DIRECTOR: Greg Karvellas
CAST: Mark Elderkin, Nicholas Pauling, Pierre Malherbe, Jenny Stead and Oliver Booth
VENUE: The Fugard Studio until May 4
REVIEW: PETER TROMP
‘Champ’ arrives at the Fugard Studio with the kind of pedigree that very few new plays can boast these days. It won this year’s Fleur Du Cap for Best New Script barely a month ago, and when it debuted at the Artscape Spring Drama Festival in October last year, it became one of the most successful productions at the box office in the history of that festival. In short, in almost no time it all, it has become buzz worthy, or what passes for buzz worthy in the theatre industry.
You have to be a particularly mean spirited person to bemoan the success of any small play in this city, yet here I find myself wishing I liked it along with most everybody else. As it stands, I just find myself unable to jump on the ‘Champ’ bandwagon.
When this happens; when you’re so out of step with the prevailing consensus of other critics and usually taciturn Cape Town audiences, it causes one to review one’s own critical faculties. I have seen the play twice now and have spent a great deal of time thinking about it, trying to find nuggets of worth amongst the “hijinks” and cursing for cursing’s sake. I’m yet to find anything, and doubt I ever will.
Louis Viljoen’s creation details the sad sack fate of three serious actors having to do some children’s theatre, or entertaining, at a shopping centre for a month. It’s the generally degrading kind of thing that many young actors have to partake in every once in a while to make ends meet when their agents are particularly quiet. During one such day of parading around in the crude bear costumes they have to wear as part of the gig, the guys become the victims of a bladder discharging six year old terror who has taken it upon himself to make their collective living hell just that little bit more un-bear-able. With the help of some free whiskey that they scored, which originates from Stellenbosch, nogal, the guys form a pact to enact swift revenge on the diminutive devil incarnate.
The comedic trope of adults reducing themselves to a childlike state in their feud with a minor feels like a leftover plot from a nineties sitcom, yet ‘Champ’ presents this central plot device as if it is the most original thing imaginable.
The “hijinks” that ensue as the actors debase themselves further and further in their quest to redeem their dignity, and the colourful language they abuse with such utter abandon, are presented for our delectation, and nothing else. There is nothing profound, or searching about it.
The heightened verbiage also comes courtesy of characters that are barely distinguishable from one other, which ultimately makes ‘Champ’ feel like an inside joke amongst performers more than a multi-faceted work of art to be shared with a diverse, general audience.
I have no problem with profanity in art, but when it is presented as unimaginatively as it is here – an almost literal machine gun barrage of “queer” this and “d—kless” that – I find it quite problematic. (I dare anyone to recite one line from the play that feels wholly original and not like deleted filler from a 1990s era Tarantino script.)
I honestly don’t know why the theatregoers who have flocked to ‘Champ’ haven’t noticed these fundamental flaws. My suspicion is that they have mistaken this foul mouthed, often tasteless play as possessing some kind of cultural edginess.
* Book at Computicket.
* Book at Computicket.