By BRUCE DENNILL
Love Factually / Directed by Chris Weare / Pieter Torien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg
Rob Becker’s Defending The Caveman is a theatrical phenomenon. A humorous take on relationship dynamics, it’s been a massive success everywhere it’s been staged, and it’s a familiar piece in South Africa, having been performed 1500-plus times by Tim Plewman (who’s recently started touring it again, and 941 times by Alan Committie, who’s positioned Love Factually, his new one-man show, as an informal sequel.
It’s not a difficult sell, as …Caveman was written at the beginning of the 1990s – a full generation ago, when dating etiquette was considerably different to how it is now. For one thing, internet dating was non-existent, so the questions arising from that practice were irrelevant. For long-term fans of Committie’s, his stepping away from current affairs as a general theme for his writing also adds freshness to this offering – particularly for audiences who didn’t see him in …Caveman.
The theme is not force-fed to audiences, other than via the presence of a giant sperm prop on one side of the stage and an egg on the opposite side. The rest of the set focuses attention on a large screen on which a number of audiovisual segments are played throughout the show, allowing Committie to showcase a number of different characters (including the ever-popular Johan Van Der Walt) without the hassle of costume changes.
For the most part, the writing is solid – reasonably insightful and consistently funny thanks to Committie’s expert stagecraft and amiable performer’s persona. Late in act two, there’s a standout moment when Committie quotes some relationship advice from his father. In many ways, it’s the highlight of the piece, which is ironic given that it’s not aimed at getting a laugh – in what is clearly a comedy show.
That moment speaks to the feeling that many Committie commentators have – that by playing (sensibly) to a mainstream audience, the comedian and actor rather undervalues his wit and intelligence. Here he goes from profound perceptiveness (no laughs), to marshalling a tipsy volunteer as she tries to insert a duvet into its linen sheath (giggles and guffaws).
For couples or anyone who has some experience of relationships, the content will resonate – and the beauty of such a theme for any writer or performer is that most people will fit under that heading. But the peak at real acuity; at thought-provoking wisdom; that Committie offers suggests a show that would satisfy on a number of added levels.