Theatre review: Quirky germination of creativity in The Flower Hunters, online show; which has received a Standard Bank Ovation Award at The Fringe, National Arts Festival

What: The Flower Hunters – written, performed and directed by Maggie Gericke and Sophie Joans Language: English Where: The Fringe, National Arts Festival When: Available until August 31, 2021 Direct booking link: Ticket price: R80 Duration: 60 minutes Age advisory: Over 12s  

The Flower Hunters is a quirky and creatively enhanced hour of sketch comedy-drama- meditative and fun. I loved watching and it also made me feel sad in terms of the journey of this work – read on. The show has received a Standard Bank Ovation Award at Fringe at The National Arts Festival and is available for viewing until August 31, 2021.  In addition to comedy and drama, there is also singing and ukulele (Joans). The genesis (couldn’t resist that here) of the piece, goes back to a short story that Joans read in a copy of The New Yorker which was “lying around in the Alexander Bar parlour.” She explains: “The Flower cycle of the sketches was built around that – and the general themes of flowers and the feminine.” Gericke’s extraordinary drawings have been animated – magical to watch. The Flower Hunters is a bricolage of comedy, drama, song and drawings. It is a lot to absorb but luckily with online, one can re-wind the delicious lines, situations and images. Check out the Uterus Tutorial (my description) and how to insert various devices. And what is this fascination with Cleopatra and the snake? Watch – as I say – there is a lot packed into this show. I am amazed that these two performers have put this piece together – directing themselves – props, visuals, music, animation.

Joans and Gericke worked front-of-house at The Alexander Bar & Upstairs Theatre in Strand Street, Cape Town and also performed in shows at the independent theatre. Alexander was sold in 2019. The new owners set about renovating the venue.  The Flower Hunters was the last show, staged before the renovations, December 2019, says Joans. Sadly, the new theatre, The Courtyard, opened in February 2020- a few weeks prior to Covid and became a casualty of lockdown. The theatre is gone. It was a venue which was renowned in South Africa and beyond – for providing a space – a launch pad – for new work. Let us take a moment to applaud Alexander’s owners, Nicholas Spagnoletti and Edward van Kuik for creating this incubator of creativity – which enabled artists to stage shows – with reasonable terms and conditions- which did not bankrupt them. The Flower Hunters is for me, a homage to the way Alexander seeded new work like The Flower Hunters. I was emotional watching, thinking back to the shows that I have seen over the years. The theatre no longer exists. The ache was exacerbated by the opening scene which features Joans and Gericke auditioning for a Shakespeare production at another legendary Cape Town theatre – The Fugard- which was also a casualty of the pandemic. Alexander and the Fugard are gone but Joans and Gericke are still creating and at the moment, online is the primary medium for staging theatre. Prior to the NAF, they staged The Flower Hunters at Theatre Arts in Observatory, for a small audience of friends and family and filmed it for the festival. In putting the TA show together, they added in material, inspired by lockdown, which had not been in the first incarnation at Alexander in 2019. The online show is enhanced with ripping into social media and referencing Instagram Live and self-taping – platforms which thespians have used in the quest to keep creating – never mind make a living. Joans: “The backbone of the show was formed pre-Covid, but I think everything we have gone through over the last few months/year has definitely infiltrated the story and the tone. It has evolved with us.” The result is a hyper intense hour of sketch comedy.

Joans and Gericke are super talented performers – who do it all – writing, singing, designing – and I look forward to seeing them back on stage. As a standalone piece, The Flowers Hunters is a treat of a show – intelligent writing and inspired characters and situations. A round of applause in developing this show for the online stage. I laughed a lot (refer Uterus Tutorial) and was sad – reflecting on how the pandemic has crushed live performance – but with the resilience of artists like Joans and Gericke, – hopefully we will see a re-birth – venues and work –in the Mother City. I hope that even when things “normalise”, that artists will film their work for online viewing. Joans and Gericke have created an impressive online show, with the wonderful animation linking sketches. By the way, Joans and Gericke are also part of team Verloren at the NAF – which received a Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award.  

The Flower Hunters: Sophie Joans and Maggie Gericke, in the filmed recording of the version of the show, staged at Theatre Arts in Cape Town, for the online Fringe, National Arts Festival, 2021. Supplied.