Theatre Review: A Vegan Killed My Marriage – Humour And Hummus, Or Into The Guts Of The Gags

July 4, 2024




A Vegan Killed My Marriage / Directed by Craig Freimond / Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg


In terms of both its title and its poster art, A Vegan Killed My Marriage looks like a themed stand-up comedy set by Aaron McIlroy, probably peppered with jokes about people with tightly regulated diets and how they exasperated they can be in company sometimes.

What unfolds is so far beyond that as to be almost bewildering (in the best sense) as Aaron McIlroy gives something of a masterclass in pacing, comic delivery and physical theatre. It is just him on stage, speaking directly to the audience, including an opening disclaimer about the nature of some of the material that will follow. So far, so one-man comedy gig.

But there are clues, as the story develops, that the words McIlroy is delivering are not his own, and that the acting required to make the play feel like a more or less off-the-cuff stream of consciousness chat is deceptively complex – and made to look incredibly easy by the piece’s star.

As the themes are introduced, the script – written by Craig Freimond, who also directs – lays out its building blocks in a simple, competent way, but it is given, from the start, high entertainment value and then an odd, appealing combination of hilarity and gravitas by the way McIlroy presents it. He has a wonderfully expressive face, using his mouth, eyes and eyebrows to underline, intensify and accent words and syllables and adding expressions to descriptions to make them more impactful. The instant – and then regular – result are resounding belly laughs which, delightfully, don’t always happen at the same time, with different parts of the audience noting and reacting to assorted parts of each scene. This, in turn, causes McIlroy to engage and react with slightly improvised movements and pauses, which then encourages more laughter.

There are more serious moments, too, as the effect of a major life change – the protagonist becoming convinced of the damage caused by and cruelty involved in the meat industry and changing first his diet, then his lifestyle and then the way he interacts with others – becomes starkly and sometimes painfully clear. As a mechanism for exploring the complexity of relationships (and marriages in particular, with their specific kinds of compromise and emotional investment), the storyline – for that is what it is now clear this show is; a play, with a message – and its many effective gags create dozens of opportunities for deeper thought and discussion after leaving the theatre.

Sometimes it is unsettling to have your expectations overturned. In this case, it is satisfying and even edifying. Freimond’s writing doesn’t leave too much room for alternative agendas, but there is a balance to the storytelling that never allows the play to browbeat its audience. Indeed, it will likely have a positive effect – carnivores may not change their diets, but there is good reason to believe that their attitudes towards the issues involved in bringing steaks and dairy to their plates will be modified by the time they go home.

Surprisingly layered and genuinely hysterical, this is a show to savour (insert joke about how tofu tastes here).