Joe Barber 5 in rehearsal

Two weeks ago, I was given the wonderful opportunity to go backstage at the Baxter Theatre to attend two rehearsals of one of the most famous stage comedy shows in South Africa at this time: Joe Barber. It is now in its tenth year – which, according to David Isaacs, one of the men behind the Joe Barber phenomenon, means that it has ‘tenure’ (ouch!). 😉

The show is very much based in Cape Town – and more specifically the multi-racial and multi-cultural areas of the Cape Flats. The characters speak both in English and Afrikaans, flitting effortlessly back and forth between them, using uniquely local dialects and accents, which sometimes makes it difficult to grasp the fine nuances and unspoken meanings, never mind recognising the actual words used! But even though it is so firmly rooted in Cape culture, the situational comedy can be grasped by anyone.

The team were wanting to test-run the show in front of a small live audience, to get an idea of what would or wouldn’t work. Sitting there and watching them run through sections, experimenting and trying things out, really brought home to me the fact that an incredible amount of darn hard work – and much of it behind the scenes, thanks to the tireless efforts of director, stage manager and assistants – goes into putting together what will eventually become a slick and polished performance. It’s extraordinary how much energy, focus and concentration goes into creating a performance that finally looks so effortless and relaxed.

The latest instalment in the series is called Joe Barber 5: School Cuts, and its run at the Baxter Theatre started on 13 January 2010:

“Take out your school uniform, tie your hair in pony tails, pull up your socks and pack your toebroodjies – the Barber Boys are going back to school with their brand new comedy, School Cuts!

From the first awkward day of school to the highs of the matric dance, the show takes you on a hilarious journey of school life as seen through the eyes of the barbershop. Find out what specials Boeta Joe and Boeta Gamat have to offer, get the juiciest school gossip from Washiela and Outjie and become wys about our youth’s education!” (Baxter Theatre website)

Oscar Petersen and David Isaacs play different characters during the show, in addition to playing themselves, which keeps both them and us, their audience, on our toes. I always marvel at the ease with which they morph instantaneously into the various roles – and at the fact that they manage to keep up with each other!

Over the years, there have been some recurring characters, which have become firm favourites.

Oscar always plays Boeta Joe (the bespectacled barber, after whom the show is named). Joe is quite smart and insightful, and he sometimes philosophises about life.

Oscar also plays Outjie, the ‘skollie’ [a bit of a gangster] with the black woollen ‘mus’ [cap] pulled down so low over his eyes that you can hardly see them. Outjie, I confess, gives me the creeps – his slow, low drawl and his township slang is difficult to understand, and he exudes ‘skelm’ [mischief] from every pore. I instinctively feel myself checking for my wallet, cellphone and car keys whenever he’s on stage, which is definitely testimony to Oscar’s skill in transforming into him!

David always plays Boeta Gamat (Joe’s sidekick and assistant in the barber shop), wearing his trademark woollen cap. Boeta Gamat has a bit of a temper problem – in the previous show, he had to learn anger management (I don’t think it was entirely successful :-)), and he doesn’t always ‘get it’ when Boeta Joe is explaining things to him, which gives rise to endless laughs at his expense.

David also plays Washiela, an inquisitive and outspoken Muslim lady, who always peers in through the window of the barber shop, demanding to know where Outjie is – the two of them do not see eye-to-eye. She has the most hilarious lines in the show, and I find her hysterically funny.

Each season brings out additional characters, but it is always wonderful to see our familiar favourites returning, to cause more mayhem, confusion, and misunderstandings.

It is a very interactive show, with members of the audience getting involved and participating, and one ‘lucky fella’ being seconded onto the stage for a haircut in front of a full house.

Well, I don’t think they actually cut anything, but the mounting anxiety of watching Boeta Joe and Boeta Gamat wielding those hair clippers so close to their intended ‘victim’, while distractedly bickering and arguing with each other, definitely increases the tension in the theatre. And I always wonder whether they do, perhaps, one night, actually shave it all off?

The run of Joe Barber 5: School Cuts ends on 20 March, and the whole of January is already sold out – evidence of the huge following of this unique show – so hurry up and get your tickets before it’s too late!


P.S. I found an interview by Herald Reporter Eleanor Douglas with David and Oscar, dating back to 2008, when they took their show to Port Elizabeth – check here. And in addition to their website, they also have a Facebook page, if you’re interested in finding out more.

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