By BRUCE DENNILL
Pay Back The Curry / Directed by Rob Van Vuuren / Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg
Satirical revues, especially those that deal in the clichés of whatever agenda is currently being pushed in newscasts, can be crushingly predictable and thus immensely dull. Or they can (as is the case here) have a level of sophistication in the writing that delivers – along with the laughs – shocks, profundity, conflict and then more laughs. And if you’re luck, all of that can be handled by a performer as adept on every level as the extraordinary Daniel Richards.
Richards plays a disparate group of characters from a range of backgrounds, all processing what it means to be South African in their own ways. He has to handle an assortment of accents – memorably, in one scene, six different voices in a scattershot discussion – and never misses a mark, also adroitly adapting his scope of movement to suit the gender, age and attitude of each character.
Playwright Mike Van Graan is an intellectual with – in his plays – a populist’s touch. So there is refined observation here, tempered with a touch of farce from time to time, and comedy of the most cutting sort along with more mainstream quips and gags that help the less engaged audience member to stay in touch with proceedings. This material, performed reasonably well, would be a worthwhile night out, but in the hands of an artist as versatile as Richards, there are so many sparks and spikes throughout the brief, compact show – it’s only an hour long, and you’ll want more – that every audience member you chat to on the way out will have a different line to quote and a different one-liner to giggle at afresh.
Is there a need for another set of perspectives on a set of stories that South Africans with any level of familiarity with current affairs must be heartily sick of hearing about? Ordinarily, no – as comedy fans at a great number of stand-up gigs will attest. But the quality of the preparation here (Van Graan’s script, tweaked to stay up to date for each new run; and Rob Van Vuuren’s crisp direction) and the visceral thrill of watching a standout talent like Richards do his work place satire back where it should be: in a position of importance that has to do with not only its cultural impact but with the distinction of its presentation.