By BRUCE DENNILL
Warren Robertson: Dad Inside / Dunkelder Teater. Dunkeld, Johannesburg
The Dunkelder Teater is a fascinating, valuable space in a suburban mansion scheduled to be flattened when the developers that own the property get around to kicking off their plans for its likely eminently more banal future.
For now, it is run by married couple and casual visionaries TJ and Lejanie Strydom, who live on the top floor and maintain the extensive ground floor as a 60-seater performance space, a cosy wine bar and pool room, all offshoots from a huge double-volume atrium. The Strydoms host what they like, on their own terms (which tend to heavily favour artists, by the looks of things), and the atmosphere of supportive edginess that has resulted is a good fit comedian Warren Robertson, who performed his new one-man show Dad Inside there ahead of touring the production to the UK in 2019.
There are three significant threads that Robertson weaves through his performance: the death of his father, his own first forays into fatherhood, and his divorce from his wife (and the mother of his child), which sadly overlapped in the lead-up to the writing of this material.
That sounds hilarious, no? Well, no. But is it relatable, and therefore authentic? Yes, and there is where a great deal of the show’s appeal lies. There is not a single mention of why airports are, like, so crazy; or any hint that car guards are superfluous; or indeed, any acknowledgement that politics is even a phenomenon. These and other stand-up comedy clichés are discarded in favour of trenchant introspection that is then mixed with Robertson’s trademark mix of intelligence, rage – directed at everything from babies to deities – and offhand vulgarity.
There are bound to be one or two moments in the set where most audience members will find something to take offence at, but the above combination of ideas removes what is most annoying about much of mainstream club comedy, while also encouraging a response from onlookers – feel a little, happily agree, violently disagree or simply cackle at something that in any other context might seem profoundly inappropriate but here seems amusing, if not outright side-splitting.
The dynamics of the show (when not interrupted by one or two audience members a touch the worse for the wear for the Dunkelder’s “R50 for bottomless wine” strategy) are fascinating and persuasive, going from Robertson’s railing about some or other nonsensical societal norm, his face red, veins raised on his neck, to pin-drop quiet pauses as he recalls his father being diagnosed with cancer, or not being allowed access to his son.
The venue is plain – brightly coloured paint is the only real distraction – but embellishments are not required. Robertson, for all that he regularly plays down his profile and skills (during his set) easily holds his audience’s attention, quickly quelling the odd heckle with an all-too-easy quip (must try harder, guy who claims to be an expert in all things He-Man).
This kind of intellectual but accessible ranting and rationalising feels exactly right in a venue that is somewhat left of centre, where you can mix with the rest of the audience and the comics (Ebenhaezer Dibakwane was the warm-up act) afterwards and then head home afterwards with your brain unassailed by superficiality.