By BRUCE DENNILL
Stark Raving Mark! / Studio, Pieter Torien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg 5
Stand-up comedian Mark Banks is perhaps best known for his surrealist improvisational tendencies, which give him the ability to be effective when he’s both off the cuff and and off the wall, providing a blizzard of words and ideas for his audience to mentally sift through for the always evident cutting insights.
His latest one man show, however, is his least subversive for a long while. Abut the most seditious aspect is Banks’ choice of a chaise longue as the platform from which to develop his material, making this much more of a lie-down gig than a stand-up show. The conceit is that there is an invisible psychoanalyst present to hear Banks work through his angst about the many issues that annoy him – one of which is that he doesn’t feel he has anything to write a new show about.
Whether the concept is useful or simply confuses parts of the audience (some of whom repeatedly check their phones and make loud retorts as though this was a club gig rather than a more structured theatre production) is up for debate.
The real point of concern is that, by choosing to forego his trademark stream-of-consciousness whackiness, Banks makes this more of a conventional comedy set, in all senses of the words. He explores many of the same tropes – airports and aeroplane etiquette, frustration in traffic, how different South African race groups react to various stimuli – as almost every young comic in every comedy club. And while there is certainly the wider perspective that comes with his experience, this feels to some extent like Banks on cruise control rather than stretching himself in any way.
He’ll have his reasons for that, and regular guffaws from the cellphone and loud-talking segment of the audience – including one whose belly-laugh manifested as a high-pitched wheeze that sounded like a punctured tyre – confirmed that there remains a market for such material and, that being the case, taking more risks may just be inviting trouble.
All of that said, Banks being Banks, no two performances in this run will be the same, so while the core of the set is likely to stick around, expect varying energy levels and running times as he reacts to different audiences.