The aim of satire is to bring about social change – or at least create an awareness of the need for such change – by getting people to introspectively laugh at social vices. Through witty exaggerations, it makes foolish the iniquities of, for example, ‘the politician’ or ‘the corrupt business man’. This is a style of writing for which Mike van Graan definitely has a knack.
His latest offering State Fracture, is a melting pot of humour that draws on comic juxtapositions in an ironic and inflated manner, as it addresses serious South African issues with a hint of an international flavour. His text is brilliantly expressed by the talented Daniel Mpilo Richards, who with but a guitar and a box produces astoundingly vivid images through physical theatre actions and accents, under the direction of Rob van Vuuren.
This is not the first time this creative team, along with producer Siv Ngesi, have used the theatrical to ridicule the political and socially absurd. Their previous production, Pay Back the Curry, was a great triumph. It was a fast-paced commentary that dragged audiences along by the hand, giggling, until they realised in the rush of it all that reality is the joke and that is no laughing matter.
Now the same team builds on that satirical success with the staging of what is described as the Pay Bay the Curry sequel, namely State Fracture. It again sees the astonishingly versatile Richards, with amazing ease, morphing into a myriad of morally flawed, factious and frank characters. The sketches are cleverly constructed and entertaining, with the quintessential tongue-in-cheek wit one associates with a Van Graan text. Fluidity wise, though, the comedic pace seems a tad more fractured than with Pay Back the Curry and the satire feels a bit milder.
Perhaps the current political milieu has made it more difficult to pierce the demoralised veil that characterises our society, resulting in the commentary hitting so close to home that the impact is no longer felt but simply acknowledged and laughed off. Or maybe it is rather that it is unfair to call this a sequel at all, as such a description invites unfair comparison. State Fracture should rather be appreciated as a stand-alone production, allowing one to experience it for the pensive theatrical product that it is.
Sans such restraining comparison, State Fracture is best described with reference to one of its sketches: it is a roller-coaster. It takes you through the full comedic spectrum from the funny and facetious to the serious and the scandalous, taking impressively poignant and poetic corners where sketch impact so requires. It offers you colonial, corruption and fake-news infused current affairs snap-shots, addressing everything from the twitter-risk that is Zille to the praise demanding I’ll-be-back Hlaudi, with a fishy Trump twist for added comedic effect. So viewed, the semi-detached feeling of this theatrical ride can be forgiven, as it makes occasional, framework providing, Saxonworld Shebeen pit stops.
The crux of State Fracture is the fact that sometimes you have to laugh not to cry, and South Africans are known for their humour-informed resilience when it comes to societal conundrums. This offering has the power to feed into that resilience, with double entendres, innuendos, overtones and undertones abound, all presented through a range of cleverly constructed humorous references and parody sing-alongs. Ultimately, the satire hides in the truth it alludes to.
When appreciated for its own style construction, which has a clear Van Vuuren presence, along with the impressive comedic timing and onstage physical theatre shenanigans of Richards, State Fracture is an entertaining, thought-provoking commentary. In the end, if you dare yourself to look beyond the laughter, you will walk away after seeing it with much food for democratic country thought; considering whether there are checks or cheques and balances at play.
Allow yourself to be challenged by the comedy that tackles hard-hitting issues in State Fracture. Catch it at the Baxter Theatre until 19 August 2017. Tickets are available at Computicket.