Diane de Beer reviews Mike van Graan’s State of the Nation from a few year’s back but if you’re at the 2018 KKNK, witness the coming together of three artists in away that will blow your mind:
PLAYWRIGHT: Mike van Graan
DIRECTOR: Rob van Vuuren
PERFORMER: Daniel Mpilo Richards
The stars have aligned for these three artists, who each in turn contributes to a product that works from start to finish – brutally and brilliantly.
In these unprecedented times in the world, that’s what we need. There’s been enough denial and dismissal of what’s happening in this country because of disappointment, disbelief and disenchantment.
But enough already is what Van Graan seems to say and with all his skills and savvy, he has found the perfect form and performer to speak his mind. When you look at the theatrical landscape, audiences want escape and not many want to be faced with the reality of their daily lives. But on our current political death ride, it’s as if people have had enough of heads in the sand, being polite and are desperately seeking for someone to take the beast by the scruff of the neck
That individual is Van Graan. He has always been a political animal, an activist, someone who has fought for his beliefs and written extensively on everything he sees especially in the arts where hard news was seldom – if never – covered. He has never shied away from being the lone loud voice out there.
That’s why his script is so finely crafted. This is copy he has been writing for years. He knows what he wants to say, has all the hard facts at his fingertips which allowed him to up the ante and put together a solo show that’s as delicious to watch as it is disheartening.
That’s the point though. You can be entertained with quality while also digesting the facts and confronting the issues. Struggle theatre might not always pull in those audiences, but when it is done well, it hits all the marks. Who cannot be passionate when it is about the thing you care about most – freedom.
Add Richards with the insightful guiding hand of Van Vuuren and it’s lift-off. They already proved their theatre smarts in Show Me the Curry but this isn’t just a formula that’s repeated ad nauseum. Each sketch is finely crafted, a mini show of its own, written in a different style allowing the performer the freedom to play around.
Because Van Graan is so adept with words and its theatrical application, he can take a chicken sketch and have you laugh out loud simply for the many phrases he can conjure up to suit the subject; but then he infuses every phrase with punch; and Richard in full physical performance mode, cackles through it hilariously.
It’s never just fun and games and that’s why this searing South African show even as it highlights the horror in blazing colour, also leaves us with hope.
Check Van Graan’s mantra (below) which captures everything he stands for in the world and as Richards sinks his teeth into this stirring soliloquy, you can hear a pin drop. From chicken coop to stirring soapbox, it’s a wild and traumatic ride.
It’s truly the stuff of theatre. It might tear at your gut, but it holds your attention, has your mind racing, asking questions, digesting issues and finally, ready and armed to fight the good fight.
by Mike van Graan
I am not a patriot
For pointing out naked emperors
For not joining the chorus of praise singers
For allegiance to country, not party
I am anti-transformation
For still sprouting non-racist mantra
For resisting cadre deployment
Choosing delivery not patronage
I am a sellout
For donating my poetry to resistance
For refusing to live in denial
For declining thirty pieces of silver
I am an ultra-leftist
For supporting human rights in Zimbabwe
For not being a millionaire socialist
For saying what others but think
I am a racist
For breaking the silence with a whisper
For preferring thought to propaganda
For standing up amidst the prostrate
For repeated conspiracy with the questions what, how, why
I am a white monopoly capitalist
For marching against corruption
For not looting the people’s purse
Choosing principle above expedience
I am a counter-revolutionary
An enemy of the people
An agent of imperialism
An apartheid spy
For not martyring my mind
For not holding my tongue
For not sacrificing my soul
I have been here before
But then as a communist
Labels they come and labels they go
Hard on the footsteps of those
Who defend new privilege with old morality
Who appropriate history for contemporary pillaging
Who now crucify the people on their electoral crosses
I have been here before and I shall be here again
For as long as the poor – like Truth – are with us