You may usually feel kinda smug that you are not upstairs in what is sometimes known as the cheap seats (“the waiting” room – as Mark Banks calls it), but you want to be careful about sitting in the front row with that particular smugness displayed. Mark Banks is gonna stretch out a big, playful paw and wipe that smile off your face.
Before the beginning, the second one, that came just before the start of the start, Mark Banks got us warmed up with a light savaging of the folks from Constantia and Bellville in the front row. A great warm up for everyone in rows B to Z, but you try telling someone who has been charged by a lion that it was just a little fun [insert: evil laughter].
You know how the Village People are so gay they seem straight … or is it so straight that they seem gay? Mark Banks’s comedy is kind of like this. I wasn’t sure if we had come full circle to another place, or if a 360-degree journey had left us back at the beginning.
There is a kind of old-fashioned chutzpah to the way that he refuses to bow down before any new-fashioned sacred sacreds. He pulls no punches and there were a few moments when I squirmed in that special 1980s white SAfrican way. But then I did a 360 and wished my maid could see the ‘Almaida’ scene, where domestic workers are urged to continue their campaign of smashing crockery and breaking appliances at the last frontier of the struggle against colonialism.
Banks is at his best when taking a flying shot at all of us, not just Row A or militantly clumsy domestic workers. We laughed loudest when he unpicked the jargon, packed away the smoke and mirrors and recreated a few familiar scenes where it was not just the emperor who had no clothes. We were sitting there too, naked as the day we were born.
Take your Mum and Dad and let them laugh at how we were and maybe even at themselves. Expect some uncomfortable moments scattered among kind of old-fashioned laughs. Keep the sensitive/precious ones out of the front row!
And a while ago …
Freaking out brilliantly
Imagine you are a shy young actor, playing your first big part. It is a two-hander, starring just you and Dame Janet Suzman. You probably wouldn’t think, ‘How cosy!’ You might think, ‘Starts with f, rhymes with duck’ … It was something like that when Khayalethu Anthony heard that he had been chosen to perform the role of Solomon opposite Dame Janet Suzman’s Marion. He was initially “scared”, then he “freaked out” and finally, he recognised it as “the best thing that has happened to me in my life”.
Watching the veteran and the relative novice in Solomon and Marion took me on a similar journey through horror and hope. Dame Janet Suzman’s performance was incredibly, richly, elegantly powerful, as expected. She was consistent and believable, familiar and strange, kind of like our worst selves. And the shy young novice? Khayalethu Anthony was, to adapt his own words, scary and then a total freak-out!
The scene is thick with fear as we see him steal up to a house in the dark, like a burglar in the night. He soon relieves us of our fears and creeps into our hearts, as he does Marion’s, as his loveable, energetic character fills up her lounge and soon the theatre.
He painted a character who was so likeable and familiar that I woke up the next morning with a vague yet compelling feeling that I had somehow made a new friend the night before, that I had started to get to know someone I really liked. All this bubbling over of love for a very flawed character in a tragic story: so far, so South African. But fear not: this is not more post-apartheid hand-wringing. Solomon and Marion is one of those stories that is eminently believable while being impossible to imagine, even if one believes that truth is stranger than fiction.
As is our way (see a Feast of a fest ) we are sending the best of our best to the Edinburgh Fest but, if you live in Cape Town, you can see Solomon and Marion, the wonderfully prolific Lara Foot’s award-winning play, before it heads north. Just 11 performances at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio from July 10-20. Booking through Computicket on 0861 915 8000. More information www.baxter.co.za