Theatre Review: Defending The Caveman – Newanderthal, Or Watching The Jackson Thrive

March 24, 2023




Defending The Caveman / Directed by Aurelie Stratton / Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg


Rob Becker’s popular comedy is the sort of show that can become an albatross or pay off your bond, such is its capacity to run for a long time and fill up the schedule of its star. The topical one-man play about the differences between men and women and how those affect their interactions can be updated to reflect the locales in which it is staged as well as whatever’s happening in current affairs, so its subject matter is always relevant. And the combination of broad-strokes chestnuts and more nuanced observational material makes it accessible to dedicated theatre or stand-up comedy fans and everyone in between.

Tim Plewman famously made South African institutions of both himself and the play with over 1500 performances in the role, and a later version starred stand-up comedian and actor Alan Committie, whose own original one-man shows have a similar dynamic – a solo performer, a theme, and loads of laughs.

Director Aurelie Stratton and new Caveman Craig Jackson have done more than just add or remove a few gags, and their ideas add a pleasing new dimension. The action is given a new context via some recorded audio and visual material which sees Craig locked out of the house he shares with his wife (played by Vanessa Frost, who starred in this show’s sister production Defending The Cavewoman – a clever touch for those in the know) after coming home late one too many times. His analysis of his relationship as a microcosm of all guy-girl relationships in that space makes the whole enterprise feel a little more natural than it has in previous incarnations.

Jackson is also more of an everyman than his predecessors in the role locally, making easily relatable material even more so. Even the pitch and timbre of his voice work in his favour, sounding funny regardless of what he’s saying when the character is mad or enthusiastic or otherwise demonstrative. And he has a way of adding little ‘grace words’ – the vocal equivalent of the little rhythm echoes drummers add between beats that adds to the fluidity of his patter.

Happily, where the script updates do nod to contemporary concerns – everything from gender issues to load shedding – they do so sensibly and briefly, making it clear that the production is up to date but not going for superficial laughs that play to the lowest common denominators in the room (which is often the case with such script adaptations).

This Theatre On The Square run is a short one, but it won’t be long before this piece is back on stage: this is a really effective launch of a strong new version of a proven success story.