Soli Philander celebrates all that is uniquely Cape Town in his latest one-man comedy onstage at the Baxter Theatre. The city's heartbeat is clearly Philander's theatre muse, as he talks about his Nice Coat (Lekker Jas) creation, but also his career. He admits that no matter what kind of performance he is busy with, Cape Town always finds its way into his creative expression.
Even though some people may think of Philander as more of a television or a radio man, he has strong theatre roots too. When he tells you about his career, it becomes clear that he does not think in terms of entertainment industry labels, “I’ve always thought of myself as a creative worker, my ding is kommunikasie”. He doesn’t see himself as just one thing, not just a TV presenter or actor or comedian or even writer. For him being a creative is one thing made up of the collective, “vir my gaan dit oor expression!”
That in a nutshell is also what Nice Coat is: It is an expression… an expression of what Cape Town is. But not the googled Cape Town one soon realises. Philander did not write this one-man show from a tourist, political or even Joburg-perspective of what the Mother City is to others. He was looking for something that showcased Cape Town from a local perspective, and when he couldn’t find it, inspiration struck: “Toe dink ek, ‘As jy dit voel, skryf dit’, en toe skryf ek dit.”
So Nice Coat came into being as a show he wrote about his Cape Town, as he got to know it: the Cape Town he grew up in, the Cape Town he still experiences every day. Although it is a show about his city, it is also a gift to every Capetonian who comes to see it. It celebrates the essence of the people who call the Mother City home: “sharing a little communal joy”. He taps into the comradery that is so unique to this city and its people: the unity you see not only in the celebrations, but also in the moments of crisis when everyone drops everything to come and help.
Philander tells that he wrote this play from the heart, as Alistair Izobell his producer also frequently remarks, “Alistair sê altyd, ‘Dis jou tribute vir die Kaap né?’ So dis ‘n bietjie van ‘n love letter vir die Kaap.’”
A love letter indeed, but a very unconventional one, as Nice Coat highlights the loveliness of the city without shying away from undeniable and not always attractive truths: “The point I try to make [with Nice Coat] is that there is a lot of beauty here, and it is an extraordinary place. But that doesn’t mean that we have to ignore the darker side of what is here and what still needs fixing and what still needs work… It is an ode to living here.” So viewed, Nice Coat is a love letter that celebrates Philander’s unconditional love for Cape Town, because – he quotes from the show – “regardless of the colour of the one you find yourself in, this place has a habit of getting under your skin”.
Revealing the creative process behind Nice Coat, Philander says his vision initially saw him making a lot of notes about all the aspects of Cape Town he wanted to highlight, and then saw him make even more notes about the notes. His preparatory work took him about a month, but after he started writing the rhyme that followed flowed out of his pen in but 10 days.
In giving expression to his Cape Town, Philander found himself so immersed in the rhythm of the city that he ultimately – and quite unintentionally – ended up writing Nice Coat as a poem… “Stadig, met die poem ding”, he humbly comments, it is rather just a rhyme, “because Cape Town is a rhyme, it is a rhythm. It is the rhythm of the ocean, the rhythm of the wind when it howls, the way it rains. It is in the walk of the people, the way they communicate, how they play with the language; there is so much rhythm in this place, before I knew it I was rhyming.”
Not only is Nice Coat a rhyme, it is also a comedy.
Philander admits he never started out with the idea of being a comedian, in fact he didn’t see himself as one at all. Though, he found people, and later the media, commenting that he was one:
“Vir my was dit net, dis hoe ek goed gesien het en dis hoe ek myself uitgedruk het daarmee, en mense het dit snaaksgevind. En dis nog dieselfde ding wat nou gebeur, ek dink.”
By embracing the comedy others find in his commentary, Phildander has found a way of bringing his audiences comedy with depth. He believes that when people laugh their souls open up, and that is when you plant the message you want to linger, “want comedy mors met paramaters.”
By holding up the not-so-beautiful side of Cape Town alongside the much-adored to audiences, Phildander hopes to give people cause to reflect on the truth of their city, while they are smiling at the lovely. He wants them to see the power they hold to start from their own perspective and within their own homes to continuously build up and better Cape Town. With Nice Coat, Philander is bringing to the stage his dream: Capetonians that stand together to change things for the better. With this dream and approach to comedy, he continues to embrace the life philosophy instilled in him by his grandmother: “As jy nie oor ‘n ding kan lag nie is daai ding altyd jou baas. Daar moet ‘n punt kom wat jy daaroor kan lag.”
With rhyme, and rhythm, and heart, that empowerment is what Philander communicates with his Nice Coat celebration of Cape Town, warts and all: a message of unity, community, and hope for the future, while celebrating the lighter side of life too.
You can see Philander's Nice Coat (Lekkar Jas), presented by Alistair Izobell Productions, at the Baxter Theatre until 29 July 2017. Tickets are available at Computicket.