Theatre Review: The Brothers, Number One And A Weekend Special, Or A Crisis Re-Captured

April 28, 2024




The Brothers, Number One And A Weekend Special / Directed by Greg Homann / Mannie Manim Theatre, Market Theatre


A title that’s tricky enough to make you fumble it a couple of times on the drive to the theatre does, it transpires, provide a rough outline for a stage drama that recalls and fleshes out a part of South Africa’s political history that very nearly broke the country beyond repair. State capture – the machinations of the wealthy and devious Gupta brothers to pay for the favour of various government ministers and other people in power, most notably ex-President Jacob Zuma (Number One) – made a mockery of a democracy still trying to find its feet, financially benefitting a small group of the people a previously downtrodden populace had placed its trust in and ripping the rug out from under everyone else’s feet.

It’s not a passage of time many people want to remember, but it’s not – and particularly in an election year; just a month ahead of the 2024 South African general election – something that any citizen of this country can afford to forget. The script here details, in compressed form, the events that led to the downfall of the Guptas and their far-reaching scheme and, to some degree, the ANC’s loss of credibility as a result and in doing so now, it pushes a number of buttons for both voters and all of those coveting their votes.

Scriptwriter Richard Calland is a professor in constitutional law and a respected political commentator, meaning that he is a sure hand when it comes to including all the different threads that were woven together to create the whole messy state capture situation. His lines require the show’s cast (which includes David Dennis and Zane Meas) to learn and deliver a great deal of information to each other so that the audience can understand all the facts, and that goal is achieved: all the dots get connected to paint a picture of how state capture occurred and who (generally speaking; there is not a long list of specific individuals) should be held responsible.

The upshot of this approach is that almost all of the dialogue is exposition, with what character development there is being dealt with via the emotion in the delivery. As such, the piece falls somewhere between traditional straight theatre and something like a dramatic re-enactment – effective as a refresher and wake-up call when it comes to placing trust in deeply flawed leadership, but without much of the light and shade that less specifically focused storytelling involves.

There are some moments of dark levity (it’s an oxymoron, but so is “honest politician”), with Michael Richard as Tim Bell – head of England’s Bell Pottinger public relations firm, which invented destructive social campaigns around concepts  like “white monopoly capital” to support the Gupta’s aims – getting all the best lines, delivered with a smugness befitting someone from the moneyed classes of a country with a history of making the citizens of its colonies doubt themselves and their capacity.

It’ll be interesting to see if the piece reaches audiences in a way that a newscast cannot with its timely message. While it is art, it is not escapism, and if the bulk of theatregoers are seeking the latter, it may be only the already political aware who find the subject matter the basis of a good night out.