By BRUCE DENNILL
Mark Banks On Ice / Studio, Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg
Now in his 60th year, comedian Mark Banks, in his umpteenth solo show, continues to do what comes naturally to him: talk informed but surreal nonsense. Reviewing his performances on the supposition that the following show will contain even a reasonable amount of the same content is potentially futile. Which is, of course, no bad thing, particularly if you are a big enough fan to go to more than one performance in this run. But it does mean that Mark Banks is essentially a standalone comedy subgenre, and a production in which he is the only star should perhaps be looked at a pie out of which he cuts and serves a piece every night.
One theme which will be addressed is the gimmick of the production’s name, which Banks can and does explain in a number of ways. On the evening of the performance under review, his introduction to how the 75-minute set would probably play out comprised around 20 minutes of absurdist, possibly improvised meandering – which is part of the joke, especially given that some of the audience members are expecting a more traditional stand-up structure and start getting fidgeting when a single gag is deliciously drawn out like this.
It’s interesting to note what sort of role the audience plays in the overall tone of such a performance. Watching a comedy play in the same venue sees the crowd (if the material is good) laughing and occasionally murmuring to each other between punchlines. Put a comedian on the stage and for many ticket-holders, it’s not much different to open-mic night at a club gig, including some mild heckling and the shouting out of answers to rhetorical questions, which Banks is gracious about accepting.
In terms of subject matter, Banks is relatively apolitical, which is fantastic. The bickering and pettiness of alleged leaders gets more than its fair share of exposure in general discourse, and to watch a gifted satirist choose to let such individuals make fools of themselves makes as much of a statement as would be made by dissecting it with witty one-liners.
Banks’ major focus, which he confirms in the show’s closing moments, is to underline that a world in which we are still able to laugh, individually and collectively, is not a hopeless place. That might, from some perspectives, seem like a twee truism, but when you’ve spent over an hour – by that point – smiling, giggling and occasionally guffawing, you’ll understand that how you feel then is genuinely preferable to your emotional state after a tough day at work, or while considering crime statistics, or whatever raises your stress levels. It’s a small triumph, perhaps, but it’s a victory nonetheless, and one for which, in this context, Banks deserves all of the credit.