BWW Review: THE ICE CREAM BOYS, Jermyn Street Theatre
Jacob Zuma, former President of South Africa, checks into a hospital only to find out that an old enemy, Ronnie Kasrils, who used to be in charge of the intelligence services, is staying in the opposite room. Gail Louw writes The Ice Cream Boys, detailing this chance meeting between the two. Directed by Vik Sivalingam and starring Jack Klaff as Kasrils, Andrew Francis as Zuma, and Bu Kunene as nurse Thandi (and a few other figures), it's a thrilling exploration of the crude reality of unpunished crimes.
The company experienced some major setbacks during rehearsals due to ill health and somehow it feels like at this stage the rhythm of the piece marginally lacks the appropriate urgency to convey the pressure of Louw's script, but it's clear that they have it in their peripheral vision. Our star rating is therefore given with a couple of caveats.
Besides this issue that will certainly dissolve when their performances settle in a few shows, the play is eloquent and cutting. The conversation swings between banter and open confrontation: the two men bond over their ailments and then aim for each other's throat in what is a pressure chamber only broken by the role of the nurse.
She becomes the pivot of the encounter, representing the generation who has to survive with the outcome of the President's politics. Kunene is the real revelation of The Ice Cream Boys. The actress holds her own and presents a handful of sophisticated characters; as Thandi she is a refined force who's learnt to handle the struggles and poverty that the previous governmental climate has handed her and is unafraid to reproach Zuma about it.
She calls the man out on the rape accusations he never had to address properly due to his position of power and shuts him down with clipped words when the men involve her in their discussions about past matters. Klaff and Francis handle swift dark comedy and heavy political discourse with dexterity, but their relationship doesn't come out as complex or hateful as the text would suggest. Each actor is, however, in control of their character and, with Sivalingam's direction, they haunt the stage and each other's personal space fittingly.
They debate capitalism and violence, marriage and affairs, Apartheid and privilege in what turns from a metaphoric match of table tennis to a physical game of chess. When Kasrils accuses Zuma, his rebukes fly in his face only to be shut down by the ex President's claimes that his opponent is a traitor, both their attitudes hinting that neither man is going to win.
Cecilia Trono places the action on the sleek and clinical lines of a waiting room. The white of the tiled walls and light tones of the carpet and floor engulf the conflict with Tim Mascall's cold neon lights, which turn into different colours to overwhelm the characters when people from their shared history come into question.
The Ice Cream Boys is definitely one of those productions that's bound to get better with each performance and our three stars hold the potential to become a full four. The shorter rehearsal period might have dealt them an unfortunate hand, but this is a solid start for the company. Once the connections harden properly and tension grows to become a more palpable presence, it will solidify into the concrete mosaic of chilling themes and alarming topics that the play truly is at its core.
Photo credit: Robert Workman