Van Graan’s political mischief delivered with a comedic punch

Van Graan’s political mischief delivered with a comedic punch

Mike Van Graan is one of South Africa’s most insightful playwrights whose work over the years has shined a searing light on the state of the nation. He never minces his words and his sharp wit and acute intelligence are the hallmarks of his many plays.

SHOW: PAY BACK THE CURRY
CAST: DANIEL MPILO RICHARDS
DIRECTOR: ROB VAN VUUREN
VENUE: AUTO & GENERAL THEATRE ON THE SQUARE, SANDTON, UNTIL 15 DECEMBER
REVIEWER: PETER FELDMAN

Mike Van Graan is one of South Africa’s most insightful playwrights whose work over the years has shined a searing light on the state of the nation. He never minces his words and his sharp wit and acute intelligence are the hallmarks of his many plays.
This is very much in evidence in this freshly grown production, in which he provides a cutting-edge script from which comedian Daniel Mpilo Richards and director (and comedian) Rob Van Vuuren can launch their comic attack.

‘Pay Back the Curry’ is hilarious at times, though one has to concentrate to grasp what’s being said in the rush of words that gush from this performer’s lips. It’s a never-ending flow of mirth, a touch of mayhem, and all underpinned by a serious core of political mischief.

The structure of ‘Pay Back the Curry’ could loosely be described as a stand-up comedian doing a series of sketches in which various topics are explored with insight and humour.
This has been done many times before, a platform for the satirical potency of names such as the legendary Pieter-Dirk Uys, Marc Lottering and Alan Committie, to name but a few. It’s comedy with an acerbic tongue and the South African social and political landscape is a rich field from which writers can harvest their material.

What lifts this work, somewhat, is the sheer versatility of Cape Town performer Richards, an entity whom I have not come across before and who tackles the different characters he creates with energy and style. He morphs beautifully into a variety of genders, from members of the gay and lesbian brigade, to a he-man former rugby coach (please read Heyneke Meyer) lamenting the failure of the Springboks but insisting through song that he did it ‘My Way’.

Another evergreen number, ‘Over the Rainbow’, suffers the Van Graan treatment and there is a brilliantly executed sequence in which the works of Shakespeare are invoked, using the language of the time with local political references.

‘Born Free’ receives new connotations, thanks to today’s university unrest, and Thabo Mbeki’s famous ‘I Am An African’ speech is given new shadings. The Oscars is a cleverly devised showcase for delivering the kind of films that could only be made in present-day South Africa.

Reality shows, such as ‘Idols’ and ‘The Voice’, also come in for a pummelling as Richards immerses himself into the role of a hopeful contestant aiming for the grand prize. Movement is very much part of Richards’ armoury, using every part of his body to help shape the sketches.
The stage is bare apart from a lone guitar and a small box, so the focus for the duration of the performance is on one deftly directed man – and he manages to deliver enough good cheer to raise the spirits as we enter the start of the silly season.

* For bookings, call the theatre on 011 883-8606; or book online at www.theatreonthesquare.co.za.
Enquire about group discounts and dinner show packages by arrangement with many of the adjacent upmarket new restaurants on the Nelson Mandela Square at Sandton City.