlock and shock ramped up all the way.

Arguably a character who is set to become iconic in South Africa is Sheila Shler. Last month, wig askew, lipstick smeared, but her posh Saxonwold accent still intact, she reported to facebook audiences from the SQs (servants’ quarters) of her grand estate, announcing that her (former) maid, Tryfeena had captured her house and moved her to the servants’ quarters while she slept. It was a tale constructed by veteran performer Robert Colman, contingent on the ‘Saxonwold shebeen’ saga spouted by Brian Molefe formerly of Eskom in his urge to prove himself clean of a Gupta stain, but that’s another whole story.

Sheila has since begun to enjoy a series, which is developing as we speak. And a family. Of sorts. While she did do a guest appearance in the nativity saga, involving baking and boogying, it was Sheila’s very very good friend, Shirley (Toni Morkel) and her son Cyril Dene (Robert Colman) who hosted the delicious revue. Confused yet? Well, you shouldn’t be.

This collaboration by unquestionably the country’s greatest veteran performers, in their sparkly slingbacks, double-decker wigs and bathing suits, to say nothing of long plastic eyelashes, as they lip synced perfectly to opera and delved with grubby issues of old age, sex and death most deliciously, was simply fantastic. It was a slice of Doo Bee Boobies and a soupçon of what might happen next in Sheila Shler’s life. And it was replete with many hilarious cherries on top, including a performance by the inimitable Irene Stephanou as Jesus’ granny with a strong Greek accent, who resents being omitted from the bible; the unforgettable Christine by Mark Hawkins who has terrifyingly dead eyes and other surprises; and a reflection on Welkom as being a little piece of hell for the aged, by Fiona Ramsay and Tony Bentel (who played Death).

With repartee as filthy and direct as is necessary and puppetry by Margaret Auerbach and Eduardo Cachucho that had the audience bordering on hysteria, there were nubs of poignancy and reality that pierced the show and lent it heart. You didn’t just go away with a grin hurting from too frequent use. Cyril and Shirley’s Sock Puppet Nativity and Xmas Variety Show has the potential of being a trailblazer in a whole range of directions, from Stephanou’s Jesus granny tearing into biblical narrative a la Kazantzakis  and his Last Temptation of Christ, to Sheila Shler’s ongoing tale of woe as a beacon showing the other side of what is happening in this country. This was a one-night-only event, but if there’s a chance it will regenerate itself come the end of 2017, there’s certainly something to look forward to in the year ahead!

  • Cyril and Shirley’s Sock Puppet Nativity and Xmas variety show was written, directed and performed by Robert Colman and Toni Morkel. It featured puppetry Margaret Auerbach and Spellbound Puppets, as well as performances by Tony Bentel, Mark Hawkins, Roberto Pombo, Fiona Ramsay, Irene Stephanou. It performed for a one-night-only season at Pop Arts theatre, Maboneng precinct, downtown Johannesburg on December 15. Visit popartcentre.co.za

Back to the future with a pot of kak at the end of the rainbow

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WHAT happened to our dreams? Daniel Mpilo Richards will blow you away.

YOU MIGHT THINK the political repartee through which we have collectively been wading for the last little while has been so overused by local comics that nothing’s very funny anymore. You’d be wrong. Mike van Graan’s Pay Back the Curry will dispossess you of any of those ideas, within its first few moments. Tautly cast, beautifully written in tune with the shenaginans in our country and seamlessly performed by the immensely talented Daniel Mpilo Richards, this is South African satire at its most ruthlessly scathing best.

But humour is complex, as director Rob van Vuuren indicates with this highly polished piece of work. Many Van Vuuren fans may know him for his work on Corné and Twakkie and the Most Amazing Show – or as a stand up comic. But there’s another side to this talented theatre personality, which saw plays of the ilk of Brother Number and The Three Little Pigs, really sinister works that meld well-established ideas with their utter corollaries: his successful appearance in serious theatre as well as comic roles makes him the perfect man to direct this piece.

Part stand up comedy, part revue, this one-man-play takes everything from Shakespeare to Sinatra, Somewhere Over the Rainbow to Born Free and casts it relentlessly against the besmirched mirror of our times. The writing is nimble and supremely sophisticated. You might laugh out loud several times, but the repartee will also have you squirming uncomfortably in your seat – and there, indeed, is the rub: occasionally in this intensely focused work you will find your grin frozen on your face in horror, as the focus digresses from the foolishness of Zuma and into the terror of being an African in a context where lesbians are raped, poverty pervades and corruption rules.

Pay Back the Curry doesn’t tell a story in the conventional way, but Richards so smoothly embraces myriad persona changes while he seduces the audience to looking at things they would normally shy from, that the sorry tale of contemporary South Africa gets splayed and flayed for all to see. From Penny Sparrow to Oscar Pistorius, the Guptas to Malema, nothing dodgy, contradictory, shameful or blatantly foolish escapes Van Graan’s intimate and bold speculum.

This play is an important one for this moment – it’s the kind of work that will date because its references are so very specific. Richards’s performance however, won’t: this is an actor who embraces major challenges with acumen and integrity. You can’t draw your eyes from him as he embodies every kind of political voice you can imagine, with all the colour, intelligence and flair necessary. See this play, now, while it’s ripe.

  • Pay Back the Curry is written by Mike van Graan and directed by Rob van Vuuren. It features design by Gantane Kusch (lighting) and is performed by Daniel Mpilo Richards at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square in Sandton until December 15. Call 011 883 8606 or visit theatreonthesquare.co.za

Where giggles and song should part ways

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MAGIC fingers: Ian von Memerty. Photograph courtesy Pieter Toerien Theatre.

A MEDLEY OF songs is a curious thing. It’s a bit like a Reader’s Digest compilation: enough to get your heart racing with nostalgia, but not enough to include every word. It’s a tight juxtaposition of hits that doesn’t pretend to be comprehensive, and yet the cohesive whole is delicious. This is the strength of Ian von Memerty’s Keyboard Killers, a celebration of eight men who wielded the piano with their fingers and their voice in a way that shaped the world, effectively.

From the simple melodies of Irving Berlin to the complex navigations through Beethoven and Handl that features in the beautiful complicated diversity of Billie Joel’s work, von Memerty is at the helm of his Yamaha piano, with a rich sense of self, a double bass on his right and a set of bongo drums on his left. Who could ask for anything more?

The show, structured like many of its ilk, is simply about entertainment, and conjoined with the incredibly fine work by pianists including Freddie Mercury, Noël Coward, Cole Porter, Stevie Wonder, Fats Waller and John Legend, it contains a rash of obligatory funny bits. The truth is, these funnies hurt the intensity of the programme and the potential brilliance of von Memerty on keyboard. Spewing self-deprecating jokes at various interregna in the show, von Memerty doesn’t do complete justice to his own skill, which soars and reaches out when he plays the work of Billie Joel and Freddie Mercury, but loses a sense of momentum in the bum wiggling exercises, the tired political jibes and the impromptu clowning.

Keyboard Killers is a pleasant enough show, but one not convincingly directed to celebrate von Memerty’s true fire – the kind of work that earned him his veteran keyboard king status.

  • Keyboard Killers is compiled and performed by Ian von Memerty with Bronwyn Clacherty on percussion and Andrew Warneke on bass. It performs in the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino, until October 30. Visit pietertoerien.co.za

How to fall in love with Afrikaans

Brilliant: Nataniel tells the impossibly delightful history of the fork, and other fine things. Photograph courtesy kyknet

Brilliant: Nataniel tells the impossibly delightful history of the fork, and other fine things. Photograph courtesy kyknet

What is it that can take a language coloured by historical violence, a conservative community with historical bias on its hands, and turn them completely around, enabling the community in question to view itself in an hilarious and truthful mirror? The unequivocally miraculous phenomenon of Afrikaans culture that singer-storyteller-performer of many additional talents Nataniël has been bringing to South African stages since 1983 is arguably amongst the best success stories in the arts of this country. And he continues, relentlessly: Banket met Nataniël (Banquet with Nataniël), a radio show that will be flighted on November 20, on RSG, as the finale of this year’s RSG Arts Festival, is one of those impeccably delicious bits of theatre that will leave you completely the richer.

This afternoon saw a live studio recording of the work, in the SABC’s magnificent if desperately underused recording studio, and within a set comprising large candles, an orchid and black drapes, the inimitable performer gave the spellbound and oft almost hysterical audience another beautiful gem.

A concatenation of his stories told in Afrikaans, and his songs, mostly performed in English, features in this show, which is about the back story of food and etiquette and what makes human society, tick. Above all, it’s a one-man revue which will make you remember why the arts are important to society and why you need to cherish each day, and make the simple gesture of eating a piece of toast with a lump of butter melting into it, as memorable and beautiful as a banquet.

Delivering a heady mix of home truths, hilarious nonsensical juxtapositions, and asides in his characteristic deadpan approach, Nataniel cocks a fond and gentle, but nevertheless blatantly honest snook at the society from which he originates; a master of succinct storytelling, he conjures up such delights as the young opera singer with a lazy eye that made everyone too frightened to look at her when she sang; the woman with a body resembling in Volkswagen beetle, in light blue crimplene; the security guard with beautiful muscles but a cake-less history and a detailed and thoughtful glance at the underbelly of manners in our society.

He tosses in a bunch of clichés about life being unpredictable and precious, but never allows himself to digress into the maudlin or even the anticipated. Rather his material, like his reflection on a dark chocolate-covered koeksister, remains hard and crispy to the first bite, but blending sweet and sour tastes. Indeed, his material, like his fondness for aligning seemingly contradictory flavours, throws salty in juxtaposition with sweet, hot with cold. But above all, it’s about a celebration of the nuances and texture, the spiciness and caveats in the language of Afrikaans itself.

The experience is astonishing. The show will not be repeated but should not be missed.

  • The RSG Kunstefees, comprising a rich array of culture that you can imbibe with your ears runs from Sunday November 15 at 3pm until Friday November 20 at 10pm. This, the third radio-based arts festival in South Africa may be accessed on 100 to 104FM or on DStv channel 913. The festival is also available online on rsg.co.za – where the full programme is available.
  • Banket met Nataniël will be broadcast on November 20 at 8.40pm.

Of baked beans and Hello Kitty, modest bling and uncurbable skinder: Welcome to Boegoespruit Ext 25

The Boegoespruit 'family',  clockwise from back: Twala (Jovan Muthray); Christina (Francesa Matthys); Unti (Sharmyan Kassen) and Shaamiela (Kirsty Marillier). Photograph courtesy www.wherevent.com

The Boegoespruit ‘family’, clockwise from back: Twala (Jovan Muthray); Christina (Francesa Matthys); Unti (Sharmyan Kassen) and Shaamiela (Kirsty Marillier). Photograph courtesy http://www.wherevent.com

The thrill of being in the presence of fresh young work as it hatches is incomparable. When you sit in the audience of this delightful work, created in entirety by students, you realise the palpable dynamite that there is in this industry, waiting to explode into professional careers. Boegoespruit Ext 25 is a work not without its flaws, and not devoid of a formulaic construction. It’s also rough around the edges and does need more sharpening, but with all these healable bruises, it’s a solid and delicious piece of theatre that offers a self-deprecating glance at the idiosyncrasies of being coloured, being poor and being hilarious that will make you sit up and take notice of these four young performers.

The saga of a spaza, Boegoespruit Ext 25 is an essay on informal contemporary living conditions, replete with gossip and tragedy, humour and pathos that will move you to spontaneous laughter and tears. The characters are larger than life: Twala, a ‘hairchetect’ (Jovan Muthray), who wears golden pants and a jacket zhooshed into bling with bits of hardware from cold drink cans; Unti, the massively bosomed baked beans queen (Sharmyan Kassen), with a Hello Kitty penchant who runs the spaza shop; Shaamiela, a school girl who knows more about social intercourse than perhaps she should (Kirsty Marillier); and Christina, a bank clerk on a trajectory to be somebody in this world (Francesca Matthys).

Together they form an approximation of a family and reflect on the see-sawing of life, punctuated as it is by a lack of material comfort, a rumbling sense of self-deprecating humour and many dollops of rich local colour. The plot is simple, and has a nice hairpin bend in it, but not a satisfyingly developed ending. And while Unti and Twala steal the show in terms of how well their characters are developed, Unti’s make up is so overdone that she reads as a male in obvious drag, from the get go.

Once you realise that is not the case, you quickly learn to roll with the social punches that this play, which borders on being a revue of sorts, delivers, wrapping real issues of homophobia, rejection, deep sadness and drug addiction into the hilarious fabric of this sustainably strong work. More than anything, the text of Boegoespruit attests to the robustness of this community, stained as it is by the detritus of apartheid and broken by social bias. As a theatre piece, it attests to the way in which the students understand the principles of clowning, of playing to an audience and of collaborating with genuine generosity. The set, too, offers an intimate and astute understanding of the society being reflected, and works well. Remember these names: you will be seeing them again on professional stages soon.

  • Boegoespruit Ext 25 is directed by Leonie Ogle with design by Nthabiseng Malaka (set) and Hlomohang Mothetho. It is written and devised by the cast: Sharmyan Kassen, Kirsty Mariller, Francesca Matthys and Jovan Muthray, and performs at the Nunnery, as part of the Wits 969 Festival, on July 21, 23, 24 and 25. Tickets via co.za