BWW Reviews: Plenty of Laughs on the Cape Town Comedy Circuit with Oskar Brown and Pieter-Dirk Uys
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by David Fick
There seems to be an abundance of comedy shows in Cape Town at the moment. Names like Siv Ngesi, Trevor Noah, Alyn Adams and Marc Lottering have been and are lighting up theatre billboards around town and fans of comedy will have something to watch on any night they choose well into the new year. Two of the acts I managed to catch are Oskar Brown in his ONE NIGHT ONLY show at Richard’s Supper Stage and Bistro and Pieter-Dirk Uys in his latest outing at the Baxter, AN AUDIENCE WITH PIETER-DIRK EISH! Although the two shows are vastly different in approach and style, both offer plenty of laughs and entertainment for their respective audiences.
Oskar Brown, a South African living in Germany, returned to the southern hemisphere to offer just two performances – one in in Namibia and one in South Africa – of ONE NIGHT ONLY, a show he started developing while he was still studying Theatre and Performance at the University of Cape Town. In the show, he tells a number of stories linked by the theme of coming of age. There are stories about girls and bananas, silkworms, masturbation, school and racial dynamics. Each has moments that elicit chuckles, and the biggest set pieces of the evening tickle your belly with some hearty guffaws.
One of the trademarks of Brown's performance seems to be connecting with the audience as they arrive. While we were all enjoying the relaxed atmosphere in Richard’s, nibbling on dinner or desserts or just having a drink, Brown wondered around from table to table, having a word with each of us. Someone else at my table was relieved to find out while chatting to him that this was not the kind of comedy show where audience members get singled out and heckled, while I found it interesting to hear Brown describe himself not as a standup comic, but rather as a hybrid of storyteller and comedian. It was also a time in which Brown was able to connect with the huge German presence in the audience, which led to one or two German punchlines in the show which seemed to go over the heads of the folks at our table.
A sense of storytelling is certainly clear in Brown's delivery. He is gifted in his ability to craft imagery with words. Several stories were told about that installation in every school: the annoyingly perfect student who makes everyone else feel less intelligent than they are. There could not have been a single person in the audience who was unable to imagine this student's stumpy pencil and the brilliance of her projects after Brown's evocative descriptions of them. My other favourite story of the night revolved around Brown's experience with mumps, a disease that I am absolutely paranoid about contracting. His tale confirmed all my fears and yet I was left with a silly grin on my face, which made me think that, yes, this guy has something to say and a pretty charming and engaging way of going about it. Although the show needs, perhaps, a director’s eye to fine tune its rhythms and perhaps polish up on some of its presentational gimmicks, it is worth keeping an eye out for encore performances of the show should Brown return to South Africa as planned next year.
The comedy of Pieter-Dirk Uys, in contrast to Brown's, is a ubiquitous feature of life in Cape Town – and one that is just as welcome. AN AUDIENCE WITH PIETER-DIRK EISH! also begins by establishing a friendly rapport with the audience, although this time it is because the audience is vital in choosing the line-up for the show, which is something of a "greatest hits" evening and features some of Uys's best loved characters and impersonations, linked by his own sharp philosophical insights into life in contemporary South Africa. Some of the audience members who were lucky enough to choose one of the 15 prepared skits that were represented by a number of boxes lined up on stage at the start of the show included a tourist from the UK, a couple of schoolgirls on an outing from a convent school in the area and a birthday boy. So this is a perfect outing for a special night, as you might find yourself with an extra special memory to help commemorate it.
Because of this approach to the show, the grouping of skits that each audience sees is unique. We were fortunate enough to see Uys's classic, beloved Evita Bezuidenhout character looking through some top secret files apparently discarded by the African National Congress; the full range of South African prime ministers; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and – my personal favourite – the deliciously politically incorrect Noelle Fine, a white Jewish liberal who says the most awfully inappropriate things in a fine-tuned kugel accent.
Although the character is not likely to rear his head at every performance, the one act of the evening that did not work for me was the first one we saw, a prison warden who took care of Nelson Mandela while he was incarcerated during apartheid. It was the only skit of the evening where Uys’s comedy felt irrelevant and dated. That might sound like an odd criticism in a show that is composed largely of skits that are familiar to audiences who have seen Uys on stage before, but the other characters seemed to have something to say about the life we are living in South Africa right here and now, which is of course the very broad topic that Uys used to frame the satirical material written to link the set pieces together.
It is clear that the seriousness of South Africa's politics is as important to Uys now as it was during the days of apartheid and it was heartening to overhear some of the schoolgirls in the audience talking to their teacher as they left the theatre about the road to Mangaung and their intention to participate in the next election, which Uys had encouraged them to do mid-performance. Perhaps that is the measure of Uys's success in performance: political satire is aimed at shifting mindsets and lays down a challenge for the audience to re-examine the practice of their citizenship. The gauntlet laid down here was enthusiastically taken up.
It seems that comedy is thriving in Cape Town and that audiences are spoiled for choice. ONE NIGHT ONLY was a once-off event that is currently considering a return run in 2013, but tickets for AN AUDIENCE WITH PIETER-DIRK EISH! (running until 17 November) are still available through Computicket.
Photo credits: Clemens Hess, Stefan Hurter