Reviews Ewok has a point to make

Ewok has a point to make

I employed many delaying tactics, displacement activities if you prefer, before sitting down to write this review (see Chapter One of Mordecai Richler’s novel about a writer, Joshua Then and Now). The thing is I really like the little that I’ve seen of Iain “Ewok” Robinson’s work. He’s extraordinarily accomplished – a musician and composer (you may know his Blue Gene band) and a wordsmith of epic slampoetry proportions.

As a white rapper, he probably has no peer. His rhymes, his punny riffs, his dazzling use of language – these are the tools he’s honed to get his point across; for Ewok always has a point to make. The character Robinson presents for us in YOBO (a portmanteau word that suggests both yobbo and hobo) is a homeless man living under a highway. He, much like FW de Klerk, offers profuse apologies for all sorts of things for which he is responsible, but the word “sorry” sticks in his throat.

Iain ‘Ewok’ Robinson performs in YOBO: You’re only born once in the Thomas Pringle hall in Grahamstown on 8 July 2015; at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Robinson’s spoken word and poetic lines are used to tell the story of a solitary white South African man, discovering his position in a post-apartheid SA and realises the contemporary issues we face that link to our history. (Photo: CUEPIX/Niamh Walsh-Vorster)

Iain ‘Ewok’ Robinson performs in YOBO: You’re only born once in the Thomas Pringle hall in Grahamstown on 8 July 2015; at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Robinson’s spoken word and poetic lines are used to tell the story of a solitary white South African man, discovering his position in a post-apartheid SA and realises the contemporary issues we face that link to our history. (Photo: CUEPIX/Niamh Walsh-Vorster)

There’s an extended piece about “being high”, as in being above, as he imagines himself high up over the black clouds below. Geddit? Giselle Turner is quoted in the printed programme as saying that Robinson “manages to present his truth in a way that is not judgmental”. That was last year. This year, in this show, he is judgmental.

YOBO: You’re Only Born Once is an illustrated sermon. His text is: whites need to say sorry before we can all move on, before black and white can make shades of grey (“the rainbow colours don’t mix”). It’s a message many whiteys prefer not to hear, but it’s a real message, and it needs to be conveyed.

However, Robinson blunts his scalpel by hammering away at his theme throughout. He presents variations on that theme in sections that are at first oblique, then clearer, and then driven into the ground: the section on Rhodes Must Fall, for example, grows from a riff on the childlike belief in being invisible if you shut your eyes and stand still, then cleverly segues into Rhodes references, but is followed by a projection of both Rhodes and a video of the statue being removed by crane. Too much. We goddit already.

Talking of video, director Karen Logan’s audio-visuals are impressive, particularly a contextual sequence early on. There are also effective sound and lighting effects which suggest the corroding connections mentioned in the script. Thematic music from Veranda Panda and Blue Gene tops ‘n tails the show. There’s a neat section beginning “hey, borrow me your language”, which talks of whites needing to learn to speak languages other than English. It doesn’t go on too long.

Robinson makes his point and moves on. Have I made my point? At the end of the show, Robinson discards his costume and papercurler dreads and addresses us as Iain Robinson. He pleads with us to simply open our eyes. Many in the audience stood to applaud. His message clearly struck home.

I looked for more charm, more humour, more enticement to enjoy before being delivered the coup de grace. He’s done it before. Maybe Robinson’s too angry to sugar-coat the pill. I quote movie mogul Sam Goldwyn, who is reputed to have said “If I want to send a message, I’ll use Western Union.” The day of the telegram being dead, now he’d use Facebook but the sentiment still applies, I think.

Nigel Vermaas
Cue contributing editor

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