By BRUCE DENNILL
Ndumiso Lindi: Big Boys Don’t Cry In July / Auto & General Theatre On The Square / Sandton, Johannesburg
Ndumiso Lindi’s explanation for his new one-man show’s awkward title (with those apparently superfluous final two words) helps give a good deal on perspective on where he will be coming from for the bulk of the impressive two-hour running time of his set. The comedian lost his father – a towering figure in every sense in Lindi’s younger life – a year ago, in July, and that event was the catalyst for much musing and philosophising as he begin to understand his new roles in his family, and the influence of his late dad.
Performing before a mixed audience, Lindi initially wanders into territory occupied by a number of distinctively average South African comics, playing racial stereotypes off each other in a way that feels unnecessary given the depth suggested by the above introduction.
Happily, and whether as a result of careful planning or otherwise, the way the cultures of diverse audience members are highlighted as being different and supposedly entirely separate makes the part of the show that comes later more powerful.
The urbane Lindi, dapper in a tailored suit and surrounded by a trio of mannequins looking similarly suave in outfits that relate to various anecdotes he shares, returns to his childhood, youth and young manhood to explore moments that shaped his understanding of family dynamics and his place in the world. That these involve dogs, bicycles and strange relatives makes them universally applicable, with skin colour being irrelevant (with the possible exception of a large dog belonging to one of Lindi’s friends).
The comedian’s delivery of these emotive tales is enhanced by a knack for physical comedy that matches his way with words and his clever structuring of the show. A line something as banal as putting a fitted sheet on a soft sponge mattress is gently funny, for instance. But with added grimacing, stretching and twitching it becomes hilarious.
In between the segments of the show when the sensation of giggling consistently is enhanced by the warmth of nostalgia or, if your own past was hugely different to Lindi’s, at least a feeling of genial warmth, the performer puts aside the comedy for a moment and simply tells a story that gives insight into the character of his father or other members of his family or community. It’s an odd sensation, sitting in a comedy show and having a narrative end without the expectation of a laugh – or indeed, a punchline.
These straight sections don’t make the mood more serious in any way, rather adding further layers to a pleasingly complex examination of what it takes to be a man – the set’s major theme – that is never as heavy or metaphysical as that subject matter can be in other contexts.
Significant subject matter, delivered with confidence and flair.