My Fellow South Africans by Mike van Graan

When and where: May 4-20, 2023, Innovation Lounge, Cape Town
Performer: Kim Blanche Adonis
Channelling direction: Rob van Vuuren and Daniel Mpilo Richards
Cartoons: Zapiro
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Mike van Graan’s My Fellow South Africans, is bracing satirical sketch comedy, performed by Kim Blanche Adonis with great skill on that knife-edge where you are just not quite sure if it would be appropriate to laugh: At least not unless the person next to you is laughing.   My Fellow South Africans is also appropriately uncomfortable as we follow van Graan’s gaze through a montage of snippets of the ruptured rainbow nation and “get taken for a ride” into the mess of our nation.  In this winter of our despair, dread and anxiety over the 2024 elections, which are looming, we need to be poked awake.

Each short sketch that Adonis performs is framed by a selection of cartoons by Zapiro, which are beamed onto screens, adding a visual structure to the material on stage. Some of the cartoons go back to 2011- just after the euphoria of the 2010 Rugby World Cup.  Yes, this is satirical sketch² comedy, so there are laugh lines but I felt that I was choking on the mirth.  The take-home is that we all need to strive for humanity, liberty and dignity, and try do something about it.

Van Graan has held up mirror to society in his previous satirical revues such as Pay Back the Curry, State Fracture and Land Acts.   With My Fellow South Africans, the journey continues to get us to engage with what is around us and at the same time, try and find some kind of catharsis and release by seeing the humour in it all.   We are not a happy nation. As they say in Yiddish it is all a bittere gelegte (a bitter joke). Van Graan nails this in My Fellow South Africans– with his unflinching jibes on how our country has been looted and used by those in power. Van Graan: “There was a stage that you could see the light at the end of the tunnel but now the tunnel has collapsed.” There are songs in the show which riff off the melancholy: “They sold off our democracy and clothed it in hypocrisy”, croons Adonis, to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The song becomes a dirge, elegy, requiem as Adonis sings, with tremendous pathos, making eye contact with the audience. People were teared up.

One can see the hands of the “channelling direction” by Rob van Vuuren and Daniel Mpilo Richards in the way that the 27 year old Adonis, ignites the stage, prowling around a cube as a sole prop and using her body as the primary mode of expression. She is funny and fabulous and there are moments of laugh-out-loud laughter and we need that, yes we do.

The writing is achingly prescient.  Van Graan scratches and excavates through our shame – GBV and how it is not safe for women to travel – because who knows what will occur- whether one will reach one’s destination. One of the characters muses that she misses the Rainbow Nation. There is the advice that all that is required to survive South Africa, is to put on “suburban blinkers to stay on track”. Plan B – #second passport.  Of course, all of that goes with privilege and power – having a job, food to eat, access to private health care, education, transport- basically access to private everything- even the police have private security firms for protection (this is material from previous van Graan revues and still packs a punch). Yeah, one laughs at these lines but they hurt.  My Fellow South Africans is an urgent plea; a howl, for all of us and our fellow South Africans, to be able to live in safety and with dignity- and to try lighten up and laugh, amongst the absurdity.

Laughing hurts: Writer Mike van Graan with Kim Blanche Adonis who performs in his satirical sketch comedy, My Fellow South Africans. Pic: Bronwyn Lloyd.

✳ Featured image of Kim Blanche Adonis by Bronwyn Lloyd. Supplied.