How to End Racism by Chester Missing: Review
“… catching [their] racism on the edge of a joke.”
Writer: Conrad Koch
Performers: Conrad Koch and Chester Missing
Director: Chris Weare
Booking and details for 2020 tour: at end of this article
I was wowed by Conrad Koch’s How to End Racism by Chester Missing which opened in January  at The Courtyard Playhouse [formerly Alexander Upstairs Theatre and Bar] in Cape Town. This superb show is on a national tour in South Africa and has been booked for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. As other venues are added to the tour, this article will be updated.
How to End Racism by Chester Missing is engrossing and immersive theatre of confrontation, with Chester Missing prodding Conrad Koch to deconstruct racism; specifically white privilege.
Koch actively engages the audience in the journey, by posing questions on how to combat racism. Pen and paper is on each seat and one can provide one’s suggestions. It is a tightly constructed script – with opportunities for audience participation- under the fine-tuned direction of Christopher Weare.
Chester Missing – the puppet
Before we go further, in case you don’t know: Chester Missing is a latex puppet. Chester is more famous than Koch and has become a TV personality and media activist agitator as he gets politicians to say things that might not ordinarily voice. Chester on TV is very much a puppet. We don’t see Conrad Koch on TV. We can suspend our disbelief and become immersed in the latex man; revelling in his cheekiness and chutzpah.
Chester and Koch on stage – very different to TV
Watching Chester on stage with Koch, it becomes ventriloquism with the dynamic playing out between puppet and handler. In his solo shows, Koch manipulates the artifice of the fact that he is putting words into Chester’s mouth, but still Chester has his own mind. This is a staple of stage ventriloquism- the heckling between puppet and handler. However, with the Chester/Conrad Koch coupling, the interchange has become charged with a heightened political and personal discourse on how Conrad Koch charts his journey as a performing artist and anthropologist. With an MA in anthropology, away from TV and stage, he has worked extensively in corporate South Africa, using Chester as a tool for change management. In his stage shows, coupled with stand-up comedy, he tugs at our strings – the audience.
In his last solo show, Puppet Guy (which toured Canada), Chester was accompanied by other puppets and characters in Koch’s menagerie and it was a fight-off between which puppet would end up in the suitcase. The tone of that show veered to the fun and entertaining with the serious and darker stuff aligned to a side-bar.
The de-brief we never got after the demise of apartheid
In the Racism show, there is no FHB – family hold back. The fun puppet characters are not there to steal Chester’s limelight. Chester is here to give his keynote speech on How to End Racism. It is kind of the de-brief we never got after the demise of apartheid, reflects Koch. He notes several times in the show that currently white South Africans are five times richer than black South Africans. That is a fact. He says that if you suggest that white people are racist then they proceed to narrate their race CV: “Some of my best friends are black …” From an anthropological point of view, Race May not exist but racism does.
‘You catch it on the edge of a remark’ – Anthony Julius
The examples that Chester/Koch foreground on stage reminded us of the famous quote by UK lawyer Anthony Julius: “You catch it on the edge of a remark.” This line is incorporated into the script in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire. The film directed by Hugh Hudson is based on the true life story of two athletes who competed in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew. Harold Abrahams- played by Ben Cross – says when encountering any-Semitism. “There’s an ache, a helplessness, an anger…I catch that look at the edge of a remark, in the cold reluctance of a handshake …” People say one thing but there is BUT; a withering look; a gesture which provides another narrative to what is being said.
Koch uses Chester to brilliantly demonstrate the nuances of the ‘I am not a Racist Brigade’. In this show, we catch the reluctance on the edge of the laughter of the audience. It is funny. There is laughter but the discomfit of some was evident on the night we saw this show. The audience was predominantly pale faced and we could sense the squirming in the front row as Chester came face to face with his audience.
Koch’s artistry as a ventriloquist has gone to another level with this show. For instance, Chester continues to spew out dialogue and sings as Koch drinks.
In How to End Racism, there is a seamless integration between ventriloquism, theatre, satire and an audience in the grip of catching their racism on the edge of a joke.
This show will resonate very differently with other audiences as they clutch onto the edge of laughter- with an ache of shame, guilt, complicity or an ache of being on the receiving end and watching others shrink under Chester’s gaze.
Theatre/✈ travel advisory- How to End Racism by Chester Missing- 2020 tou
✔ March 8–Woordfees, Stellenbosch, 7pm. R150: https://woordfees.co.za/en/listing/conrad-koch-hannes-brummer/
✔ March 15– POPart Theatre in Johannesburg. R100 (proceeds to charity): popartcentre.co.za
✔ April 18– part of The Johannesburg Comedy Festival. R150-R250: https://www.joburgtheatre.com/johannesburg-international-comedy-festival-2020/
✔ May 6 -14- Artscape, Cape Town. Booking info TBC
✔June 3- 14 – Pieter Toerien’s Studio Theatre at Montecasino. R100 -R180: https://tickets.computicket.com/event/how_to_end_racism_by_chester_missing/7137972/7137996/5657
✔August 5 – 29 – Edinburgh Fringe Festival: https://www.edfringe.com/ Booking info TBC
✔ Other venues 2020 tour– this article will be updated when info available
✔ To book Conrad and Chester for your festival or event- see https://conradkoch.co.za/