Local fans treated to award-winning play

2008-02-01 00:00

FRIDAY and Saturday evenings were a treat for local theatre fans with Greig Coetzee back in his “home” theatre (he is a graduate of the local drama department) for two performances of his tour de force - Johnny Boskak is Feeling Funny. I first saw the play in Grahamstown in 2004 in the grim venue of the Scout Hall and was mesmerised, to the extent that I wrote a review and gave it to Cue, the festival paper, even though it was a year when full reviews of fringe productions were not being encouraged.

The piece has become more sophisticated with the addition of Syd Kitchen and his original music, which gives a further dimension. Maybe it slows the pace fractionally, but takes nothing from the raw energy of Coetzee's work. And, of course, Johnny Boskak's excellence has been recognised by a Fringe First in Edinburgh.

Johnny Boskak is one sad ou. Trained as a reluctant killer by an army that was shortly to find itself on the wrong side of its own society, Johnny's life has become a road trip, with him looking for redemption in sleazy pool bars among misfits and hustlers. The play includes projections of paintings, by Michelle, Coetzee's sister, which show the empty, lonely roads on which Johnny travels. He dreams - in the Estcourt Ultra City toilet - of God and the devil both reluctant to take him on and it is only when he meets Eve, his “R10 plastic diamond”, that things look up.

Coetzee plays all the roles - Johnny; Eve; two former MK soldiers who owe Johnny a favour and have been discarded, like him, by a society that no longer wants to use the skills it gave them; Eve's former lover, out for revenge, and even The Beast, his juggernaut of a truck in which he pursues Johnny and Eve around the underbelly of South Africa. It is a magnificent performance. The script is almost entirely in rhyme and the extraordinary thing is that it never seems forced, or contrived.

Coetzee, like Paul Slabolepszy, is a poet of the misfit, the outsider who is surplus to requirements within his society. But Coetzee's characters are both more damaged and more dangerous. There are some very funny moments in Johnny Boskak, but the laughter can never be comfortable. Tragedy is never far from Johnny and his inexorable rush towards it makes for superlative theatre.

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