DIANE DE BEER
WRITER: Mike van Graan
DIRECTOR: Rob van Vuuren
ACTOR: Daniel Mpilo Richards
VENUE: Sandton’s Auto & General Theatre on the Square
DATES: Until July 29
The unholy trinity of writer Mike van Graan, director Rob van Vuuren and actor Daniel Mpilo Richards are at it again.
They have found a way to tell stories with ease about a diseased country – and have the audience laughing their heads off, while facing the music – willingly.
That’s no mean feat but Van Graan, who not only won the 2018 Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture, a biannual international award recognising those who foster dialogue, understanding and peace in conflict areas, but was also awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Pretoria earlier this year, has been peddling these political wares for a long time and has honed his skills in a way that is perfectly palatable. In fact, this artistic trio fuses three of the best in this particular genre.
It all begins with the playwright who from Pay Back the Curry to State Fracture and now the third in this alternative history lesson, has street smarts but also the knowledge and insight into the shenanigans of politicians who live in the belief that they can pull off the impossible – in plain sight. He has found a way to formulate this heady yet heavy-going message while fully engaging the audience in a rollercoaster ride of what is probably their lives.
It’s where the fun starts – with the writing. That’s before checking into the content – simply the writing itself. Van Graan is having fun as he reaches from soccer games with political parties playing the field to Shakespeare as he runs through the titles, characters and phrases easy to pick out and giggle about. He lashes out at landgrab as he gets stuck into the Aborigine issues down under while dealing with the results of colonialism that simply won’t go away – anywhere and everywhere you look. It might seem too far away but the similarities as we all recognise are glaring. And yet, its easier to pick up on the wrongs of others, he seems to say. As he shoots straight arrow at the American cowboy who sings a looter’s lament in which he has the following demand: “You shall not take what I’ve taken from you.”
It is the third in the series and it can run forever in the world we live in today. Van Graan himself concedes: “I’m not writing, I’m editing.” But there is more to it than that. Even though there is a formula that runs through the series, the result isn’t formulaic. Van Graan is wise and he takes care with writing that is as wily as it is witty. He has always been the self-appointed town crier, felt the need to broadcast the message and down the years, he has found different ways to conduct and consummate that calling.
All you have to do is listen, smile throughout and then mull over and take the distressing truths on board.
Fortunately, Richards simplifies that process. Part of the magic has been the discovery of this performer. He takes the material and has fun with it at breakneck speed which means from the start, he must be word perfect with a performance that’s seamless. None of the work can be visible and he has to be light-footed yet painfully exact with his execution for everything to work. He plays with every nuance that is required, both to entertain and to underline the gravitas of this material.
He has masses of talent which is cleverly displayed from his musical abilities to his way with accents and innuendo which perfectly captures a look required in this instance to tell the story. Talking car guards, someone who is part of everyone’s life daily and religiously ignored by many, the story is easy to tell and while both writer and performer want you to laugh, they also need you to squirm as Richards reminds his audience when they leave, to tip the car guard.
It’s that kind of show. As South Africans there’s nothing we don’t recognise in this familiar landscape. But it has been painted in colours that boldly slap us on the shoulder before it punches us in the gut. And to complete the circle, Van Vuuren’s touch is unmissable as he manipulates and massages the skills of a performer that’s as flexible whether he is flagrantly funny or poignant with purpose when he concludes with a reworked version á la Van Graan of John Lennon’s searing Imagine.
And sadly, at this point, it’s simply that. But at least you will walk out of there laughing…in hope as we always do.