News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Friday August 23rd 2019

Review: Dishing up the dirt

James Cairns in his one-man show comedy Dirt. Dirt is the story of three friends and a dog travelling together to a funeral, 20 June, 2010. Grahamstown, Eastern Cape. (CUEPIX/Dominique Little)

Stripping the pretensions of theatre away to deliver rock solid acting is what we have come to expect from James Cairns, who after some years of being scarce on the boards, has been revealing his acting brilliance again.

And in his latest one-hander, Dirt, he does not disappoint.

Although Dirt is a one-man play, if you had your eyes closed you’d think there’s a cast of seven, for Cairns has the rare mimic’s skill of instantly switching from one character to another, altering his voice, body language, facial features, the whole package.

His talent for this is so good that the two cameo characters who appear in Dirt are possibly the best characterisations of South African personalities in his show: the taxi driver dismissive of a SABC soap star but who nonetheless wants a pic taken on his cellphone so he can prove he saw that ‘SABC mafia’ in the flesh, and the bitter small-town barman who, with platteland English accent bitches about these big-city types who pull in here ‘with their fancy cars full of….petrol and leather and stuff’.

Great vignettes in an excellent play about death, friendship, ambition, love, lust, young fatherhood, resentment and hope.

Unlike Cairn’s other one-handers Rat and Sitting Man, Dirt, was written by Nick Warren but employs the same underlying narrative device, a journey by car from Johannesburg to Cape Town. But Dirt is a lot more emotionally forgiving than the stories that flowed from Cairns’s own pen. There are no psychopaths in Dirt, just people with the kind of hang-ups and misconceptions many of us have. Issues Cairns pegs up on the comic washline so that their ridiculousness is instantly revealed. And so laughing at his characters we laugh at ourselves.

The only criticism of Dirt I can conjure is of a technical nature. Sitting Man, the run of which Cairns has just completed at the Kalk Bay Theatre immediately prior to launching into Dirt, had no props, no sound cues and no lighting cues. It was as bare and brilliant as poor theatre can be. With that in mind, I found the little props that kept on being brought out in Dirt to be unnecessary, finicky and a distraction. Director Janine Collocott could consider banishing them, Cairns has the strength to carrying the story on his own and they seem to sap his tremendous energy rather than add to it.

Besides that, Dirt is a shining example of what poor theatre can achieve. – Steve Kretzmann, West Cape News

* Dirt is at the Kalk Bay Theatre until September 11. Tickets cost R100. Book on or phone the booking line on 073 220 5430. – West Cape News

Tags: dirt, kalkbaytheatre

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