Quite a lot of people walked – no, rudely stomped – out of Theatre Goose on a String’s production of Bertold Brecht’s The Wedding.
It is possible that, expecting something intense and highbrow, they justified their huffy departure on the grounds of the play being trashy and slapstick – a real D-grade runaround. On exiting the auditorium they might even have sneered at the production values and the gauche acting. It is also possible that, at a level hidden even to themselves, those who exited could not cope with the play’s truth: that human relationships fall apart, that society is in a dire mess and that it’s best to laugh to avoid lakes of tears.
When your marriage is strained it can’t be much fun to sit watching a bunch of wacky Czechs taking the piss out of the whole institution of holy matrimony.
“From the very first day of marriage,” declares the hen-pecked husband, “you cease to be an animal working for a mistress. You are a human being working for an animal.”
Personally I thought The Wedding was fabulous: lewd, crude and honest to the bone. But then maybe that’s because I live in Johannesburg where we make silly jokes about crime and screwed up infrastructure and our deeply unnerving proximity to death.
To me the cast’s excesses, the sense of wild abandon in the face of edgy circumstance, the self-consciousness about communication that fails, the furniture that breaks, the noise and chaos reminded me of home.
The Wedding is like a Friday night in Gauteng. Not surprising considering that Theatre Goose on a String hails from the Czech Republic where a ridiculous sense of humour is also no doubt necessary. At one point the hairy fishwife bursts into giggles. Asked why, she explains: “Because everything is terribly funny. The broken chair, their new home, the whole society. Everything collapses.”
In the play, one of the guests at the function-gone-wrong tells a joke which he finds so hysterical he almost pees in his pants. “God wanted to go forward without being recognised,” he manages to articulate between uncontrollable fits of laughter, “But, as he put on his tie, they recognised him and put him in a nuthouse.” None of the other guests get it. They think it’s a really crap joke that hangs in the air begging for a decent punch line.
I guess if you don’t see the tragedy in The Wedding, if the melancholia doesn’t creep uneasily between the flashing lights and sequins, then the joke is also kind of lost on you. All the talk of flatulence, the cream cake fights, the bad drag, the crass jokes about hard-ons, the flashing of knickers could be seen as nothing more than Carry On Up the Aisle.
But The Wedding is so much more than that. Aesthetically it is reminiscent of gypsy circuses. There are echoes of the wild, merciless satire of Emir Kusturica’s Underground. And beyond the delight of the rolling drums and the red nose of the clown is a dark parody of relationships that are as closed and empty as the cupboard that just won’t open and a world that is splintered like a broken chair.
After the festival Theatre Goose on a String will be heading down to Cape Town where they will be involved in workshops. They will also be performing in Langa