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JOHNNY BOSKAK IS FEELING FUNNY (article first published : 2004-07-9)

After his ensemble piece, Seeing Red, and last year's two-hander, Happy Natives, Greig Coetzee has gone back to what he does best - a solo show through which he can explore the situation of one small man against the world. And this time he has added another dimension: Johnny Boskak's life is lived in rhyming (more or less) couplets.

Currently running on the fringe of the National Arts Festival, Johnny Boskak’s Feeling Funny has attracted much interest and appeared in several of Cue’s Critic’s Choices.

Johnny has problems. He's a whitey, and not a larnie whitey who still has the cash and can still give the orders. He has no job and no prospect of one and it seems that his only period of regular employment was back in the years when the army screwed up his brain. So he hits the road from Durban, heading north through the small towns of South Africa, until he reaches Secunda where things really go pear-shaped.

He meets an oke even sadder than himself who wants a little help to get his revenge on this beautiful chick. And Johnny takes one look at Eve and decides she just has to be his cherry. So they take off, and the road trip begins all over again, this time with an added sense of danger.

Coetzee's props are a bed, a table and a toilet; scenes from journeys through the South African landscape are projected onto the backdrop and the show is skilfully lit. But ultimately, success is down to Coetzee's clever script and the way he performs it. The writing owes a lot to rap, and Coetzee's performance of it is electrifying. For an hour, his rapid-fire delivery holds the audience. He can turn in a moment from Johnny to any one of a number of other characters - God, the devil, or the sad asthmatic stranger whose path he so disastrously crosses.

There is laugh-out-loud humour - the show is a comedy after all - but there is also the pathos of the small people who live their lives in the twilight zones and whose portrayal has become a hallmark of Coetzee's best work.

A rhyming script makes demands on the audience. You have to adjust away from the rhythms of ordinary speech, and you have to listen hard. But it can work - think of Steven Berkoff's Decadence - and here Coetzee has used it to produce an excellent slice of South African life that is funny, sad and tragic by turns. – Margaret von Klemperer




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