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Art, Culture

Festive Bingeing

by Katie de Klee / 04.07.2013

Daniel Gilbert is a psychologist, a professor at Harvard and writes about happiness. One of the things he writes is bingeing can sometimes make you happy. Don’t get carried away just yet – let me explain. Gilbert says that it is obviously better to spread good things out, but when the good thing is small it is better to just go for it. Don’t have half a biscuit today and another half tomorrow when two today are going to make you happier. You get where I’m going?

The problem is the National Arts Festival is one mighty big biscuit and taking huge bites isn’t making me feel all that happy. I have only been here a day and I am already a festival binger.

The Island, directed by John Kani, is on the main programme, not the fringe, and so was in a large and sold out theatre. The play begins with a work sequence: two prisoners are locked into an endless punishment, like Sisyphus, each is locked into an unachievable task with no break, for what could end up being eternity.

Eternity is what it begins to feel like as you watch them, the mime going on to the beat of their wheezing and groaning for long enough to make the audience tense. And then finally it breaks and the actors move into their cell, where most of the play then takes place.

I always thought that water torture was something the Japanese had invented; omniscient Google says it was the Chinese, in an interview after the play John Kani suggested it was the Irish who most enjoyed using it. It doesn’t really matter who invented it or who uses it, the point is that we humans are very adept at doing inhuman things to each other.

The play was powerful, bare and acted out by two very capable actors: Atwandwa Kani and Nat Ramabulana. The cell is on Robben Island, and the play loaded with Apartheid allusions. When it was first performed it was dangerous in a way that no actor, no matter how bold their productions, can appreciate now. But it is a great testament to a good script if you can strip the context away and still be moved by the content. It is essentially about the baseness of man, his cruelty, but with the tormentors always offstage it is also about the strength of the human spirit and his ability to find happiness in the worst of situations.

The Drill Hall is a fringe venue: much smaller capacity, and quite a walk away. One of the performances there is The Last Show, a play that has had mixed reviews. Watching it felt like being force-fed banana smoothie. Let me explain.

The Last Show has two characters: mother and son Ronnel and Ronnie, alone on stage in a room of unpacked boxes. They have the same haircut, similar dress sense, live on smoothies made in a retro blender and their relationship has a bizarre, Oedipal intimacy.

It is billed as comedy, but it is really rather dark. Through the course of the play they both get slowly more hysterical (in the mad way, not the funny way), electrical items turn on and off in the night and Rusty the invisible dog disappears.

The Last Show

The festival whisperers say that Rob van Vuuren’s show WHATWHAT! will actually make you laugh.

Crass humour always takes me a while to get into. When I was in my first year of (Catholic) boarding school the older girls used to like to tease us, to find out how much we knew about sex. Given the fact the headmistress wore a habit, knowing anything was knowing too much. A favourite joke was telling you to do your best impression of a tortoise waking up and poking his head out a shell. Try it now, if you like. Then they tell you that’s the face you’ll make when you’re having sex and you end up with a room full of blushing eleven year old prudes. Van Vuuren spends most of his show looking like that tortoise. Hopefully not too many eleven year olds were watching.

He’s engaging guy to watch: wide blue eyes and bright white teeth and quite a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest smile. This show isn’t as physical as some of his past ones, but he still moves around in a very amusing and energetic way. But the humour is very vernacular, and it took me a while to catch on.

‘Snail poo Carpaccio, Koala Chlamydia, dancing, death and love’ is how van Vuuren sums up WHATWHAT! It definitely has a certain something about it.

Tragedy and comedy can both be born of cruelty, for the best jokes are those that ridicule. Happiness and sadness come from the same place. Apartheid and Koala’s are obviously ends of the spectrum, but there was still a kind of laugh or cry theme to the day. And seeing too many things will leave your brain as bulging as your stomach after a day in the Village Green food tents.

* All images © Bazil Raubach/NAF

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