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Unplugged and Unhinged

by Nathan Casey / 19.02.2011

I’ve always thought of Kalk Bay and surrounds as the last outpost of colonialism – a sprawling retirement village for decrepit, English-speaking whiteys. It has all the charm of a somewhat-sunnier seaside town in England, and many a lazy Sunday afternoon has been spent trawling through antique junk shops and second-hand hippie boutiques.

This is hoarder heaven, but with a bit of digging in the dusty stockpiles of useless white elephants one can occasionally uncover a rare gem. The intimate Kalk Bay Theatre in the quaint ex-Dutch Reformed Church is just such a gem.

The 78-seater theatre props up a restaurant and bar, and every Sunday in February Rob van Vuuren swings manically from the sublime to the surreal in his unique, experimental show.

Van Vuuren is one half of the snor-sporting duo, Corne & Twakkie, and the winner of this year’s Comics Choice Breakthrough Act award. He has directed hits like Kurt Schoonrad’s HOMEGROAN and turkeys like Gary the Toothfairy for the stage.

Rob van Vuuren: Unplugged & Unhinged is an effort to stitch together ideas, test them to see if they work, and unleash whatever Frankenstein should emerge later in the year.

It is an interactive, conversational and often wild performance – more like having a beer with a good mate… if said mate had just injected a Red Bull-loaded syringe into his eyeball.

This is not the traditional format of scripted jokes and comedic sketches rolled out for public consumption, but rather a platform for Rob to test out new material that will supposedly be worked into a more substantial routine.

It is hyperactive and loosely prepared and delivered with exceptional aplomb. Van Vuuren occasionally hits a speedbump, and resorts to amusing physical comedy while his mind frantically searches for something to talk about. This interrupts the flow somewhat, but never for long.

His style is a mix of frenetic face-pulling and body contortions, amalgamated with astute-if-bizarre observations and intensely personal anecdotes. I have never come across a performer so willing to bare his soul for the amusement of others and because of this Rob van Vuuren stands out as a rose amongst the thorns.

Salman Rushdie wrote that “a writer’s injuries are his strengths”, and with Herculean bravery Rob hilariously discusses aspects of his life that would at best depress or possibly destroy lesser men. He turns his afflictions into something sanguine – a sign of true genius.

A common fear among frequenters of stand-up is being seated in the front rows and getting picked on and humiliated by the oke with the microphone, whose bills you’re paying. These phobiacs usually bury themselves in the back seats, as safe distance from possible ridicule. At smaller venues such as the KBT this is impossible.

And when the pace slows and the show is at risk of losing momentum, Rob turns to the audience for inspiration. He is never unnecessarily nasty, but if you’re an attention-seeking heckler – like a particular British gentleman front row centre – expect your ego to be impaled.

If you like your stand-up tight and to the point, you might want to wait for the full show later this year. But if a look into the evolution of a comedy routine interests you, don’t miss it. The idea is sure to be emulated, and in the hands of a less experienced performer it might well slip on a banana peel… and clichéd slapstick is never funny.

*Unplugged and Unhinged is running at the Kalk Bay Theatre (52 Main Rd, Kalk Bay, 073 220 5430), every Sunday at 19.30 (doors open 18.00) until the end of February. Tickets are R70.

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