Theatre Oh, see how they run

Oh, see how they run

Three Blind Mice, Rob van Vuuren’s flagship play, opened to a full house at the Rhodes Theatre on Monday night. The show is one of the 2015 Festival’s most anticipated productions, with every show selling out.

Van Vuuren is having an impressive run at this year’s Festival, starring in several shows and directing several others. Three Blind Mice reunites the trio of actors from the successful satire Three Little Pigs, with Van Vuuren being joined by James Cairns and Albert Pretorius, once more under the skillful directing of Tara Notcutt.

The odds were stacked against this being too much of a departure from the formula of Three Little Pigs, but Three Blind Mice brings a canny evolution in the depth of acting. And yes, the play is moored in familiar waters, taking news events from the recent South African present and layering them over an uncanny childhood narrative. The contrast between the depravity of the South African news narrative and the ostensible innocence of childhood produces something unsettling, where our laughter masks an ingrained discomfort at the realness of our reality.

Of course, South African satire has long prospered from having its source text be a country that endlessly performs its estrangement from reality. What Three Blind Mice does, and does well, is to go into the heart of our collective reality – the better to diagnose the pathological strangeness of the everyday.

The play opens with sounds from the songbook of middle-class South Africa’s fearful imaginary: breaking glass, a bump in the night, the soundtrack of possibly violent intruders. Then a rending scream pierces the air, and the story unfolds.

To be sure, this is a blazingly daring play that blooms with witticisms and clever writing. It works because the actors have a delightful chemistry, bouncing their Benoni-Breker flattened vowel lines off each other and making excellent use of the stage space to create an involving and dense hour of theatre.

The actors themselves are a joy to watch. James Cairns leaps from one scintillating character to another with admirable grace, while Albert Pretorius delivers an understated but wellseasoned performance. Van Vuuren shows that he can play well with others, holding up a character whose WWE-frontman machismo is welljudged and never overblown.

The production moves between scenes propelled by a ceaseless energy, helped along by wonderfully fluid character shifts that are accentuated by dramatic changes in lighting. The scene involving characters based closely on the Waterkloof 4 is a masterpiece: by lampooning the toxic masculinity of these figures (a theme to which the play often returns), it draws our attention to the monstrosity of their makeup.

As usual, different audiences will respond differently to what’s being shown. Our laughter implicates us either as being uncomfortable or at ease with what we’re being shown. For the premiere audience of Three Blind Mice, the soft-soap references to Nkandla won more laughs than the ones which attacked white South African masculinity. This in itself says a great deal about what we’re prepared to find amusing, and where our borders lie. That Three Blind Mice goes to these edges and transgresses them, playfully and artfully, should be applauded.

Rhodes Box
7 July, 8pm. 

Wamuwi Mbao

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