By BRUCE DENNILL
Mark Banks: Alive! / Studio Theatre, Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg
The stage for Mark Banks’ one-man comedy show at the Studio Theatre is littered with coloured plastic balls, discarded wigs, hatstands and other colourful detritus. For anyone familiar with Banks’ performance style, that feels like a reasonable metaphor for his mind – packed with a bizarre array of facts, trivia and puns, all mashed up into a sort of surrealist soup that seems to give Banks only a little more sense of where he’s going next than the audience is privy to.
All of which makes Alive! an appropriately non-committal and pleasingly emotionally accurate title for a show in which Banks goes pretty much wherever he wants to in terms of topics. He begins the evening in a costume that will make those insiders who recognise the character chuckle and maintains a similar level of irreverence for the rest of the show’s running time.
There’s a modicum of structure – a particular prop gets used three or four times for a stream of linked gags – but around that spine, Banks meanders merrily, beginning by inserting a stage giggle as a tone setter before, as the audience gets fully on board, he occasionally laughs himself to tears between delivering lines as improvised threads unfurl and tie themselves in knots. This helps promote a mood of glorious silliness in which, among other things, it’s difficult to feel stress and easy to be cheerful, even when Banks’ satire is built around serious and even disagreeable subject matter (the current affairs stuff that informs most more predictable comedy shows).
The lack of a single major hook or focus means Alive! is not built to help you process what’s going on in the world (post-pandemic recovery, infrastructure collapse and all of that fun stuff). But sharp observations, intelligent wordplay (“The electricity was off, so I had to open my gate artisinally”), an affinity for no-warning mental gymnastics and an ever-present streak of empathy give Banks more than enough tools to reach his audience with whatever version of this show he puts together on any given night. Warmth and laughs.