Back to basics

2011-01-28 14:24

Durban-born actor and writer Greig Coetzee, who is based in London, returns to KwaZulu-Natal in February to stage his one-man shows White Men With Weapons and ­Johnny Boskak Is Feeling Funny .

The internationally feted White Men With Weapons ­reflects Coetzee’s time as a military conscript during the last years of apartheid.

The show remains an iconic satire of the challenges and absurdities faced by those who served in the old South African Defence Force (SADF).

An integral part of the show’s experience was the ­tremendous reaction from the audience. How has this changed in the new South Africa?

“South Africans have grown up,” says Coetzee. “We seem a lot more able to laugh at our past and face our ugly history without getting oversensitive.

“When I first did this show, I had SADF Military ­Intelligence secretly tearing down my posters.

Now, I have old SADF veterans wanting to buy me a drink after the show.

Now parents bring their teenage kids to see the show.

Shows like White Men are the closest they come to really knowing what it was like living under the wagging finger and sour face of PW Botha.

“I think the show has become even more relevant for an international audience because of Iraq and ­Afghanistan. These soldiers have a lot in common with those who fought in the SADF.

“For me, performing White Men is what it must be like for a musician to play his signature song. The first time I performed the piece, I was an angry young man. I still hated my korporaal and I used to pour all that hate into the way I played him. But the more I tried to show the audience what a horrible little doos he was, the more they laughed. At first I was taken aback because this was my angst and everyone was laughing. But then I realised that when you look back at a difficult time, it can be funny.”

Equally hard-hitting, Coetzee’s Johnny Boskak Is Feeling Funny incorporates a love story, a quest for faith and a car chase that transports the audience across South Africa.

“I am really excited about playing to Durban and ­Maritzburg audiences again. Durban is my home town and Maritzburg adopted me years ago. This will be the first time I have performed Johnny Boskak in Durban. The ­legendary guitarist Syd Kitchen will be playing on stage with me at the Catalina, so it’s a great homecoming.

“Although Johnny Boskak was also inspired by my army experience, the roots of the character, the slang he uses, his way of seeing the world, reflects the way we southern suburbs kids spoke on the streets of Montclair and ­Woodlands. So I’m hoping to see lots of my chinas at the Catalina and the Hexagon. Be there, my bru, be there.”

» Johnny Boskak Is Feeling Funny runs at Durban’s ­Catalina Theatre from Wednesday to Saturday, while White Men With Weapons plays on Friday and Saturday.  031 305 6889.

In Pietermaritzburg, White Men plays at the Hexagon Theatre on February 11 at 7.30pm, and Johnny Boskak on February 12 at 7.30pm.  033 260 5537.


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