“The ox is slow, but the land is patient.”

Can you imagine watching a film noir performed on stage that contains the line “My handbag is full of chickens”? Or “I can’t let go of my ankles”?

No? Then you’ve never been to the sensational TheatreSports!

Tonight, we took two of our friends to see (and to some extent participate in) TheatreSports at the tiny and thus appropriately named “Intimate Theatre” on the Hiddingh Hall Campus of the University of Cape Town. We had already seen the show a couple of times, while they were still at the Artscape downtown, and as we had such a blast every time, we were keen to introduce our friends to the concept. Two other friends, both of them entrepreneurs with their own businesses and unpredictable deadlines, sadly backed out at the last minute. So it was just the four of us.

We wandered across the road to look for a suitable restaurant, and spontaneously picked Nonna Lina, an Italian restaurant at the corner of Orange and Rheede Streets. The food was very good, the waiters friendly and professional, and to top it all, I got exactly what I wanted – a bowl of grilled veggies! I know, it’s not exactly haute cuisine… but it reminds me of home-cooking and that’s always gooooood.

Shortly before the show, we went to get our tickets. The entrance to the Intimate Theatre is along a narrow passage between the Little Theatre and the Little Theatre Workshop (where there was some serious hammering and sawing going on). The ‘ticket office’ is delightfully casual and informal, run by a group of drama students. I was on their list, as I had pre-booked the tickets (apparently the show is sometimes cancelled because there aren’t enough people, and conversely it is also sometimes booked out, so it’s best to book beforehand…).

The friendly MC for the evening (I think his name was Nicolai, but I’m not sure, so I’ll call him ‘Nic’) approached us to ask whether we would be willing to be JUDGES. (We must have looked really cool and clever, which isn’t difficult with an electrical engineer, a psychiatrist and a doctor on the team!) At first a bit reluctant to accept such an important responsibility, Volker agreed, and so Nic explained the procedure to him: During the course of the performance, at an appropriate time, when signalled by Nic, he had to quickly consult his panel (Liezl, Richard and me), and then hold up a number ranging from 1 (abysmal, off with their heads) to 5 (absolutely out of this world, beyond superlatives).

At last, it was time to take our seats. There are probably only about 50 seats in the ‘auditorium’, with the first row right on the stage, so it’s really a small space. Volker steered us authoritatively into the second row, so we had the best seats in the house. The lights were dimmed, and the pianist played a dramatic entrance tune (he was really brilliant – without him, the show would not have worked). And then Nic bounded onto the stage. He explained what TheatreSports was and what would be expected of us as the audience; he also reassured the TS-virgins among us that no one would be humiliated or embarrassed or asked to come up on stage (a collective sigh of relief…). He introduced the two judges: other than Volker, there was another judge, Charlie, who had two nutty cronies with him.

Nic waved about a small piece of soft, fluffy, pale blue material, the “fluffy thing of redemption”: as all the games are completely improvised on the spot, they can sometimes get out of hand or lose their impetus and become really peculiar when the performers lose the plot. If that happened, Nic’s job is to toss the “fluffy thing of redemption” onto the stage – and then we all leap to our feet, hold out both hands and sing at the tops of our voices, “STOP! In the name of fluff!” He made us practice it until we were nicely confident.

Then he taught us the TheatreSports anthem, whose words are simply, “Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé” sung to the tune of … er… “Olé….” When singing, we had to stand, and clasp our right fist over our heart, like the rugby players before a match. To our more enthusiastic than harmonious singing, the performers marched onto the stage and bowed. The MC introduced the two actors and the three actresses (I’ve forgotten their names) who were divided into two competing teams.

The two guys stood in the centre of the stage, so that the audience (Charlie and his ruffians) could name them – I think their name was “Low knee gratin” – when the name was written on the scoreboard, the spelling was a bit creative. Then the two women got up – and because they were hissing and spitting at each other, I shouted out the name “Fighting kittens’ – which (yay!) was accepted – and they became “Fai Tin Kit Tins”. The one actress, Eve, would be ‘roaming’ between the teams.

There was a warm-up round to get us all into the swing of things. While the teams were out of earshot, we chose a venue (a rugby field) and three things that could be found on or associated with this venue (a ‘try’, a ‘referee’, and a ‘streaker’). When the five came back onto the stage, they were only told the venue, not the associated words. They had to start improvising some sort of action on the field, talking with each other, and mentioning various kinds of words associated with the game of rugby. When they got close to a word, the audience ‘ooohed’ softly, when they almost got the word, we ‘aaaahed’ a bit more loudly, and when they hit on the right word, we cheered and clapped loudly. They were surprisingly good!

Then the competition began in earnest, with each team in turn picking three games out of a tiny little treasure chest. I can’t remember all the games, but one was an accent rollercoaster, which the Fai Tin Kit Tins had to do. Nicolai got the audience to suggest a whole range of accents (Japanese, French, German, New York, Paiki (Irish Gypsy?), Zulu, etc.; the two actresses then started performing a scene, and at intervals Nic would shout out an accent, and they would have to continue performing in the new accent.

Another game was called something like “Alphabet soup”. The audience had to choose one word, which would have to be incorporated into the plot somehow. We challenged them with “xylophone”! Then the two guys had to alternate speaking a sentence: the first sentence had to start with “a”, then the other guy had to start a sentence with “b” and so on, all the way to “z”. In case the two got too complacent, Eve was sent in to confuse and distract them, which she did beautifully and to much laughter. Nonetheless, they managed to get all the way to “z”, with Eve pointing helpfully at her black and white striped shoes – “Zebra!!”.

Then there was a game called “Change the offer”. For instance, someone would say a sentence, such as “Here, have this beer.” Nic called out “change the offer”, and they would have to repeat the sentence, but change it slightly, e.g. “Here, have this tomato.” In this way, the plot of the piece kept changing too, which was very funny.

Another amusing game was called “Two chairs”. The two guys were given a venue, where these two chairs were located – the audience chose a spaceship. Then they had to make up a scene around that, changing it on the fly – so to speak.

The last competition game, my favourite, which was performed by the three women, was a film noir with the dramatic title “The Woman who Murdered my Brother”. The audience gave each performer two phrases to remember, which had to be included somehow in the plot:

  • “My handbag is full of chickens.”
  • “Do I have something in my teeth?”
  • “Double Jamesons on the rocks, please.”
  • “You have black, laughing eyes.”
  • “I can’t let go of my ankles.”

And finally, the ponderously ponderable “The ox is slow, but the land is patient.” I have no idea what that means, but it sounds deeply Zen-like, don’t you think?

The Fai Tin Kit Tins were utterly brilliant, and fully deserved their victory!

And finally, to restore harmony between the teams, the MC hastily made them all participate in one last game. In consultation with the audience, it was decided that it would be a presentation of a couple of songs from a musical compilation on the illuminating theme of “Fish”. Megan offered to be the ‘presenter’, and the other four the ‘performers’. She then proceeded to play the part of a slightly doff music lover promoting “this orsome, laaik, album, check, I smaak it and dyou will too, hey…”

The first song was called “Deep down under”, and it was performed (appropriately) as a Blues piece. The second song was called “Fiiiish” (a high-pitched kind of iiiii), and sung as a Gregorian chant (well, kinda). The third song was a “ballady rap” (I think she must have made that up!) whose name I didn’t catch – it started eerily beautifully and very slowly, but then deteriorated into a frenzied headbanging wall of discordant noise about a fish being chopped to pieces in the most gruesome manner.

What an uplifting, entertaining, thigh-slapping evening of laughter!

Please go and check out this Cape Town institution. You can book for a show via their website (http://www.theatresports.co.za/). They are currently performing every Monday evening at the Intimate Theatre, and every Tuesday evening at the Kalk Bay Theatre (where you can also have a bite to eat before the show).

My advice: Go with a bunch of your weirdest and wackiest friends!

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