Review: -No Complaints – new day, new dawn- extraordinary theatre experience – igniting light in a time of darkness- a response by Carlo Daniels to Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days

No Complaints – new day, new dawn inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days

Where and when: Theatre Arts, Cape Town- until November 26, 2022
Director/writer: Carlo Daniels
Performers:  Donnay Arendse, Siphenathi Mayekiso, Beviol Swartz and Tshegofatso Mabutla
Sound design: Shane Jacobs
Set design: Themba Stewart)

Carlo Daniels is the recipient of The Emerging Director’s Bursary 2022, awarded by Theatre Arts and this production has been made possible by this bursary  

No Complaints – a new day, new dawn – at Theatre Arts, Cape Town- directed and written by Carlo Daniels – is on until November 26, 2022 – yes – Saturday.  You MUST go and see this extraordinary piece of theatre.

I was supposed to see it on Monday night. That performance was cancelled because of the taxi strike in Cape Town. And again the Tuesday night show was cancelled.  I saw No Complaints, last night, Wednesday and the season wraps up Saturday – therefore a quickie review.

No Complaints is inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. That’s what it says in the media release but last night, Caroline Calburn of Theatre Arts told me that theatre and literary maven, Robin Malan described the production as a “response” to Happy Days.  That says more than “adaptation” and this is very much Carlo’s vision – not a re-imagining of the play (which I haven’t seen on stage – have seen snippets online.)

This production is part of the Emerging Theatre Bursary 2022. Carlo is recipient number two (two winners in 2022).  I expected clowning and physical theatre but did not expect a script as such. I expected nothing to really happen. A lot happens.  Yes, there is clown and physical movement but the story has been heightened by Carlo. No Complaints is a narrative strong piece of theatre. It is vivid visual theatre of the absurd – an existentialist trip. It is an intensely feminist play – women taking back the power – from a no goodnik man- shrouded in a bed (maybe a grave?) of leaves and rot (paper crunched up). He is a wastrel- waiting for the woman in his life to do it all. Watch what emerges from the handbags, which they schlep around. Tarantino thrown in to the mix.

Three actors play different aspects of one woman but they are united by the baggage that they carry. They are Everywoman and this is poignantly framed in the context of Cape Town, where the mantra of ‘no complaints’ takes on deep resonances and we are all hoping for ‘better days’. Each version of Wendy bring in multiple aspects of individuals from very different demographics.

The cast is exceptional. The staging is magic (wow set by Themba Stewart, sound design (Shane Jacobs). The audience is sitting on the edges of the set -in the arena – as the game begins between Wendy (three actors) and Wanda. Everything is topsy turvy in No Complaints – upside down chairs, tables, beds. Perspectives are shifted as we the audience, gaze at the upended world and at the different perspectives of Wendy and through Wendy..

This is the first incarnation of No Complaints and yes, with additional funding, it can be taken further but even as it stands, it is utterly compelling. It is remarkable that Carlo has written this script (I am told that it has about 50 percent of Beckett’s Happy Days dialogue) and that he has directed the play; seamlessly segueing between one protagonist- Wendy – manifesting three versions of herself. It is a master class in directing. I hope that this play gets to be staged at festivals, such as the National Arts Festival Makhanda and other platforms.

Ultimately, for me, No Complaints is about hope. Through pain, we must transcend and reach for “better days” and Wendy (all three selves) finds the strength to keep going: “We cannot give up… it will end someday.” Sure, it might not be better today- “back into the past and into future” and why is everyone “so f**ing happy and smiling and laughing” and posturing that there are no complaints. But, cheerfulness pushes though. It speaks to the resilience of people in South Africa – the fortitude and grit to seek out better days and not complain – too much. “Can’t complain”, “No Complaints” is very Cape Town. How you doing? “Ja, we can’t complain; no complaints…”

I loved watching No Complaints – the humour, performances, and knock-out script by Carlo – an immersive, deep experience which is playful and also entertaining. Bravo to Carlo, the cast, creative team, Caroline at Theatre Arts for this exceptional piece of theatre – resonating on so many levels – personal, political, identity, domestic bondage (breaking free), connection (we all want to be heard and acknowledged), language (how we communicate or don’t- terrific use of word play) – so much. Beautiful set – extraordinary theatre experience – igniting light in a time of darkness. Fabulous.

No Complaints: Pic: Jeremeo le Cordeur of Vulture Productions. Supplied.
No Complaints: Tshegofatso Mabutla with the foot of Siphenathi Mayekiso. Pic: Jeremeo le Cordeur of Vulture Productions. Supplied.

✳ Pics by Jeremeo le Cordeur of Vulture Productions. Supplied. Featured image- Donnay Arendse.