REVIEWS OF MACBEKI IN CAPE TOWN — FEBRUARY / MARCH 2009
A Theatrical Milestone
– Marianne Thamm, capetheatre.co.za, 26 February 2009
SO, here’s the lesson. If you’re a politician inclined to go about quoting Shakespeare
you shouldn’t be surprised when you end up as the lead in a farcical reworking of
the Bard’s work.
This transgressive variation of "Macbeth" by South Africa’s leading satirist gives
literal expression to Karl Marx’s famous maxim that "history repeats itself as tragedy
and then as farce".
It has been about six years since Uys has written a new play. The last was his less
successful "Auditioning Angels" in 2003. Less successful perhaps because Uys was
angry about the Mbeki government’s response to HIV and AIDS and the work at was an
expression of that rage.
Not so with "MacBeki" which sparkles and fizzes with Uys’ particular satirical genius.
And while "MacBeki" draws inspiration from Shakespeare’s drama about ambition, power,
deceit and greed, it exists independently of it.
Written mid 2008, the comedy takes place in Luthuli Castle where the aging King Maduba
(Abongile Kroza) is nearing the end of his reign. In the wings successors plot and
scheme including the favoured son, Ramabanquo (played by Gerald Dhunraja), MacBeki
(Themba Mchunu) and the ambitious, alcoholic Lady Manta (Lerato Motshwarakgole).
A host of other characters including MacZum, MacTrev, Winnie, Celine Dion and Pieter-Dirk
himself (in the form of the Porter character) are drawn into the fantastic fray.
And in another flash of inspiration, the three witches of Macbeth have been turned
Christopher Weare has extracted wonderful performances from this talented student
ensemble. Lerato Motshwarakgole particularly stole the night with her diabolically
wicked Lady Manta. The show is worth seeing for this performance alone.
The lanky Themba Mchunu too rendered a suitably fraught and arrogant MacBeki and
Chase Downs made a deceptively likeable MacZum.
Weare has added several hilarious visual tricks and tableaux (watch out for the businessmen
in the loo) that contribute to the overall subversive nature of the piece.
The staging of "MacBeki" simultaneously in Cape Town and Johannesburg is a milestone.
This is the first theatrical rendering (apart from the one-person shows) in 15 years
that directly confronts and exposes those who would wield enormous power over our
lives. And all this in an election year.
The relief at seeing these "remote" figures pilloried and exposed in such a hilarious
fashion is cathartic and downright good for democracy.
There are a few minor issues that need fine-tuning and pruning. For instance, The
Porter, as the only white character on stage, has more power than he is given credit.
Uys has written him as a victim when in fact it is he, as Uys, who has actually conjured
the entire comedy to life.
There is the occasional danger also that some characterisations, particularly of
MacZum, may feed into stereotypes and detract from the potential real power of the
relationships exposed on stage. The first act too can be trimmed of about 15 minutes
worth of repetition.
With "MacBeki", Uys draws together the many strands that contribute to his singular
status as one of the most important, influential and versatile public voices in the
If there is anyone who could parody our current political situation accurately, it
is Pieter-Dirk Uys.
And by that I mean if he was acting in this production. While Uys has written a script
overflowing with brilliant ideas, MacBeki comes off as a student production, and
aptly so, as acted by UCT drama students.
Here we have the story and characters of Shakespeare's Macbeth representing South
MacBeki (Mchunu), MacZum (Downs), MacTrev (Swart) and Lady Manta (Motshwarakgole)
often recite direct verse from the original play.
The story revolves around the leadership of South Africa being passed along the years.
The old King Maduba (Kroza) is stepping down and MacBeki and Lady M have taken hold
of the reigns.
Power, corruption and greed is appropriately satirised.
Fast-forward and soon we are "Um-shini-wam-ing" with MacZum and MacTrev.
Three witches are disguised as newspaper journalists and corrupt businessmen.
We know the story and how it happens. Except we didn't know that MacBeki has a particular
fetish for Celine Dion.
If you're a Shakespeare purist, steer clear as lines such as, "Is this the Ipod I
see before me" will have you cringing in your seat.
The play is difficult to watch because the characters don't really become believable,
with the exceptions of Lady Manta, portrayed excellently by Motshwarakgole as the
conniving, overzealous drunken accomplice to MacBeki and the porter played by Gabriel
Marchand, the voice of reason but also the newly-disadvantaged white male population.
Points of annoyance: The Asian nurse talking in a cutesy "me wuv you wong time" accent
is possibly the pinnacle of pain. The Celine Dion tangent, however amusing, feels
Our political situation is definitely easy to poke fun at and Uys succeeds at pointing
out that "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" by highlighting important issues Thabo
Mbeki ignored such as HIV and Aids and Zimbabwe.
Considering the levels of satire, the students couldn't pull off the wit convincingly.
I really wanted to like this production and with the amazing talents of Uys and Christopher
Weare behind it, I was sure of its success.
The content is brilliant, but unfortunately, the cauldron just doesn't bubble in
Die subtitel is: A Farce to be Reckoned with, en dit is inderdaad ’n hoogs onderhoudende
plaaslike sirkus uit die skerp pen van die hofnar Pieter-Dirk Uys. Dis losweg gebaseer
op die Shakespeare-drama waarvan die titel nooit oor die lippe van bygelowige akteurs
in kleedkamers gehoor word nie. Dit steek genadeloos draak met ambisie, piesangrepublieke,
knoffel, beet en stortkoppe.
Die groot rolverdeling van oorwegend jong akteurs sonder mikrofone bied ’n probleem,
want nie elke woord is duidelik hoorbaar nie. Agter die mis van die wolkmasjien en
die byklanke van donderweer, Celine Dion-musiek en die gehoor se skaterlag, gaan
kosbare Uys-kwinkslae verlore.
(Dion word soos ’n geheime wapen ontplooi om die ou koning onskadelik te stel en
hou uiteindelik die verslane, verslae MacBeki se arms omhoog soos op die boeg van
’n sinkende skip terwyl Dion die temalied van Titanic sing.)
Die openingstoneel is ’n skemerige kroeg waar drie media-hekse op hoë stoeltjies
met drankies in die hand sit en konkel. Die ambisieuse MacBeki verskyn op die verhoog.
Hy dra ’n ontwerperspak wat hoog opgehys is, met kruisbande en hoogwaterpype en hy
haal graag Shakespeare aan.
Met dié sleutelrol het ek ’n probleem: Themba Mchunu het wel fyn komiese gesigspel,
maar hy is eenvoudig nie duidelik hoorbaar en verstaanbaar nie en vang myns insiens
nie die ontwykende essensie van die oudpresident vas nie.
Die gehoor se liefling, die absolute dondersteler, is Lerato Motshwarakgole as MacBeki
se koningin en regterhand, Lady Manta. Soos Lady Macbeth is sy absoluut genadeloos
en gefokus, hoewel steierend. Sy drink Johnny Walker Red Label soos water; soms uit
haar handsak, soms uit ’n heupfles, soms gooi sy die inhoud van drie glase saam en
soms bring sy sommer die bottel na haar sardoniese lippe.
Vol ambisie val sy roekeloos rond in ’n kort rompie, hoë hakkies en uitgestote bors
waarin ’n mens die vergrote lewer amper kan sien swoeg. Sy is eenvoudig skreeusnaaks
en sy het van die beste dialoog. Sy omlyn ook elke woord en is duidelik hoorbaar.
Ander rolspelers en konkelaars is Ramabanquo, MacBeki se kameraad wat slinks verlei
word om die sakewêreld te omhels, polities ontwapen te word en te ontaard in ’n vetkat
in Armani en Gucci, asook MacTrev die beleefde, gladde geldteller, en MacZum, die
jagse "man van die mense" met ongepoleerde sjarme.
Winnie maak ook ’n verskyning, so ook Rosenkrantz en Guildenstern, wat verdwaal en
in die verkeerde drama beland het.
Maduba, wat glimlag, wuif en dans soos ’n marionet in ’n mooi hemp, wys ook soms
gesig. Die witgesig-portier, wat soos ’n hofnar aangetrek is (Pieter-Dirk Uys se
alter ego), verdien ook vermelding.
Die gehoor was gefassineer en geamuseer. Die stuk is nie sonder probleme nie, maar
dis ’n brawe, snaakse produksie met ontluikende teaterpraktisyns.
Sometimes political situations in this wonderful country of ours really do play out
like dramatic Shakespearean plays with twists and turns, betrayals and love affairs
and in the end it all turns out to be a bit of a joke. Pieter-Dirk Uys has done just
this with MacBeki as his written work comes to life on stage making the current South
African political divisions hilariously funny using Shakespeare's famous tragedy,
"MacBeth" as the scene and setting, the plot however is thicker than Shakespeare
could ever have imagined.
Directed by Christopher Weare, the cast of ten are brilliant. A special mention must
however go to Lerato Motshwarakgole who plays the role of "Lady Manta" and "Winnie".
The alcoholic slash conniving Lady Manta decked with hip-flask calling on the spirits
to take the milk from her breast and turn it into garlic sauce is played excellently
by this fine young actress in the making. Her fabulous beetroot recipe comes into
play at every turn making it terribly hard to remove its stains from her hands.
Highlights from the play for me, apart from Lady Manta, are the simple parts - the
walking down the passages, the use of Celion Dion (yes Celion Dion), the role of
the porter/struggling actor/white guy in a BEE world. Knowledge of the Shakespearean
classic is certainly not neceassary to get the satirical gist of MacBeki but it will
make the play even more tantalising. You must however have some grasp on the recent
developments on the South African political terrain and if you don't what planet
do you live on?!
If you're in the mood for an evening of laughter and entertainment, grab yourself
a glass of dry white or water - whatever tickles your taste buds and head down to
the Little Theatre at Michaelis - UCT's fine art school between 25 February and 21
March. Bookings can be made by calling 084 395 8381. The show starts at 8pm sharp.
All that's left to say is congratulations to Mr Uys, it's a true South African beauty
and well done to the theatre practitioners in training on a great performance all
Prepare yourself for some double, double toil and trouble upon the heath of Luthuli
Pieter-Dirk Uys’s latest satire is one hilariously riotous romp
– Peter Tromp, The Next 48 Hours, 6 March 2009
In South Africa, the politicians basically satirize themselves. Just reading the
headlines everyday must be depressing to comedians. How do you compete when the politicians
do your job for you? That is why so few comedians in this country actually deliver
satire that is transcendent. Pieter-Dirk Uys (PDU) does not fall into this latter
He has for all intents and purposes ranked among the elite of those that skilfully
lampoon government in this country for decades. Of course, we have all gotten used
to his brand of comedy, and that can lead to one taking his skill for granted.
What amazes me sometimes is how people mistake an artist who has actually found their
unique register and sticking with it for creative stalemate. The best artists try
to perfect their formula, and ‘MacBeki’ is pretty close to vintage PDU.
As the title suggests, Uys has appropriated Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ for his own satirical
purposes but his appropriation is pretty loose limbed.
Whenever he pleases, the writer breaks away from that play’s structures and go off
on tangents all his own. None of this has the right to work, but somehow it does,
and pretty brilliantly too.
That is thanks to a very spirited and comically in tune UCT cast, as well as some
intuitive directing from Christopher Weare. The production feels like one big old
team effort, and it is impossible to imagine it without any of the participants in
its conception and delivery.
Mike Van Graan attempted something similar about a year ago with his ‘Mirror, Mirror’.
That production similarly starred UCT students, but whereas Van Graan’s enterprise
basically reached and reached, Uys’s somehow soars, especially when it goes for broke.
It shows that satire can actually be meaningful with enough imagination and verve.