The Unholy Trinity of Mike van Graan, Rob van Vuuren and Daniel Mpilo Richards Breaking Ground on Landacts




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.

Daniel Mpilo Richards

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.

Daniel Mpilo Richards1

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.





Van Graan’s State Fracture Brutally Brilliant

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
State Fracture pix 1
Daniel Mpilo Richards in State Fracture

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.


The Patriot 
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
A traitor
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