Theatre review: Is It Because I’m Jack?

Posted: October 19, 2010 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
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  Starring:  Clyde Berning, Anele Matoti, Morne Visser and Andrew Laubscher  Written by Mike van Graan. Directed by Yvette Hardie. Set and costume design by Leopold Senekal.   ASTRID STARK reviews. 

The funny side of death, the fragility of friendship, and man’s frantic scramble for self-preservation are themes explored in Mike van Graan’s latest creative offering.  Never one to shy away from controversial topics, van Graan again gleefully belly flops right into Great White infested waters. A terminal illness; stigmatized as for whites only; religion, marriage, abortion and monogamy are all poked at with the writer’s sharp stick and the results are both funny and provocative.

Clyde Berning, recognised for his role in MNet’s Known Gods, takes the lead as Jack, in this  young, testosterone fuelled cast.   Anele Matoti gives a first-rate performance as a talented stand-up comedian, Farai, who has lung cancer. “I am born black, and in Zimbabwe,” Faria laments.”  I came to South Africa just in time for the Zenophobia attacks and now I am dying of a white man’s disease. Four strikes and I am out.   Farai has a dream that one by on his friends die before him.   We are quite never sure if he really has this dream or if he is simply employing a bit of ‘black’ humour to make his journey somewhat lighter.  

Andrew Laubscher is the third friend, Tim, who is an ordained Catholic Priest, with a minefield of issues.  Battling with his beliefs, and not the most honest of characters, Tim pulls a dirty on his dying friend which Farai discovers much to his disappointment and anger.   

Morne Visser plays the role of the fourth friend, Marty, who creates absolute havoc as he unintentionally impregnates the priest’s unfaithful sister.  He struggles to do the right thing but begins to obsess about Farai’s death dream.  And so the characters reveal the darker sides of their nature as they scramble for what they perceive to be the ultimate struggle for survival. 

The pace is fast and the performances energetic.  Van Graan emphasises this youthful, frantic energy by using vibrant music from the likes of Good Charlotte, Franz Ferdinand, DKR and Quantic.  A nervous energy is maintained repetitive scenes of the young men taking turns exercising with a skipping rope and challenging each other in the gym.   Van Graan tackles a number of issues and it all becomes a little frantic but easy enough to follow.   

Andrew Laubscher, part of the Mechanicals’ Lunatic Fringe repertory season, is always very watchable but his character feels a little underdeveloped.  It is as if there’s no real growth or resolution for this Priest as all his issues are still up in the air and he is not really connected to the other three friends.  This may be intentional to emphasize his isolation due to the wicked side of his nature but it feels a little discombobulated.   

Yvette Hardie’s direction is strong and focused, and combined with Senekal’s set design, some of the scene changes looks like a bit of magic unfolding in front your eyes.  It is a fascinating exploration of the multiple facets of human nature. 

Van Graan is a playwright, director, actor and policy maker, who has a string of awards and accolades to his name.   He is also a bit of a Maverick when it comes to achieving his goals.   During the 70’s van Graan applied to study teaching at the University of Cape Town. The apartheid Government forced him to take a permit subject and van Graan chose Drama, “At the time it was not a very nice experience to go through but it was just something that one had to do,” he recalls.  “However, I went back five years later to do my honours in Drama and it was my choice.”  He graduated from UCT with a BA Honours degree in Drama and a Higher Diploma in Education. “I may not have become involved in theatre if it wasn’t for apartheid,” van Graan laughs at manner in which the irony of his own life at times reflects that of his plays.  Buoyed by a fierce need for independence, van Graan’s dream of becoming a self-sufficient theatre maker is being realised.  Van Graan was commissioned by businessman, Laurie Dippenaar, to write Is it because I am Jack? as a birthday gift to Dippenaar’s wife.   

The Show starts at 20h30.  Tickets are R85 each. Booking is through Computicket on 083 915 8000 or online at 


Is it because I am Jack? From left to right Morne Visser, Anele Matoti, Clyde Berning, Andrew Laubscher.


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