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

BOY CALLED RUBBISH (article first published : 2001-12-13)

Ellis Pearson and Bheki Mkhwane have established themselves at the top of the tree when it comes to acknowledging those in the creative arts who have successfully produced shows that are 100% South African.

Using a mix of Zulu and English that is completely understood by both language users, the duo presents a controlled sequence of mayhem, madcap hysteria and imaginative brilliance. Using the minimum of wacky props, they challenge recognition from their audiences who invariably respond with huge delight and applause.

I saw Boy Called Rubbish when it first appeared in Grahamstown at the Standard Bank National Arts Festival about six years ago. It has become the pair’s most wanted production and they have performed it in community centres, schools, theatres and festivals all over South Africa as well as abroad.

The storyline – with many hilarious diversions – deals with the growing up of Rubbish (Ellis), a little orphan boy who is under the care of his indomitable foster mother Ma Dludlula (Bheki). At the start of the show, we see the pair searching for a place to set up their shack home. They then take on a variety of other roles along the crazy-paved path of action. Ellis becomes a frog, an angry cow, a runaway taxi and the narrator. Bheki alternates between a cane-wielding schoolmaster aptly named Hotsticks Jabulani, the school bully dubbed Tata Zonke and the righteously indignant owner of a stolen cow as well as the hobo who stole it!

There are wonderful moments such as a washing line sprouting from a broom handle, a plain table cloth that becomes studded with multi-coloured spots and a scene where Rubbish and Tata Zonke fight and there is an action replay in slow motion. Another high tension moment comes when a taxi loses its steering wheel, brakes and – with a little bit of help from Rubbish – its front wheels as it careers towards the schoolhouse and impending doom.

In their programme notes, Ellis and Bheki suggest to audiences that Boy Called Rubbish is “more than just a theatre performance” and that they will be “given a vision of possibility, ways of combining our cultures, our potentials, our ideas, our creativity, our hopes, our humour” and the result would be “something new and exciting and of enormous potential.” They couldn’t have put it better.

Don’t miss it. Even if you don’t have children, borrow some – you’ll achieve as much delight from their reaction as you will from what’s happening on stage. Be warned – don’t sit too close to the stage unless you’re prepared to be part of the action in all its chaotic aspects!

Boy Called Rubbish runs until December 22 in the Playhouse Sanlam Loft. Book at TicketWeb.




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