The power of comedy revealed in Die Koninkryk van die Diere

Review: Die koninkryk van die diere

By Barbara Loots


Die Koninkryk van die Diere sees Marthinus Basson presenting an Afrikaans adaptation of the award-winning German theatre director and playwright  Roland Schimelpfenning’s Das Reich der Tiere, which premiered in Berlin in 2007.

Its South African debut presents a stellar cast dealing with the everyday battle of survival in the theatre (at its most basic), and in life (more generally). Basson could not have asked for a better, more dynamic and talented cast than that of Tinarie van Wyk Loots, Dawid Minnaar, Joanie Combrink, Stian Bam, Wessel Pretorius and Ludwig Binge.

Upon entry the audience is already privy to a pre-curtain call behind-the-scenes glimpse of the paranoid and narcissistic survival tactics of the actors in-between technical stage prep, wardrobe and make-up application. This is but the tip of the iceberg as much stronger, exciting symbolism and commentary are lying in wait.

Die Koninkryk van die Diere is this year’s flagship KKNK comedy, and doesn’t just solicit cheap laughs, but actually, through the medium of laughter, leaves the audience with a message of introspection, with the ultimate purpose of facilitating debate. This then is not just light comedy, as Van Wyk Loots admits (at a post-performance talk) that the script, though fantastic, is also a challenge for the actors as this style of comedy is delicately woven through the text. Binge adds that the dialogue is also fast- paced with the comedy locked up in the fact that people take themselves too seriously, “as this is about their livelihood”, which means that the acting must come across as “effortless, but your timing must be perfect”.

Minnaar also shares that the play script is so complex that he was left a bit perplexed by it initially, but the whole exercise of struggling with it showed him that South African theatre needs more schooling in the realm of comedy, which in this format is very challenging and therefore also rewarding. Van Wyk Loots elaborates that in wrestling with the script they find each other and their characters. It is very evident that the result of that struggle is the great dynamic you witness on stage when these actors transform themselves into the Lion, the Zebra, the Marabou and more.

The play highlights the power of comedy to act as a commentary catalyst. Basson illuminates that comedy, specifically satire, creates a medium whereby social and political issues can be addressed without the performer ending up in jail for criticising ‘the king’. There is no set formula, he adds, the same way the tragedy of Lear can elicit laughter, comedy can bring you to tears.

The cast has clearly grasped that in comedy of this nature, if you overact you lose some of the nuance. In acknowledgement of this Basson explains that it is also important for the actors to realise that they shouldn’t try too hard, as that would negatively impact on the rhythm of the play.

With Die Koninkryk van die Diere they have however identified beautiful comedic timing within the translation, whilst keeping the distinctive voice and tone of Schimelpfenning. They keep you captivated from beginning to end, as they pair this new-found appreciation for the art of comedy with great physical theatre movements.

With the aid of all these theatrical techniques, they ultimately bring the message across that no one wants to be themselves, whether in theatre or in life; everyone wants to transform themselves.

This is comedy with a strong satirical element and, just for good measure, a dose of absurdity on the side too. Typical of the style of Schimelpfenning, it is yet another fresh theatrical approach from this contemporary creative, and there is really nothing that you can compare it too. His perspective and approach to theatre is quite unique, and Basson treats the novelty of his vision with great respect.

In between the existential crisis of the actors in dealing with the limitations of their artistic expression and the loss of identity for the sake of work, the play reveals itself as a critical commentary on the unrealistic demands of the industry, as well as the unrealistic demands of life in general, showing that we are all held captive by the superficiality of the world as we stand in relation to one another. It is without doubt a multi-layered comedy with an interesting, non-commercial play structure, which is showcased as the brilliantly envisioned set reveals its layers with every scene change.


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