Posters advertising Mark Banks ON ICE give a misleading idea of what to expect: when the comedian appears on stage, an alert audience is immediately aware of two things. First, there is not so much as an ice cube in sight, let alone a skating rink. Second, instead of the feathers, sequins and tawdry glamour suggestive of entertainers performing on ice, this artiste is arrayed in soberly conservative garb. That gives an inkling of the sort of humour purveyed by Banks —a dry, intellectually satisfying use of deflation and bathos.
He sets out at once to justify the title of his latest show: his mother had urged him to put on “a nice show”, and the misunderstanding of this directive led to the presentation of “an ice show”… Thereafter the evening evolves briskly in accordance with the faux ingénuité of this explanation, to side-splitting effect.
Banks adopts an easy-going, aleatory delivery for his considerable agenda, gliding from one topic to the next with the flimsiest of threads to link them. Yet, as in real live conversation between chatty friends, that thread is always present, however tenuous, and the result is a deceptive spontaneity that beguiles an audience with ease.
A nod to the chilly element implicit in the title of his show is the set: four simple drops on which blizzards, snow and some arctic foliage are projected. In typical Banks fashion, he gives a solemn warning of major, challenging scene-changes before all is plunged in darkness to the accompaniment of terrific noise… to reappear with nothing whatever altered in either costume or set.
The variety of topics explored would do justice to a farrago by Juvenal, as we move from estate agents to aviation issues to parental discipline to English set-works to Asian restaurants to beggars, to mention but a few. Proceedings are occasionally enlivened by verbal attacks on one or two members of the audience foolhardy enough to occupy the front row, but no one is obliged to join Banks on stage. Everything is approached with a nonchalance bordering on the casual.
Predictably, political issues and challenges to the quiet life to which average South Africans aspire are included in the script, and with the implosion of the DA and its accompanying turmoil, Banks has no shortage of material and comment, most of the latter shrewd and unforgiving. Of more universal appeal and relevance is, for instance, his take on prescriptions from manipulative medical practitioners, or random power outages, which prove particularly unwelcome when attending a parent’s cremation.
In the end, he wisely points out that the best remedy for grumpiness is laughter, a commodity which he supplies in abundance – a fitting finale to this celebration of his 60th birthday.
Mark Banks ON ICE
Devised and performed by Mark Banks
Venue: Theatre on the Bay, until November 2