Life, etc

Theatre Reviews: Shoes & Coups: Emerging talent takes centre stage

Any show that begins with the rousing music of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet certainly starts off on the right note.

The composition oozes drama, nicely setting the tone for a new play billed as a “punchy satire on the state of contemporary global politics and the rise of civil activism”. We sure needs tons of that right now.

Shoes & Coups is written and directed by Palesa Mazamisa, and it’s wonderful to see a fresh young voice stepping into the vital niche of political parody carved out by satirists like Mike van Graan and Zakes Mda.

[caption id="attachment_116314" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Scene from Shoes & Coups. Image supplied.[/caption]

Shoes & Coups has some echoes of Mda’s recently revived play You Fool How Can The Sky Fall, which scrutinised a corrupt African country after the revolutionary liberators turned into corrupt political leaders. But Shoes & Coups is wittier, sharper and pacier, focusing on an African country ruled by a dictator. As they tend to be.

Here the dictator has died and his sulky, prima donna daughter Lascivia is taking over the prosperous but pillaged nation. Lascivia (Michelle Mosalakae) is a talentless fashion designer more interested in shoes than politics.

[caption id="attachment_116310" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Scene from Shoes & Coups. Image supplied.[/caption]

Mosalakae flounces around melodramatically in fluff and frills, and I wondered whether the role would be better played more realistically, to become scarily plausible rather than dramatically laughable. Still, she follows the over-the-top directions perfectly, with impeccable timing for her actions and comments that carry the jokes and stings. Once the people were model citizens, and now they’re clamouring for free will, she pouts.

Her unctuous assistant Nimrod (Zizi Peteni), flatters and fawns in a most obsequious manner, and Peteni does it perfectly, showing the simmering ambition behind his sycophancy, and delivering little digs disguised as politeness.

[caption id="attachment_116312" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Scene from Shoes & Coups. Image supplied.[/caption]

But the biggest bringer of laughs is unexpectedly Sipho Zakwe as the praise singer. He’s hilarious as he translates radio announcements into sign language, with his antics generating so much laughter that it drowned out the recording.

The satire revolves around a plot hatched by Nimrod for the country to be managed by outsiders called The Corporation, which has already introduced various systems including the sham of democracy. The Corporation’s career-climbing Ms Purchase (Sihle Ndaba) has jetted in to sign the final contract, and their debates create a platform to analyse democracy, dignity, the rights of the people and the greedy desires of self-serving leaders. That’s a rich melting pot of material, and Mazamisa digs in deeply to deliver some wicked quips and barbed comments to make you think. Her sharp ideas take real life a step further, like the reverse toyi-toyi – another delightful moment from Zakwe - when the people’s revolt rises to a crescendo.

[caption id="attachment_116315" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Scene from Shoes & Coups. Image supplied.[/caption]

Mazamisa has written a handful of previous pieces and largely hits the mark with this one, with some delicious gems of politically incorrect wit. A few rare moments see the fun tip into silliness, but overall it’s a clever, entertaining show that needs just a little more polish. Nimrod is the most well-crafted character, while the dialogue between the two women sometimes turns into a cat fight rather than keeping on point.

The ending felt incongruous and superfluous, however, with Zakwe returning to deliver a lyrical summary of – what? – human nature, I think. I’d need to hear it a second time to grasp what it was trying to say, and the “hmmms” from other members of the audience could have expressed either appreciation or puzzlement.

The lovely set by Lungile Cindi is part palace, part dressmaker’s workshop, with swathes of cloth forming a colourful backdrop.

The lighting by Hlomohang Mothetho is spot on, and costume maker Nthabiseng Malaka must have had a ball creating outfits to portray Lascivia’s demented designs.

[caption id="attachment_116311" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Scene from Shoes & Coups. Image supplied.[/caption]

What’s great about the show, on top of the promising quality of the script and the acting, is that it’s the work of youngsters who will go on to shape the theatre industry and hopefully, political discourse. It’s sponsored by the Department of Arts and Culture’s Incubation Fund that helps young creatives hone their skills through mentorship to take them from amateurs to professionals, and incubates are working alongside all the designers.

So you’ll have a good laugh, see some emerging talent, and know that for once, some government money has actually been channelled in the right direction. DM

Shoes & Coups runs at the Market Theatre until 2 December. Tickets from Webtickets

Photos: Iris Dawn Parker