Hypocrisy’s crowning glory

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A heady mix of irreverence, theatricality placed in a set simple in its magnificence, that is ramped up all the way and features contrivance pushed to the giddy hilt, Tartuffe is a tightly focused, beautifully choreographed tribute to Molière, which indulges in such an array of over-the-top shenanigans, you become embroiled in the madness and don’t want it to end.

Featuring actors physically large and small, from Vanessa Cooke as the maid Dorine to Neil McCarthy as Orgon, the beguiled father of the house, it’s an impeccable celebration of overstated gesture, eavesdropping and intrigue in the face of utter unabashed hypocrisy. A tale which enjoyed credence in the 17th century, it remains remarkably prescient in contemporary culture: Tartuffe (Craig Morris) is the charlatan smarmily secreted in the church’s moral values for his own benefit. He slips into the confidence, the heart and the intimate family values of Orgon, to almost devastating – but utterly hilarious – effect. But fear not, there’s a grim and sinister twist in the tale that lends it a devilish tone.

There are some strange anachronisms in the language:  the work was originally written in rhyming couplets and has by and large been translated as such in this version. This is a quality which sometimes causes the flow of the poetic metre to stumble and feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless the couplets that do work and the clarity of their articulation will hold you focused and keep you staving off your own laughter, because the hairpin turns of the plot need to be heard to be properly appreciated.

Capitalising on the physical attributes of her cast, director Sylvaine Strike works like a true caricaturist, making the simple gesture of walking up three steps into a sonata, and the act of crossing one’s legs a sonnet.  Indeed, Madame Pernelle, played by Morris is virtually all mouth, and her presence evokes Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts, to excruciatingly funny proportions. Monsieur Loyal, the lawyer, played by William Harding, takes immoderate to another whole level with his size, his sausage and his utterly ingratiating quality which might call up characters such as Dickens’s Uriah Heep, in your mind’s eye.

The music, which represents a pastiche of sound and tunes from the 1920s, is, however, too heavy handed in its approach and it does tend to crush the scenes it infiltrates, jarring and bouncing off the venue’s walls at times. The heaviness of the sound is balanced with acuity with the madly flexible bodies of the cast, however, and this tale of hypocrisy and love, sex and trust is something you wont want to drag yourself away from.

  • Tartuffe is written by Molière, translated from the French by Richard Wilbur and directed by Sylvaine Strike. It features creative input by Sasha Ehlers and Chen Nakar (set), Sasha Ehlers (costume), Oliver Hauser (lighting), Dean Barrett (music composition) and Owen Lonzar (choreography). It is performed by Adrian Alper, Vanessa Cooke, Khutjo Green, William Harding, Vuyelwa Maluleke, Neil McCarthy, Craig Morris, Anele Situlweni and Camilla Waldman at the Fringe, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, until June 25. Visit tartuffe.co.za
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Daniel Friedman on Making a Killing on Stage.

Daniel Friedman, aka Deep Fried Man. Photograph supplied.

Daniel Friedman, aka Deep Fried Man. Photograph supplied.

Playing dangerously on the idea that ‘dying’ and ‘killing’ in theatre mean doing badly and doing well, respectively, Daniel Friedman, 33, aka Deep Fried Man (pictured), spoke to the SA Jewish Report on the eve of the opening of his third one man show, Deep Fried Man Kills. (Owing to space constraints, the article which appears in this week’s print issue of the SA Jewish Report is an appended version. Here follows the full interview)

“It started with an ad I saw for illegal pharmaceuticals in South East Asia,” he said, changing his tone to something hilariously threatening. “‘Warning: Illegal pharmaceuticals can kill.’ It had this big skull and cross bones. Working on an idea for my one man show, I thought it would be a good idea to use the hat and bowtie I wear and put them onto a skull and crossbones and do it as a kind of warning ad.

“It’s a brave marketing thing,” he laughs nervously. “The show is an hour and a half of new songs. Unlike my first two shows where I experimented with visuals, and dance, and silly little bits in between, I have decided to just basically sing my songs. So I’ve stripped it down quite a bit. I’m just going to have a spotlight on me and I’m going to sing my songs.

“Obviously as an SA comedian who is topical, it’s hard because SA has a very short attention span; I almost feel like some of the stuff I was writing about last year, is out of date. All the usual suspects are there, whether it’s Nkandla or Oscar or eTolls – but on top of that I’ve got a few songs which are more about me and my life.

“They’re all comedy songs, but in a one man show, you have space to do songs which are not necessarily as laugh out loud funny as the ones I would do in a comedy club. In a one man show not all of it needs to be that obviously full of punch lines.

Having hosted three one-man shows so far in his career, he is aware of having evolved. “The biggest change has been in my stage persona. I used to be very awkward on stage; I’ve gotten enough stage time for that to go away, but it hasn’t necessarily been a good thing because in my awkwardness and terror on stage I had a recognisable stage persona. The fact that I was so meek on stage counteracted the material which was the opposite of meek.”

All his material is new for this show. “Every time I do a show I plan to develop about 20 new songs. That leaves me with new material, from which I pick out what’s worked the best, which becomes my set for the next year. Occasionally there are a couple of songs from the previous show which people expect and want and they don’t get as tired as the rest, so there’s always the potential of mixing those in.

“Comedy is all about people’s ability to relate to you. Sometimes I’m mystified by the fact that I have been on mainstream line-ups like Heavyweight Comedy Jam and Bafunny Bafunny, because I’m more alternative. And I’m blessed and grateful to have that.

“All comedians have to talk about their identity and I’m quite a renegade in the Jewish community,” he talks briefly about being perceived as the Jewish go-to guy for Jewish gigs. “There was a time when a lot of Jewish organisations wanted to book me because the thing is if you are a Jewish organisation and you’re having a comedian in your show, you want a Jewish comedian, and in Johannesburg, you are very limited in your options.

“You might want Nik Rabinowitz, but he’s in Cape Town and he’s expensive. The next option might be me. There’s uncle Mel Miller, but he’s slowing down in his workload and there’s Tracy Klass maybe, and … you can count us on one hand. For a while, there was a time when they wanted to me as an entertainment option, but there are various parts to my personality and history which make that difficult. My Jewish background is alternative and and my dad’s political academic Steven Friedman, which doesn’t help.

“I have to make peace with the fact that I need to develop an audience. There’s not one kind of Jewish person: I’ve found I’ve had support from people who maybe disagree with me politically but who still come to my shows and we chat afterwards.

“Being a topical comedian all your material is provided for you. What keeps me on my toes is trying to find my own angle. No matter what I talk about, it’s always gone through my filter and it always has to sound like a Deep Fried Man song: there’s always a little bit of absurdity to it, always a little bit of cynicism and always that cringe factor.”

He cites Larry David and Ricky Gervais as his main influences: “You’re laughing but part of it makes you uncomfortable as well. I’m very interested in that style of comedy. It’s a little bit acerbic and it borders on satire as opposed to being straight comedy. That’s the kind of stuff I try and go for, and hopefully I get the balance right.

“Like all things deep fried,” Friedman’s media statement says, “his unique musical comedy is very tasty but comes with health risks. Be warned that this show will leave you in stitches, struggling to breathe or even losing control of your bladder.”

After Deep Fried Man Kills, Friedman goes to the National Arts Festival with Chris Forrest and Warren Roberts and two other comedians for an ensemble show, which performs at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square in Sandton, come October.

Deep Fried Man Kills is at The Joburg Theatre Fringe, Braamfontein May 7-10.