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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

HOSTILE TAKEOVER (article first published : 2005-07-4)

As is to be expected from this fearlessly outspoken playwright, Mike van Graan pulls no punches in his new play Hostile Takeover which opened last night at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Although there is no acknowledgement to her in the programme, the designer is Chantelle Cairns who has created a stunning set. A bare sand and rock structure, it is surrounded by uprooted tree trunks and dead branches which makes for good dramatic effect against the blackness of the night. As if on cue, a couple of bats made opportune appearances but they weren’t on the cast list!

The play’s opening is highly dramatic. A black man holds a gun to a white man who is digging a hole. The black man is Nkosi, a former freedom-fighter turned hitman The white man is Stanley Green, formerly with the apartheid government’s foreign affairs and now running a successful strip club with international connections. Nkosi is standing over Stanley forcing him to dig his own grave.

Basically a two-hander, Hostile Takeover is a good vehicle for the articulate capabilities of Lindelani Buthelezi and Martin le Maitre. They are excellent foils for each other and do justice to van Graan’s swiftly-moving dialogue and ironic humour.

While cleverly scripted, the explanatory process of “who’s who and done what” takes a tad too long before the first of many twists, turns and role reversals kick in. For the rest, deals are made and broken, confidences shared, much humour exchanged and all the while, the text is refreshingly cutting. Making an appearance towards the end of the play, Mpho Molepo impresses with a cool and dangerous mien.

In his director’s notes, Malcolm Purkey calls Hostile Takeover “wry, witty and strangely theatrical”. The latter description, I assume, is because it certainly transcends the bounds of reality and has a feel of a production like Waiting for Godot.

We are expected to accept the fact that the hitman is God-fearing. Not averse to quoting Napoleon, he considers himself in the “removal business” and makes “business decisions and not moral ones”. He is more concerned that his victim has renounced God than whatever the reason is for his “removal”. If there’s a deal to be made in all this, he wants 5% to go to charity.

We are expected to accept that the strip club owner, who makes millions without much effort in an illegal and cut-throat industry, would not have been armed or protected by a bodyguard when he knew that his life was in danger. Or that he would reveal the painful process through which he lost his faith.

Overcome these minor points of logic and simply enjoy the cut-and-thrust of the text which include some hilarious moments played to the full by Buthelezi and le Maitre – such as when Stanley discovers how much Nkosi is being paid to kill him and Nkosi’s intention to open a funeral service! My sympathy goes to le Maitre for agreeing to go way beyond the call of duty in terms of discomfort!

The play runs without interval for 80 minutes and there are four more performances on July 4 and 5 at 14h00 and 19h00. – Caroline Smart

KZN readers will remember Lindelani Buthelezi from his early days in Durban where he did his drama and television training. He appeared in 19 different productions for the Natal Performing Arts Council (NAPAC)




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