It really is a Laughing Matter

That ruddy leotard is back… and with it comes the ever-hilarious Alan Committie. His new stand-up show, Laughing Matters, is at Theatre on the Bay until January 14. And whichever way you look at it, it’s simultaneously the best way to bring 2016 to a close, and get 2017 off to a riotous start.

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Directed by Chris Weare, this show once again sees Committie on top form. He’s engaging, hysterical and knows just how to work his audience. From a fleeting jab at the latest Doom debacle to his continuing frustration at the red City Sightseeing Buses, this show is packed full of one-liners, recurring gags and carefully plotted material.

It’s been a rather grotty year for many people, and Committie seems like the perfect antidote. From the safety of a padded cell (the most elaborate, and apt, set I’ve ever seen him in) he hurtles through a variety of topics, dragging his (all too willing) audience with him. His jokes are quick and clever. Some leave you only a second to chortle before he’s dashing headlong into the next. It’s a breathless show and it’s an enormous amount of fun.

From the preposterous amount of roadworks going on in the city over the festive season, to the appalling rise of skinny jeans – his observations are brilliant. In true Committie style he hurries through his material at a dizzying speed, looping back on himself, bounding along tangents and bringing it all back neatly with a manic little giggle. Utterly exhausting, and totally fabulous – I have no idea where he finds the energy.

And of course, what would an outing with Committie be without an appearance by the cringe-worthy Johan van der Walt? The hair, the flapping snorretjie… those teeth! This time he’s on hand with a collection on water saving tips – you might want to take notes. Even the foreigners in the audience screamed with delight.

Speaking of audiences… As with all comedy gigs, you’re bound to find something to be offended by if you’re that way inclined. But Committie’s comedy has never struck me as vindictive. He likes to have a good laugh at us South Africans and it’s a tonic, to be honest. It’s so easy to get all wound up in the seriousness of life, and people like him know exactly where the pressure points are to relieve some of that tension. Even 11-year-old Tatiana in the audience enjoyed his routine, although some of it may have gone over her head (we can only hope).

Whether you’re on a rare excursion from Pinelands, or you’ve trekked through from “Millerton” – Laughing Matters encourages us to laugh at ourselves. It has comedy by the bucket load, a little music, a touch of magic, a sprinkling of theatrics and great deal of festive cheer. Don’t wait, book now.

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Dangled – Cape Town Fringe

Some pieces of theatre need to sit for a while in the back of my mind before I can write about them. They need to percolate, simmer in my subconscious, while I slowly come to terms with them. Dangled is such a play. Now showing at Cape Town Fringe Festival, it’s uncomfortable, it’s intense, it’s a punch in the face.

Did I enjoy it? Not in the way you’d enjoy a rip roaring musical, all bright costumes and over-the top chorus numbers. But Dangled had far more of an impact. Would I see it again? Yes. Would I suggest others see it? Yes.

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Dealing with themes of sexual violence, abuse, insanity and the creative process, it’s 45 minutes of stark psychosexual theatre that has the audience hurling between hilarity and horror.

And Rob van Vuuren delivers one of his finest performances. A man on edge, inching closer to madness, reliving the past as hidden memories claw their way to the surface.

Louis Viljoen’s adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s Diary of A Madman, the play’s dialogue, almost Shakespearean, in tone and delivery, is sharp and witty. It sticks with you. Van Vuuren scoffing at his desk’s elevated position on “the spectrum of fat fuckedness” and later exclaiming “Yuckedy doodle fucksticks” – there are moments of guilty pleasure in this often harrowing piece.

Dangled doesn’t suddenly take a dark turn, it was dark from the start, it’s just a case of slowly letting the audience in on the horrific undercurrents.

Van Vuuren is captivating as a man losing touch with reality. He raves and spits, swears and gazes wistfully into memories.

Now, I’ve looked on, tickled, on more than one occasion as he’s thrust his crotch repeatedly into my husband’s face (Ahhh Twakkie, you gem). This, however, is a completely different animal. It’s raw, it’s ugly, it’s violent and fraught. And you cannot look away, you dare not.

It must be an incredibly draining role, physically and psychologically, and Van Vuuren truly deserved the standing ovation he got.

If you’re ready for something that pushes you to uncomfortable places, that digs in the dark recesses of the human condition, and is also astoundingly performed, then go see Dangled. It’s on at Cape Town Fringe from tonight until Saturday.

Poetry for the soul

The last time I was at Blah Blah Bar on Kloof, I was surrounded by people swaying wildly about, shoes clutched high above their heads, a drunk girl (there’s always at least one) bouncing off the people around her, stumbling as she tried to remove a knee high boot before the song ended. A boot she would no doubt lose before the night was through.

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But not this time.

This time I am sitting sedately on a chair alarmingly similar to those at SARS (the first queue downstairs, before you even make it to the lift). I’m gazing intently at the stage, at the man caressing his guitar and singing softly of small town love. The line-up promises Hanru Niemand, followed by Gert Vlok Nel.

It’s the final night of the Interplanetary Folk Festival and the intimate venue is full of people who love music and poetry. The clumsy drunk girl has been replaced by the guy with the alarmingly small bladder who seems to need to nip out 15 times every six and a half minutes.

I ignore him as best I can and my gaze travels languidly to the elder couple in front of me, his protective arm around her sloped shoulders. I allow my attention to drift still further to the artworks around us. Ricardo Pinto Jorge’s exhibition Heands Up, tells as fascinating a story as the musician on stage.

It’s fitting that Hanru performs the song he wrote about Gert Vlok Nel near the end of his set. “They took you hostage in a thumping techno beat”, he sings, urging Gert to write just one more poem.

Gert himself is a lullaby. His voice, sometimes no louder than the softest whisper, soothes a restless soul.
I think it’s the poetry that I love, the storytelling. His words rock me gently, lull me into a mesmerized reverie.

Moments like this make me so grateful I was “subjected” to Afrikaans as a second language from age seven. But I also wonder how much richer my life would have been had they added a third.

Gert Vlok Nel tells captivating tales of extraordinary ordinary lives. Tales of you and me. His words are a comforting blanket and they stir within me the need to find the poetry in everyday life, to tame the words and coax them gently forth in song.

Magic moments

Any place that requires me to enter through a doorway concealed behind a bookcase instantly has me besotted. So when we were ushered down the wide staircase of the stately Cape Town Club in Queen Victoria Street and guided into an unassuming corner last night, I started to smile. And when our fishnet and feathered hostess swung open the dusty old bookcase shelves I beamed and suppressed a squeak.

Husband Person and I stepped into the dim underground space – thick smoke and speakeasy-esque music churned between shadowy forms. Cape Town Magic Club. My kind of place, my kind of people. Unable to contain my excitement I took a little time to explore. Host and producer Marcel Oudejans greeted us and apologised for the over-abundance of smoke, the result of a smoke machine left unattended a minute or so too long. But it added to the ambiance, and if we’re being honest, the odd blind bump into a stranger or three just adds to the adventure.

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I fell immediately in love with the velvet-cushioned antique chairs and tenderly stroked an old credenza over near the bar. A side room has the most fabulous chandelier hung with Bic pens. So clever. Although a little threadbare – I’m wondering if it’s down to other guests making off with a souvenir…

As we took our seats in the small theatre I had a sudden hankering for a glass of whisky – it’s just that kind of space so I ducked out to the bar and hurried back with two tumblers clinking, just in time for the start of the show.

Oudejans makes for a welcoming host as he sets the tone for the evening. His banter straddles the line between cheesy (and groan-inducing) and adult (and err, groan-inducing). After Oudejans had fanned the giggles and wonderment a little he introduced Ryan Jones who jumped straight in with a collection of card tricks. The thing with magicians is that audience participation is pretty much a given. And the thing with the cosy Cape Town Magic Club is that there’s really no place to hide. So go ready to be whipped into the spotlight as an assistant (sequined leotard optional). With not a suspicious box or menacing saw in sight, it felt relatively safe. Although I’m still trying to get over the last time I was called onto a stage by a magician and almost had my hand impaled on a 20cm spike. There was none of that violence here though, so I was almost a little disappointed I wasn’t selected. Instead, I sipped my whisky and watched as closely as I could.

I love magic. I love to be tricked. I don’t care how much of it is real and how much illusion. I want to believe. Make coins disappear before my eyes, pluck a mystery card from thin air, read someone’s thoughts – and I’m sold. I was not disappointed last night. There is, however, one trick/illusion I’ve seen done a number of times on the local circuit. And, as usual, I don’t care how it’s done – it still freaks me out EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Other guys have done it with needles and thread. Jones took it one, horrifying, step further and did it with razor blades. I can’t even.

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Marcel Oudejans, Ryan Jones and Steve Sandomierski

Next up was the delightfully unhinged Steve Sandomierski. His routine is totally my jam. It’s all a bit mental. Manic laughs, punny jokes and perfect timing. From gulping down balloons and questionable balloon animal skills, to disappearing coins and card tricks he had me transfixed and laughing loudly. Close-up magic is always fun and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for his future gigs.

Can I just take a moment to talk about the audience? There are few things worse than a dry audience. (Apart from the one guy who literally fell asleep and slipped off his chair in the FRONT ROW of the NewSpace Theatre one night…) I’ve seen audiences where performers have had to work ridiculously hard for each and every single half-hearted smirk. Audiences where even if you had to explain a gag with an illustrated slide show and words of one syllable they still wouldn’t get it. But last night? Last night’s audience was something special. I love the gawkiness of a “volunteer” as they stand on stage, knowing something’s up, knowing their mind is about to be blown, half hoping the trick fails and half hoping it succeeds, and wondering how it’s done, but also wanting to keep the mystery in tact. The sparkling eyes, slack jaw and disbelieving slow shakes of the head.

Four people stood out for me last night and made the night so much more fantastic. First up were elder gents Les and Bob. Beaming-faced Les with hands clasped firmly to this thighs, and Bob with his lush moustache, hands on knees, staring carefully at the magician’s hands, just a slight twitch of his jaw every few moments. They were a delight and wonderfully game participants. Then there were David and Jozi, who seemed to be the very embodiment of the excitement a magic show conjures. They grinned, gaped incredulously, chuckled nervously and blushed at the more risqué jokes. I felt like we were destined to become best friends. When I headed back through the bookcase and away from the magic, they were standing with Sandomierski at the bar, bubbling over with glee as the magician knotted a tie with nothing more than a quick flick of his wrist. I have this imaginary cupboard where I put people I adore (that’s a post for another day) – and I’ve definitely made room for them.

Oudejans and his team have created something truly special and it’s well worth making the time to pop in. Monday Night Magic is every Monday (well, obviously) at 7pm and again at 9pm.  Season two runs until October 3, and the line-up includes the likes of Oudejans, Larry Soffer, Alexander May, Olwethu Dyantyi, Sandomierski, Jones and Greg Gelb. Don’t miss out, book here.