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COMRADES ARMS (article first published : 2000-11-27)

I first saw Anthony Akerman's Comrades Arms at this year’s Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown (reviewed on artSMart on July 9) and am happy to say that some of the faults I found with the production then have been ironed out as the production has grown. The cast have become more comfortable with their roles, the humour zips along at a faster pace and the action in the second half is now positively racy.

Currently running at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, there are two cast changes from the Grahamstown production of Comrades Arms. Slim and stylish Judy Broderick now plays Rose Pratt and vibrant Heidi Moollentze takes the part of Cherise.

Sharp-tongued and much put-upon, Rose Pratt has been forced to leave her comfortable lifestyle in England to follow her husband Arnold (nicely played by David Butler) out of exile back to his home country from which he fled to protect his Communist beliefs. They open a B&B in the Wilderness – Arnold with the thought of filling it with liberals and talk of the old days while Rose is all for a far more capitalistic approach - smartness, poetic descriptions and meal items with French names.

The phone system doesn’t work, the average guest is less than inspiring and the receptionist Cherise gets her words mixed up. She also has a tendency to remove her clothes at the slightest provocation – and stay that way. The barman Solomon Bhengu (a spunky and lively John Lata) defends his shortcomings with the argument that he is “the affirmative action trainee from the historically disadvantaged community” – a phrase which spread like wildfire in Grahamstown, creeping into many comedy productions and has been much quoted ever since!

Their vaguely chaotic existence is rudely disturbed by the arrival of Buffel “100 percent” Bezuidenhout – or is he a Swanepoel as his credit card states? He carries a gun, shows racist tendencies and talks darkly of “looking for someone”. Arnold panics, thinking the Third Force is after him and calls on fellow Comrade Bernie “Trust Me” Rosenberg (Joss Levine) for help. Ben Kruger and Joss Levine carry the main responsibility for the comedy and both have a fine flair for the task.

From then on, things at the formerly quiet hospitality outlet degenerate into total chaos with all that makes up the farce genre: people rushing in and out of rooms and cupboards, mistaken meanings, double dealings, dark plots of murder, a hilarious drunken scene and a ditzy dame running around half naked.

Anthony Akerman is certainly a playwright of much stature and the best lines in this production are utter gems. While Comrades Arms still needs a lighter and frothier touch, it’s highly amusing and a good evening’s entertainment and offers a new slant at comedy subject matter.

Comrades Arms runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until December 31. Tickets R45 Tuesdays to Thursdays and R50 on the weekend. Book at Computicket or through Teletix on (031) 304-2753.




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