Review: Alan Committie’s Streaming with Laughter- the live show- staged at Penny Lane Studios

Booking link for recording of show:
Tickets: R80
Available until: Sat Aug 22, 2020 at 7pm

Streaming with Laughter was streamed live, from Penny Lane Studios in Cape Town on Saturday August 15 at 7pm, via Quicket.  The recording of the show is available for viewing until Saturday August 22 at 7pm. A small audience attended the show- with strict Covid-19 regulations in place. I was in the audience. It was exhilarating, thrilling to attend a LIVE theatre show – my first since National Lockdown kicked in and theatres were closed.  Now, it is permitted to gather in theatres – limited seating and with strict compliance to Covid safety regulations. Committie is a comedy maestro and Streaming with Laughter made me almost choke, behind my mask (masks on throughout show – a requirement of attendance). I was laughing so much that I spluttered in and had to change masks, half way through the show.

In Streaming with Laughter, Committie pings off the fact these are strange days, that here he is, with his small studio audience and everyone else is at home. He notes that he is aware that our president, is giving and address at 8pm about lockdown and that we might miss the start but that Uncle Cyril usually takes a while to warm up. I love the sense of time – the recognition of the moment – of being on the cusp of waiting to hear about whether we would be allowed to buy booze and tobacco. Committie has a few of his own suggestions. Watch and you will see. He brings on security guard Johan van Der Walt to give his lockdown thoughts, interspersed with the sharing of his family tree. Yes, this is vintage Johan vd material. We have seen it before but in lockdown, it takes on added nuances. That is what Committie does with his solo shows. He works off a script and a concept but in each performance, he reflects what is going on around us and he riffs off the audience- ‘what is your name; where are you from; what kind of work do you do.’ During lockdown, with so many jobs being lost, that last question may need to be left off the list. 

Streaming with Laughter happened to overlap with Uncle Cyril’s address and Committie talks about that in the show. This show was being delivered on the Saturday night of the president’s address and he needed to acknowledge that. It was on all of our minds- so were the masks that we were all wearing to protect us. Committie is aware of safety first. He keeps on admonishing a man in the front row – to please put his mask on properly. It kept on slipping on to his chin. I am not going to spoil what the man’s name is – classic Committie comedic volleying with audience -watch the recording,

In addition to Committie signature material, there is heaps of new material in Streaming with Laughter, which I loved. Check out his Facebook affirmation graphics – don’t look back; look under and you will find your masks. Okay, I made that up. Huge effort into projecting visuals of the pithy aphorisms that people are putting out -painstakingly excited images and quotes. Then there is Committie doing a contemporary dance piece and then he is joined on stage by two dancers from The LAMTA Academy, at Theatre on The Bay-the talented Morgan Marshall and Simone Neethling. Wonderful to see. Bravo to Committie for sharing his platform with these students who have not been able to perform publically. Never mind the fun of Committie cavorting with them. The Fleur du Cap Theatre award winner is a very accomplished dancer. His physical theatre skills are brought into this interlude. Watch.

Superb direction of  Streaming with Laughter by Greg Karvellas– until recently artistic director of The Fugard Theatre. The Fugard Theatre is closed temporarily – until when it is feasible to operate again as a theatre complex.

I have not watched the digital version of Streaming with Laughter, so can only talk about what it was like to watch live. It was great not to have streaming anxiety- that I usually get when watching on the digital stage: ‘Will the link work; will it buffer; oh no there is load shedding and whoosh it is gone.’ The dynamics of live are very different to digital theatre. Watching streamed theatre, inevitably, there is the constant interruption of WhatsApp from others – “are you buffering or is it just me; no its fine by me, try and re-fresh; do you know how long the link will be up; Cyril is on now –booze is allowed – yay – are you all well- wanna go for a hike tomorrow…” The Cape Town lockdown hiking obsession is covered by Committie in Streaming for Laughter.

Undoubtedly, nothing beats live and being there on Saturday night reminded me why I utterly adore the live experience. After the show, I heard what Cyril had to say – we are now in lockdown level 2. There were 683 WhatsApp’s notations asking me questions about the show, Uncle Cyril and weekend plans. How cool that? I could watch and laugh without distractions.

Venturing back to the live theatre arena was surreal. There we were, masked up – zombie creatures out in cold, rainy Cape Town. We had our temperatures taken at the door by the designated safety officer. Penny Lane Studios, under the stewardship of Aki Kahn of Eastern Acoustics has been live streaming shows during the lockdown.  For the near future, we are likely to see a hybrid theatre model – a small audience in studio/venue and live stream. Streaming with Laughter, nailed it – as to how it can work- taking digital stage and interfacing it with live theatre – or the other way round?

Bravo to Aki Kahn and his team or attention to detail, creating a theatre in a business park warehouse- “bunker theatre” as Committie tagged it. Very stylish pop up theatre. Sleek chairs – sourced from the Norval Foundation. Each sitting space demarcated with white tape- like sitting in a mini installation. It felt like we were sitting in a contemporary art museum – and not in a warehouse in business park. Impressive.

After I posted on social media on Saturday night, about attending the show, I had direct messages, questioning my decision to watch theatre in an “enclosed space”. Comments: “It is too soon; how can you take the chance; you are brave.”

First up, we are allowed back into theatre spaces – as long as there is compliance with number of seats, physically distancing each person, sanitiser, masks. For me, it is about making an informed choice which is contingent on personal health and other factors. If you have asthma, diabetes or have another co-morbidity – then it is prudent not to venture into any closed space and stay at home as much as possible. Stay home, absolutely. Maybe, go for a walk but stay away from confined spaces.

Supermarkets are confined spaces.  In the entire lockdown period, I have not seen any contact and trace measures put in place at any of the supermarkets that I have frequented. My mobile number has not been noted. My phone number has not been taken down. If there is positive Covid case – customer or staff member –there is no way of informing me. At the show on Saturday night, our temperatures were taken, mobile numbers recorded. If there is a situation of someone testing positive, they can let people know and we can be vigilant and take precautions not to infect others and self-quarantine. This is not happening at supermarkets so yeah, am just pointing this out. I understand that large theatre complexes cannot open just yet as the logistics of opening are daunting and it is not financially viable. There is also the issue of funding from government and other sources and the fact that it is too risky to open up large venues – with multiple entrances and exits. Public liability and other considerations are on the table and I understand why it is likely to be a while before major venues can open. Operators of pop-up theatres and independent small venues are moving cautiously and trying to chart the way forward – in these very uncertain times. There could be a spike of infections tomorrow, next week and everything will come to a halt. We don’t know. We really don’t know.

Taking into account personal health, it ultimately becomes about making an informed choice – to physically attend a show – or watch the streamed show. With the hybrid theatre model, both options are there. The events/live industry needs to get going – to create jobs- to create the space for creates to stage work and for audiences to become immersed in theatre again. On Saturday night, I counted about six camera, lighting and sound people. There may have been more. I was too excited at watching a live show that I did not do an audit. Add to that the safety compliance officer, behind the scenes people not in attendance, the ticket platform Quicket and its staff – that adds up to a lot of people who got paid on Saturday night. Payment means that they can buy food, pay for health care, schooling and some recreation if there is money to spare. Every spend boosts the economy. We need that. Here is to the arts and to opening up the events industry.