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Review: Remarkable Richards Lands Skilful Comedy in STATE FRACTURE at the Baxter - But Is It Satire?

Daniel Mpilo Richards

South Africa, says the note in the programme of STATE FRACTURE, is 'a country that keeps on giving as far as satirical material is concerned.' What a pity, then, that the humour in STATE FRACTURE never transcends the comic to become satire. The sequel to PAY BACK THE CURRY, a smash hit for team of producer Siv Ngesi, writer Mike Van Graan, performer Daniel Mpilo Richards and director Rob van Vuuren, STATE FRACTURE recently returned from its premiere run at the National Arts Festival, where it scooped two Standard Bank Ovation Awards, one for the show and one for Richards, and is currently playing a season at the Baxter Theatre prior to a month-long run at the Kalk Bay Theatre in October.

STATE FRACTURE will certainly have audiences laughing at the foibles of the likes of Helen Zille, Hlaudi Motsoeneng and the Gupta family and chuckling over vices such as privilege and the patriarchy. The piece is framed by the banter of Dean from Saxonwold Shebeen, a personable host who returns during the proceedings with a medley of Abba pastiches, before taking us on a tour of South African toilets, pulpits, support groups and chicken coops.

But although Van Graan gleefully ridicules, for example, Zille's attitude towards colonialism or Motsoeneng's fall from grace, the latter sequence a masterwork of irony given its form of a charismatic religious sermon, he never challenges the audience to pay attention to the man behind the curtain. Perhaps this is a function of the process, mentioned in the programme, through which the script of the production was developed in reaction to audience feedback. It is undoubtedly more commercially expedient to leave the blame on the doorstep of the many figures who have let down the country rather than to ask us to interrogate our part in bringing about many of situations described in STATE FRACTURE. Nonetheless, the very nature of satire lies in poking the bear, not feeding it, and STATE FRACTURE packs in the belly laughs until the audience is full.

Daniel Mpilo Richards

In performing the many sketches that make up STATE FRACTURE, Richards delivers a remarkable performance, adding to a body of work that already bears testament to his versatility as an actor. Whether he is called upon to speak, slam or sing, he delivers the goods. His extraordinary physical and rhythmic shifts from character to character are expertly guided by Van Vuuren, whose boldly comic eye has enabled Richards to polish each skit to perfection. Stephanie Papini's perfectly timed lighting and sound cues beautifully support the work being done on stage.

STATE FRACTURE offers a night at the theatre that will send people home with a smile on their faces, their sense of what is right and wrong in South Africa preserved by skilful comic writing and an exceptional comic performance. The problem when considering STATE FRACTURE as satire is that it leaves no grain of sand in the eye, nothing to irritate the transformation of the audience's laughter into a weapon against its targets. Like Jane Elliott's eight-year-old students, we do not internalise a thing. STATE FRACTURE shies away from that necessary confrontation, leaving the audience - with apologies to Elliott - doing what many liberals do: sitting in the soft seats and laughing off, in our shared ignorance, what we should be taking on.

STATE FRACTURE runs at the Golden Arrow Studio at the Baxter Theatre Centre until 19 August. Tickets are available from Computicket, with prices ranging from R95 - R110. Concession prices are available for students, pensioners and block bookings of ten or more people.

This piece stars Fiona Ramsay & Tony Bentel, who have worked together on several projects over many years and is a celebration of some of the work that they have enjoyed most and want to share with new and old audiences alike.

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