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School Cuts

by Dave Durbach / 26.07.2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… high school! There’s a reunion next year that I may or may not be attending… an excuse to go back to Cape Town, as well as a chance to make small talk with overweight jocks, point fingers at the washed-out soccer moms, strung out yuppies, salaried family types and introduce myself to people I don’t remember…

Our lives may have taken divergent paths since those days. In most cases we had nothing in common to begin with. Yet we forever share this bond by virtue of having had to wear the same maroon uniform day in and day out for 12 years. Apparently this is enough to warrant a reunion…

Thanks to Joe Barber, the prospect of this reunion doesn’t seem half bad.

It’s been a decade since the Joe Barber duo of David Isaacs and Oscar Peterson first hit the stage. I remember my brother getting a shave from them in those early days. The show has garnered something of a cult following, reappearing every so to expand on the franchise, now they’re back with their 5th and biggest show, School Cuts.

Hosted by Isaacs and Peterson, the show takes viewers back to those school days, helped by Boeta Joe and Boeta Gamat, two nostalgic old-timers who run a neighbourhood barber shop, along with Outjie, their deadbeat assistant, and their nosy neighbour Washiela.

Weaving between these characters, Isaacs and Peterson dust off various school memories and bring them to life for the audience: assemblies, jacks, interschool athletics meetings, socials. Almost everyone will be able to relate, although anyone who struggles to understand Afrikaans or who isn’t familiar with coloured culture might struggle to keep up. (The Somalians sitting behind me, for example, were at a loss). But if, like me, you went to a school full of coloured people, Joe Barber is right on the money.

More than the standard school memories to reminisce over, the show is packed with hilarious but inciteful looks at “colouredness” – for example, the tendency of some coloured people to speak English when trying to sound sophisticated, to the point of affecting American accents to mispronounce words. But rather than rely on corny stereotypes to ridicule, Joe Barber manages to celebrate coloured identity by showing its diversity and encouraging people to laugh at themselves. Thanks to the quality of the acting and the dialogue, most will be able to recognise characters like Outjie and Washiela in their own lives. The result is something far more entertaining and relevant than the repertoire of other comics like Joey Rasdien and Marc Lottering, who attempt something similar.

Keeping a stage show going for 10 years is no mean feat. It’s so easy for tried-and-tested formulas to grow stale – just look at Corne and Twakkie. This “valedictory” performance is a winner – go and see it.

Joe Barber is directed by Heinrich Reisenhofer with music by Jitsvinger. Joe Barber 5: School Cuts is showing at the Market Theatre in Newtown, Jozi, until 22 August.

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