Review – The South Afreakins: The Afreakin Family *****

There are, I believe, two kinds of people. Those who like wearing party hats – and normal people. I must confess, as party hats were duly handed out as we entered the theatre, I was mentally knocking off a star straight away. But, it turns out, this is, at least in part, the point. Because as the play progresses it becomes clear I wasn’t the only one feeling uncomfortable with the threat of enforced jollity.

The South Afreakins: The Afreakin Family centres on parents Gordon and Helene as they celebrate both 25 years since they emigrated from South Africa to New Zealand and Gordon’s 70th birthday. Joining them for the party are their twin daughters Rachel and Kelly – and family friend Clive.

The piece is written and performed by Robyn Paterson, playing all the characters. Any worries this was going to be hard work for the audience and self-indulgent for the actor were immediately dispelled by the opening scene of Gordon and Helene in bed at 3am, played completely in the dark. That way we could get to know the characters without the distraction of seeing them. After that it was plain sailing. Well, I say that. It was plain sailing for the audience. The two twin daughters arrived, along with Clive. Sibling rivalry boiled over (an object lesson in passive aggressiveness!). The amazing chocolate volcano cake was checked on again and again. Arguments happened in the bedroom and unseen off stage in the kitchen. Clive never spoke but his presence was almost literally felt. The switching from character to character, especially during heated arguments where the dialogue changed not only from one person to another but to a different scene between two other characters was effective, stunning and, OK, a little showy! So it was no doubt anything but plain sailing for Robyn Paterson. But it looked easy and felt oh so real. Sure, there were moments when she played wonderful comic riffs on the whole idea of her being all the characters. But at other times, particularly in the intense moments between the two warring twins, when their pain became all-consuming, the technical brilliance of the performance took a back seat.

The evening plays out the all-too familiar tensions that are brought to the fore by a family occasion. Subjects such a sibling rivalry and bodies failing with age whilst the mind refuses to realise it’s no longer 21 are laced with insight, wit and laugh-out-loud moments.

Invest just an hour of your life in this hugely entertaining piece and it’ll reward you with something to think about, laugh about and tell all your friends about for a long time to come.

South Afreakins: The Afreakin Family will be at The Space on the Mile at the Edinburgh Festival.

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