Scotch is in limbo, and he has a few things to say about that. From organic farming to tap dancing and undertakers who’ve seen too many coffins to care any more, writer/performer Mpapa Simo Majola’s The Funeral covers a dazzling variety of topics as Majola moves from poetic, stream-of-consciousness discourse to easy conversation and back. Between birth and death lies an illusion we call life, says the dead man, and he’d very much like to know why his relatives thought it necessary to waste money on a new jacket for him to be buried in when his favourite old ‘Scotch’ would have been good enough.
Majola is at his most earnestly engaging when he rails against the ‘phony speeches’ heard at his ‘circus’ of a funeral. His brief isiZulu passages stand out in their heartfelt and unlaboured delivery. Other parts of the monologue seem almost improvised, if the occasional ‘you know’s are anything to go by. One rather gets the feeling that a strong idea was stretched too far and not enough material has been created to fit the one-hour running time. The frequent repetition of topics and insufficient cohesion of the piece suggest that a merciless rewrite may not be the worst idea.
By far the most befuddling thing about the show is why Majola doesn’t play more to his obvious strengths, namely movement and vocal play. The piece’s most compelling moments, the ones that really draw the audience out of their Saturday afternoon slump, are the ones where Majola creates a steady rhythm with his feet and lets the words flow over the pulse like it’s the most natural thing in the world for him to be standing there in front of a room full of people talking about funerals. His animal impressions are also very successful, and connect well with the audience (especially when he ties his story of having been threatened by a mongrel on his street to his philosophy of looking death in the eye ‘and [staying] down until it is no longer a threat’).
Underlying problems aside, The Funeral hits a nerve more than once. Scotch asks why we feel the need to ‘build pyramids for the dead’ when the living are forced to dwell in shacks, and one can’t help but reflect on the nauseatingly lucrative industry built around burying and mourning this country’s dead. Why is Scotch seeing virtual strangers queue for food at his funeral, when he knows they never even had a meal together when he was still alive? Why wasn’t he simply buried in his favourite old jacket?
The Funeral is part of the Cape Town Fringe Festival, and can be seen at the Alexander Bar on the 24th of September, and at Makukhanye Art Room on the 23rd and 25th of October.