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

RUNNING RIOT (article first published : 2001-06-8)

In 1995, Paul Slabolepszy's farce about the rugby World Cup, Heel Against the Head, was a huge hit and ran for three years. In the process, two South African comic icons were created - Slab's own character Crispin Wentzel and Bill Flynn's Tjokkie Hetherington.

They are now back in Running Riot, another sports-based farce. Crispin and Tjokkie have come down from Phalaborwa so that Crispin, seconded as ever by the faithful Tjokkie, can run the Comrades Marathon to win a bet. They find themselves in a seedy Durban hotel, with a glamorous Russian runner and her coach in the next room - and a mysterious "doctor", demanding urine samples and planting microphones.

It is the recipe for great farce with an excellent set offering plenty of doors, windows and cupboards for quick exits and beds to hide under. The plot, with Crispin after the scantily clad Svetlana, Tjokkie attempting to keep Crispin under control, cope with room service and deal with the large and monoglot Vladimir while the mysterious Alison pops in and out, has everything a quick-fire farce needs.

Of course, we've been here before - in Heel Against the Head - and there are moments when Running Riot feels like a well-worn sitcom. Familiarity is comfortable, but the freshness of the earlier play has inevitably gone. That aside, the opportunity to see Bill Flynn in full cry as Tjokkie is something never to be missed. He is an enormously accomplished actor with a huge range, as the acclaim for his recent performance in Death of a Salesman shows. But it is not an exaggeration to describe his Tjokkie as a comic invention of genius.

Remember him explaining to Crispin's wife why there were copies of Hustler in their bedroom in Heel Against the Head? Well, he's up to something similar this time - and even if it is familiar, it is still brilliant. His timing, his body language and his look of bewilderment at a world too complex for him are wonderful.

Slabolepszy and his director, Tim Plewman, are wise to make Tjokkie the centre of the action. Slabolepszy's own performance as Crispin can be almost too frenetic at times, but he, Michele Levin, Anthony Bishop and Marisa Sarfatti are really there to support Flynn and do so very effectively. Running Riot is really the Bill Flynn show - and that is all the reason anyone needs to see it. - Margaret von Klemperer.

”Running Riot” is at the Playhouse Drama until July 8. Booking is at Ticketweb outlets, www.ticketweb.co.za or phone 0861 400 500 or (031) 369-9444.




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