Put Roberto Pombo, Joni Barnard, Racheal Neary and Toni Morkel in a rehearsal room and they devise a zany play called Father, Father. Father! It goes like this: There are three sisters stuck in a basement, waiting for their father to return with a big, black horse. The absurd production pokes fun at religious dogma and the patriarchy and is fuelled by the troupe’s dexterous performances which take the audience on a journey that’s both weird and delightful. Of those who’ve watched the production, many have typed variations on Facebook saying they “aren’t entirely sure how to describe the show other than it’s unique and a must-see”. Father, Father. Father! won a Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival and is making its way to the Amsterdam Fringe Festival in September. We caught up with the gang before they head off.
Arts journalist Adrienne Sichel described the production as “shades of Chekhov’s (twisted) The Three Sisters meets Salvador Dali”. How would describe the show to someone who’s never been to the theatre?
An absurd dark comedy that’s highly stylised and a little bit weird.
It’s a work-shopped production. Can you tell us about the rehearsal process and what inspired the style?
The rehearsal process was basically us trying to make each other laugh, and trying to make sense of the narrative. We were inspired by wanting to make a piece that commented on control and fear. Roberto forced us to do it.
What does working in satire give the production that another genre might not?
It allows us to laugh at the tragedy of life and explore heavy themes through dark comedy.
Taking a production to the National Arts Festival can be a huge undertaking, especially because there’s such an abundance of work, and new productions aren’t always guaranteed an audience. What were some of the challenges and triumphs?
A huge triumph for us was firstly realising that people actually like the piece, winning a Silver Ovation Award from the NAF in 2015 and being invited to the Amsterdam Fringe Festival 2016. The biggest challenge we face is the fact that FFF is self-produced, and therefore it demands that you play multiple roles as performers, creators and producers. It’s expensive, yo.
You’re heading to the Amsterdam Fringe. What does this entail?
We are incredibly lucky to have been sponsored by the South African National Arts Festival and Amsterdam Fringe Festival for this trip. For some of us, it will be our first time in Amsterdam and we are excited to showcase our work on an international platform. From 6-9 September 2016 we will be performing four shows at the Amsterdam Fringe Festival at a venue called ‘Perdu’. Tell your friends.
In what ways has the product grown since its initial staging?
In Amsterdam we will be heading into our ninth season and the show continues to grow with every run, which is really exciting for us – we never get bored. A significant shift happened when Toni Morkel came in to direct after our first show in 2014. Under her direction, we were able to refine our theatrical language. Her expertise and acute eye for detail and subtext made the piece a lot tighter and allowed the style to grow significantly.
How do you think the work will be received by an overseas audience?
We think the Dutch will shmaak us stukkend. Ze zullen ons houden.
The production explores themes of religious dogma and dismantling the patriarchy. What do you make of the relationship between the two in a South African context?
Well, these themes are universal, right? They are not exclusive to any country or culture and we are all fighting the patriarchy everywhere (we hope!). And this is also why we hope that our piece is universal – that it speaks to issues of the power, control, dominance and oppression that religious dogma and patriarchy create and perpetuate. We want to push back and highlight how religious dogma and patriarchy infiltrate our lives in seemingly small but monumentally disastrous ways.
The plot of the play is about three sisters waiting in a basement for the arrival of their father. This sounds a bit like Waiting for Godot. Is there any correlation?
Yes there is. Beckett is considered as an Absurdist playwright and also writes within the genre of dark comedy, commenting on the tragedy of human existence in a humourous way. There is also correlation in the theme of waiting for someone to arrive and the plot being based on this outside force. Although, in Father, Father. Father!, Father does arrive. He is always there. That ever present internal force that is driving the games that the sisters play. Subtle and not so subtle brutality could also be a correlating theme seen in the ‘master-slave’ dynamic of Waiting for Godot and the similar hierarchical relationship between the sisters of FFF, where Sonja plays the dictator. Both Lucky in WFG and Lucy in FFF take the brunt of this dynamic, both know what’s going on, both see the power structures, both are given a window of opportunity to escape, and yet they both are unable to leave.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the watching the show?
We hope to offer a fresh and exciting new piece of theatre that will entertain, delight and disturb. No more suitcase and beret theatre. We also hope audiences will begin to identify and question oppressive systems that are present in their daily lives #fightthepatriarchy.
Father, Father. Father! is playing at Alexander Upstairs until Friday 12 August.
Photographs by CuePix/Megan Moore