I have been dreaming about those 10 day silent retreat meditation courses. Imagine 10 days shielded from cars, sirens, phones, Facebook, and that tiny but greedy Twitter bird screaming to be fed. I imagine the only sounds heard would be the delicate crunch of fat happy cows grazing in evergreen fields and the gentle gurgle of a silver mountain stream. A very zen looking couple of an indistinguishable age will lead us into a trance with a nod of their graceful heads and we will remain thus, only occasionally, to the sound of a gong, we’d take a break to nibble on some organic, spring water hydrated organic vegetables harvested by their home-schooled children in hemp sarongs.
An agent of the secret police on a training mission does not really quite fit in with this picture and that is only part of what makes Andrew Buckland’s one man performance so unusual, hilarious and farcical. Part Mister Bean, part Pink Panther, but thoroughly South African, our secret agent man, Buckland, stationed at the silence retreat is not the sharpest tool in the box. Perhaps that is exactly why he is the one chosen to sniff out a whistle-blower in hiding. Of course, all this spying and conniving needs to be done in silence. Our man bends over backwards, falls over his own feet and becomes a one-man comedy of multiple errors in his quest to uncover the truth. Initially everything slowly starts unraveling and then it all abruptly falls apart when The Buffalo God arrives.
Buckland who is a veteran performer, director and writer uses his prolific acting, miming and clowning skills to tell the hilarious tale of the hapless secret police agent. The plot is interesting enough but it is really his energetic and perfectly timed physical antics on the stage that steals the show. A very minimalist stage design focuses the attention on Buckland’s perfectly theatre trained body. He hops, flips, bends his limbs and as if by magic he transforms himself into the various characters. He is chilling as he becomes the sickening Buffalo God and then only seconds later he has the audience roaring with laughter as he turns into giant pair of lips.
Much credit has to go to award-winning director Janet Buckland. They have teamed up again to create the perfect dynamic and energetic performance. The direction of the play feels as natural as breathing with every gesture and word perfectly keeping the tightrope taut as we are carried away by the story.
The themes at play are serious: the potential impact of the Protection of Information Act on a nation that refuses, or are too ignorant, to act on it and the deeply satirical depiction of pathological politicians bloated by greed and high on power. He rapidly fires social and political comment at the audience in as much through his words as his body language. A great feat of this play is Buckland’s ability to play the hilarity and seriousness of the situation off against each other with a cleverly balanced performance. Laugh the Buffalo is especially relevant now that our country’s dear politicians are gearing up for the election. They are wearing shiny suits, double faces, dance in the streets and make golden promises with forked tongues. Truth really is stranger than fiction right now. Buckland’s hilarious tale tells many bitter truths but at least he has the grace to take the sting out of it.
His original plays have won a total of twenty national and international theatre awards. He received a Standard Bank Standing Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival this year in recognition of the significant and long-standing contribution he has made to the theatre industry,
Laugh the Buffalo is a clever, fun and intellectually layered performance by a highly skilled performer clearly deeply passionate about his craft. We should all go and have a laugh with Buckland and then buy our politicians a one way ticket to a faraway silence retreat.
Laugh the Buffalo runs until 30 November at 8.15 pm at The Baxter Theatre. Tickets for performances from Tuesday to Thursday cost R130 and on Friday and Saturdays they cost R150. Bookings through Computicket 0861 915 8000 or www.computicket.com.