It was Andrew Buckland who made me realise that theatre can be enthralling and mind bending and hilarious all at once.
Actually, it wasn’t just Buckland, it was Lionel Newton too.
I was a first-year student at ‘Maritzburg, whose only experience of theatre had been watching my elder cousin perform in Jack and the Beanstalk at the East London Guild, when I stumbled onto Buckland and Newton’s Blood Stream. It opened up a new landscape. To see bodies able to communicate emotion and comedy and character and create an entirely new world able to sustain itself without question for an hour in time, it was like discovering a colour I never knew existed, or a new sense. It was schweet.
I’ve seen Buckland on stage a number of times since then, but mostly in performances with the Grahamstown company Ubom!, and never again with Lionel. And besides a memorable occasion where Buckland mimed photographer and raconteur Obi Oberholzer in a gut-wrenchingly ridiculous, utterly unique performance as the opener for one of Obie’s exhibitions in that City of Saints, I’d never seen Buckland on his own.
So finally, Laugh the Buffalo. Buckland is back performing his own work, directed as ever by his wife Janet Buckland. Yay! What a treat.
Except it wasn’t.
Ok, yes, his physicality – I still don’t know what you call it. Physical theatre? Physical comedy? Physical performance? Body drama? – is spectacular. That’s his thing, he is undisputed master of the body comic. So why was I so detached from what I saw at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio on opening night? Why was I so singularly unimpressed?
Perhaps I’m just a jaded, depressed arsehole. It’s entirely possible. He got a standing ovation after all and every review since has been so glowing they could light up the Baxter complex for days if only the words could be fed into the electrical circuit.
Yet I thought the plot not much more sophisticated than the ones we used to be forced to come up with for campfire skits at veldt school. Only this one went on for a lot longer and, to boot, the pace was achingly slow, as if a ten-minute piece needed to be stretched to 50 minutes to fit the format.
As for the satire, the ‘barbed’ political commentary, I found it heavy-handed, clumsy and so obvious I think I might have actually sighed.
If this was how apartheid was criticised in The Ugly Noo-Noo or climate change was tackled in The Water Juggler, then perhaps it’s better I haven’t seen them.
So without plot, pace or subtlety, there wasn’t much left other than the famed physicality and comic characters. Yes, they were comic and as I’ve said, Buckland’s physical performance is masterful. His elbow trick particularly, was impressive. But I’m not a 19-year-old greenhorn any more, more’s the pity.
Look, I don’t have much of an inside track, but I do know Buckland has been Head of Department at Rhodes Drama for awhile, and I’m sure that kind of thing can do some damage to the creative spirit, so perhaps it’s just a matter of getting back on the horse, sort of thing. Finding the plot, so to speak. I hope so.
And hey, putting a toilet seat around your mug? You’re asking for trouble.
– Steve Kretzmann