Lekker. It’s a superb word, South African slang for “great” or “nice”. And when five South African boys are presenting 45 minutes of performance pieces largely from Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas, it is great to hear them say “lekke” at least once because it reveals that they are doing it in a truly South African style. And they really are. Five young Springboks showing us just how young actors should perform, with stage presence, honesty and charm.
If you want to see how young people should stage a piece of theatre, this is it
We are presented with five South African 18 year olds from Diocesan College (aka Bishops) in Cape Town, a private all-boys school well known for its rugby, cricket and music. Not to put too fine a point on it, the five of them look like the second and back row of the rugby team, all well over six foot, with cauliflower ears and a good build for scrummaging. And they do all indeed play rugby for the “Wild Boys”, the School’s infamous 4th team. At one point, hilariously, they pack down as a front row. But believe me, these boys also know how to act.
The group are here to explore what it means to be a young male South African in the 21st century, navigating masculinity and strength while exploring identity, acceptance and belonging. They do so through a succession of monologues and duologues from their Metric exams, with some well selected text to speak, often from Shakespeare. What shrewdly chosen lines experienced drama teacher Wayne Tucker has given them. Is there any better advice than “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line”? And more people should be told “you are a dweezil”. Some lines are jaw dropping (“what the hell does a black man know about flying a kite”) and others moving (strapping 18 year old says “I was here for some insulin”). The highlight is a piece by South African playwright Paul Slapolepszy called “Boo to the Moon”, where a young man seeks excuses not to join the army and fight. The texts explore every possible facet of young masculinity.
And now to the cast. All five actors are crackerjack. Lance Brilus shows terrific physical control as he moves in to touch the ‘man-fish’ of Shakespeare’s Tempest amidst a well delivered speech. James Du Preez impresses in his cheeky goblet change and monologue. Thomas Mason engages us well in his analysis of a useless afternoon. And Thomas Barton is a highly accomplished young actor, thoughtful, interesting and honest. But the Oscar perhaps goes to Murrough Epstein, whose performance throughout explores an emerging sexuality with deftness and courage. Every contribution is electric, from ‘Untouched’ to ‘Car crash’ to his Puckish finish. There is surely another facet to growing up as a young South African male explored in his performance that could be too easily brushed aside for other foci. The five work well as a group too, knowing when to step forward and when to keep quiet and still. The ‘off-camera’ poses are sometimes casual and cool but the best ones are totally ridiculous (the hand-stand, for example) since the performers always carry them off with complete commitment and no pretention, the most refreshing feature of everything they do. It is an approach to performance that is honest and true to their age and background. The talk sounds natural but you hear every word. The costumes are spot on too. All the shoes are the same but the rest of their costumes express individuality, one with baggy black trousers and another with ripped jeans.
If you want to see how young people should stage a piece of theatre, this is it. These performers are really, really lekker.