Andrew Buckland is back at Baxter with ‘Laugh The Buffalo’

Andrew Buckland is back at Baxter with ‘Laugh The Buffalo’

South African theatre legend Andrew Buckland will showcase the world premiere of his new solo production ‘Laugh The Buffalo’ at the Baxter from October 16.
The internationally acclaimed theatre icon who received a Standard Bank Standing Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival this year in recognition of the significant and long-standing contribution he has made to the theatre industry, once again teams up with award-winning director Janet Buckland for his first brand-new work in a number of years. He was last seen on the Baxter stage in 2010, in a celebratory season of three of his works.

‘Laugh the Buffalo’ promises the theatre maker’s characteristic combination of visual comedy, sophisticated political satire and a dark consideration of the human condition, presented in his signature style of physical theatre, clowning and mime. In a quest to protect state security, an agent of the secret police is sent on a mission to hunt down and contain the damage caused by a whistle-blower. The suspect is hiding out on a ten-day silent-meditation retreat in a remote location along with fourteen other people.

The agent joins the course and, in silence, must identify the whistle-blower and eliminate the infectious spread of the state secret. When the course is disrupted by the arrival of the Buffalo God, the agent must adapt to his new circumstances. Finally, on the last day when they are allowed to speak, the agent is asked a question that changes everything. ‘Laugh the Buffalo’ is a darkly comic energetic response to notions of secrecy and the protection of state information.
For more than thirty years, Buckland has been at the forefront of theatre development, and has worked as a performer, director, writer and educator, across theatre, TV and film.

PETER TROMP called up the physical theatre maestro in Grahamstown while he was still in the process of fine tuning ‘Laugh The Buffalo’ before the Cape Town run.

It’s been a while since you’ve showcased a brand new work in Cape Town. Why has it taken so long for you to emerge with a new show?
I suppose it is because I do have a full time teaching post at the drama department at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, but also because I toured with Cirque du Soleil in 2008 and 2009. I’m given research time these days so I can focus on performance and continue to hone my craft, and ‘Laugh The Buffalo’ is the result of my current sabbatical.

Tell us about ‘Laugh The Buffalo’. What can audiences look forward to with the show?
As anyone who has seen the kind of work I do will be able to attest, I like to dabble in satire, humour and comedy in tackling serious subject matter, and ‘Laugh The Buffalo’ will be no different. I really believe in the power of laughter to help one deal with serious matters, and in establishing a playful relationship with the audience. This show is kind of an adventure story with an agent that possesses the wisdom of the fool and this scenario will lead to plenty of surprises for the audience.

You’ve pioneered a physical style of acting over the years that has become pretty much synonymous with you and that changed the face of theatre in this country. Was it something you set out to do when you started, or did you discover it along the way?
I’m a bit resistant to the word “pioneering”. Gary Gordon, who was the movement teacher at Rhodes, introduced me to dance and movement techniques and you also had guys like Roy Sargent around – all these guys that have been instrumental in local theatre, and they were people who had a huge influence on me, so I don’t really feel that I invented anything that wasn’t already there. Maybe I took it to another level of performance, with ‘The Ugly Nunu’ in 1988 specifically, where I brought a wide spectrum of physical performance traits together. For me that was important because it became all about the visceral presence of the actor as a vehicle to engage the audience; where they have to use their imagination to fill in the gaps and they become part of an exchange with the actor. For me it’s important that the audience have fun with just the voice and the body in mind – they are fully a part of the whole journey.

A lot of your plays contain coded political commentary, or at least commentary that is supposed to be inferred by the audience. What is appealing to you as a creator about social or political commentary that is perhaps not so overt, but exists more below the surface?
I’m not really interested in making work that distracts the audience from the outside world. It kind of makes me angry when people want to go to the theatre to forget about what’s happening in the world. At the same time I’m careful about wanting to confront an issue too directly, because then it becomes like hitting a nail with a hammer. It’s just too one sided. The coding, as you say, is less about hiding or disguising. It is more about the game of working with the audience, where it becomes a conversation. Each member of the audience is going to have a different interpretation and it makes the whole process that much more fun and less descriptive.

* ‘Laugh the Buffalo’ will be performed nightly at 8.15pm in the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio, with a matinee on Saturday October 26 at 2pm.
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