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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 : 2001-06-14)

Running Riot, Paul Slapolepszy’s latest play, had its premiere in Durban last week. I was unable to attend opening night and last night was the first opportunity I had to see it. The play has been running for a week and presumably by now any first-night hiccups have been ironed out and the cast settled comfortably into their characters.

In the main, the show has received mediocre reviews from the local press and, sitting among a two-third full house in the Playhouse Drama (not bad in Durban for a Wednesday night) I pondered on the reason.

Running Riot is really the Bill Flynn show - and that is all the reason anyone needs to see it, says Margaret von Klemperer in her review for The Witness, carried in artSMart towards the end of last week.

She’s certainly right. Bill Flynn is adorable and hilarious as the naive, loyal and much put-upon Tjokkie who has been coerced by his friend Crispin to second him in the Comrades Marathon. He copes with the lion’s share of the action and handles it brilliantly. With a penchant for viewing himself in the mirror in a vast array of headgear, Tjokkie bumbles through the first half reminding the lusty Crispin that he does have a wife back home. And to keep his focus on running the race.

There is much temptation in the form of Svetlana Molotova (Michele Levin looking stunning) who is hotly pursued by trainer/boyfriend Vladimir Brutonov (Anthony Bishop) – both had to learn Russian for the part. There is a scene where Tjokkie thinks that Vladimir is talking Afrikaans and the cross-conversation that follows is hilarious.

Sneaking in and out of Tjokkie and Crispin’s hotel room is attractive Allison Prescott who purports to be one of the Comrades’ doctors bent on checking runners’ fitness but has a far more volatile task in sight.

The audience loved it, roared with laughter and the buzz at interval and after the show was positive and enthusiastic.

So why the mediocre reviews? Watching Paul Slabolepszy in the opening scene of the second half I was reminded what a fine actor he is. Here, Crispin is wracked with pain, gastric problems and nausea and is not the cocky, hyper-active character Paul has been playing lately in shows such as Heel Against the Head and Crashing the Night. For an all-too-short while, we are able to appreciate a stillness, the negative energy of a character destroyed.

Paul Slabolepszy has written over 25 plays and has made a major contribution to South African dramatic literature. This is the person who wrote Under the Oaks, Over the Hill, Boo to the Moon and the award winning Saturday Night at the Palace, Mooi Street Moves and The Return of Elvis du Pisani (which won three awards).

Paul Slabolepszy has written over 25 plays and has made a major contribution to South African dramatic literature. This is the person who wrote Under the Oaks, Over the Hill, Boo to the Moon and the award winning Saturday Night at the Palace, Mooi Street Moves and The Return of Elvis du Pisani (which won three awards).

Director Tim Plewman, master of farce, has extracted the maximum humour out of the script which unashamedly rides on the success of Heel Against the Head. It’s the same formula except that Heel is about rugby and Running Riot is about the Comrades Marathon.

My advice is – forget for a moment the challenging plays and performances Paul Slabolepszy has produced in the past. Just accept Running Riot for what it is – a lot of fun and nonsense with no structured plot or deep-seated message. Good performances all round – an enjoyable night out. If you enjoyed Heel Against the Head, you’ll enjoy this one.

Booking is at Ticketweb outlets, www.ticketweb.co.za or phone 0861 400 500 or (031) 369-9444. After its season at the Playhouse, the show moves to the Tesson Theatre at the Civic in Johannesburg, then to the State Theatre in Pretoria. By January, it will be running at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town.




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