Pictures: Suzy Bernstein
DIANE DE BEER
ANOTHER’ ONE’S BREAD: A Dark Comedy about food, funerals and feeding scheme
PLAYWRIGHT: Mike van Graan
DIRECTOR: Pamela Nomvete
CAST: Faniswa Yisa, Chuma Sopotela, Motlatji Ditodi, Awethu Hleli
VENUE: Mannie Manim at the Market Theatre, Newtown
UNTIL February 4
As is his nature, Mike van Graan breaks new ground – in a fashion.
Apart from being commissioned by the Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE), he has also tapped into the trending world of woman power quite magnificently.
Commissions aren’t a new thing, but kudos to the CoE for taking their topics of interest and giving them to activist playwright Van Graan who in recent years has found the ideal way of juggling comedy and crisis.
His writing has always been crisp and insightful but finding a handle, in this instance food security, and tying it to something as ubiquitous as funerals which have spectacular value in black communities (“they eat Shoprite food, but want Woolworths funerals”) is sheer brilliance and allows for an abundance of hilarity.
In direct contrast to Zakes Mda’s tragic mourner in Ways of Dying, The Substitutes, whose name implies a singing group rather than a serious quartet of mourners, are four dynamic women who have come together driven by need.
The one, as the title suggests, feeds the other. Not only are they making a living, but by finding the best source of leftover food – funerals – they have discovered a way to generously keep their feeding schemes going and growing in the township.
Fashioning this one out of sketches, allows Van Graan to pick different topics with one, for example, that many would appreciate – bureaucracy. It’s the scourge of the modern world and it seems the way big business has settled on to keep their money, while endlessly frustrating their customers, until they run off screaming.
He spotlights this with an incomprehensible application being drafted to the Arts and Culture fund while on the other side of the room, one of the women is engaged in a phone conversation with a call centre as she runs through all the buttons she must push before finding life – and that quickly dies.
The razor-sharp text is combined with clever casting of four actresses cunningly individual yet speaking with one voice. The choice of giving this one to the women is dazzling not only because it’s time, but also because we so seldom see four (especially black) women running the show and with the director also female, truly ruling this one.
And they nail it! It’s fun, highlights the comedic talents of actresses like Sopotela and Yisa who often play more weighty characters and also brings a different energy to the story and the stage.
Yes, it’s slightly messy but for this one, it works as they move in and out of the stories with the light shining on different characters and their tales, or simply get them all squabbling quite deliciously around a table.
But Van Graan, while having a giggle, never lets his audience off the hook. It’s a time of trouble in our world and beyond and he won’t let you forget it. He’s simply feeding you some funny lines to hook you gently and then turns the screws.
That’s what we need in these times. We can’t turn away from what is happening around us. It’s a disaster on so many levels. But why should we be pulled down to that level at the same time? Instead, look at it from a different vantage point, laugh a little – or a lot as in this instance – and then get serious as you get the message.
He casts the net far wider than might have been asked for but in that way, you must listen carefully while enjoying the merriment. He preaches vegetarianism as the healthier option while lambasting the fat cats in parliament on the one hand. Then sweetly turns the land issue upside down with a discussion on the disastrously tiny plots of land dedicated to RDP housing.
With funerals as the backdrop, Van Graan taps into the lucrative business that this has become in the black community. Many families might end up spending more on the dead than on the living and here, he also has something to say, when one of the women talks about her own burial and how she would rather go up in smoke than lie until the end of time amongst all those strangers in a cemetery.
Holding it all together is the camaraderie of the four larger-than-life characters as they turn up at funerals where they do the mourning – with flourish – and then get paid. And with this comes some soul-baring singing and choreography to die for.
It’s a terrific way to start your theatre year and you get a chance to vent.