Theatre Review – The absurdity of fear

This pioneer of physical theatre is currently ­performing at Joburg’s Market Theatre in not one, not two, but three one-man plays on consecutive nights, ­featuring not one, not two, but 100 characters in total.

Sheer madness, some may say, while others may gently suggest that he visit a shrink for multiple personality disorder. For Andrew Buckland, however, this is a ­challenge right up his alley.

Having had the rare privilege of working for a year on the Beatles-themed Cirque du Soleil show, Love (with his son Daniel), this multiple-award-winning writer and performer (who was recently ­promoted to drama HoD at Rhodes University) returned to South ­Africa last July reinvigorated and raring to go.

“It was an adventure that was extraordinarily good fortune and came at the right time,” he says. “I wasn’t enjoying myself in my ­performing and teaching.

But after a full year of performance boot camp with Cirque, and getting keyed into working with the acrobats, it reminded me that physically and performance-wise the body is at the heart of everything.”

Age is clearly just a state of mind for Buckland, who started feeling “like a buffalo – like I can do anything”, even flip-flops. “I felt strong and good and fearless, and did not have a desperate need to make a new work,” he says.

So, upon returning, he unearthed original shows that he thought were still relevant. The result was Andrew Buckland – 1 Man ... 3 Shows ... 100 Characters, which ran at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town and will now run at the Market Theatre until December 19.

Buckland draws from his original works, The Ugly Noo Noo and ­Between the Teeth, and an ­adaptation of Italian playwright Dario Fo’s Mistero Buffo – all ­directed by Buckland’s wife and “co-conspirator”, Janet.

“I like a challenge,” Buckland admits, “and this is a physical, mental and performance challenge.”

The Ugly Noo Noo propelled Buckland into the local and ­international limelight in 1988, ­garnering 17 national and international awards, including a Fringe First at the Edinburgh Festival.

This extraordinary play ladled out a subtle but damning indictment of apartheid in true protest theatre tradition. But what made Noo Noo revolutionary as a ­political satire was its blend of physicality with narrative, and the fact that its central characters were Parktown prawns – those übergoggas that strike fear and ­hatred into the heart of even the most macho man.

And fear is at the core of the play. “PW had crossed the Rubicon and things were looking more and more bleak,” explains Buckland.
“Fear was being used by the government to keep a hold on people.”

He used everything in his actor’s toolkit – mime, storytelling and ­physical performance – to translate the urban mythology of these monster crickets into an allegory for the violence and repression of the government of the time.

­Unsurprisingly, it caused a huge stir, and still serves as a ­cautionary tale for those whose fear is based on ignorance.

Between the Teeth came a few years later, arising from Buckland’s fascination with how people “use lies as a martial art to defend themselves” – more specifically, the government at the time.

Using ­onomatopoeia, racial insults in ­several languages and other ­inflammatory sounding words, he crafted a fantastical performance universe that poked and prodded at how those in power distorted language to cover up the truth.

The final play comprises three stories from Nobel Prize-winner Fo’s Mistero Buffo, which takes a provocative look at religious ­dogma. Inspired by the medieval guillari (jesters/political commentators), it is based on the church’s original mystery plays that laid down moral lessons for the ­masses.

Mistero Buffo features ­satirical retellings of some of these stories, exposing the hypocrisy and vested interests of the powerful.

Buckland is all for an active ­citizenry that demands the change they want to see instead of blindly accepting the status quo. He says: “It doesn’t matter what you say or what you think, the only thing that matters is what you do.”

One thing audiences should do is come along to the Market this December and laugh heartily at the absurdity of fear in three plays where the comedy is delivered with a sharp political bite.

» Andrew Buckland will be performing at the Market Theatre in Newtown, ­Johannesburg, until December 19.

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