Theatre Review: Skop!

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 24 May 2018
Category: Review Comments View Comments


A live-performance artist, a musician, and an Afrikaans slam poet spend just under an hour crafting sound, playing with your attention, and offering you ruminations on life in the experimental theatre piece Skop!.

I first saw Skop! last year when it debuted at the Cape Town Fringe Festival. It is one of the most interesting live theatre shows I've ever watched and I was thoroughly entertained even though I wasn't sure that I understood anything that was going on.

I've been waiting months to be able to watch it again - partly because it is so interesting and partly to see if I could derive more meaning and understanding upon a second viewing. Thankfully it has finally appeared at Alexander Upstairs, which gave me a chance to go deeper into the rabbit hole.

Theatre Review: Skop!
Above: Sjaka S Septembir performs in Skop! at the Cape Town Fringe Festival in 2017.
Skop! is experimental theatre featuring three concurrent performances. Prominently positioned in the centre is Sjaka S Septembir performing his poetry in a slam style. (South African comics fans will know Septembir as one of the co-creators of the graphic novel Bal-Oog & Brommel: Moord In Ixiastraat.) The poetry, which touches on the themes of life - sex, love, growing up, connection and disconnection - is entirely in Afrikaans so if this isn't your first language you will struggle to understand some of the meaning and will miss the nuances. Nevertheless his performance is powerful and the words are lyrical and beautiful, even when what they are describing is ugly or unpleasant, or too hedonistic for my taste.

Off to one side musician Gertjie Besselsen adds a soundtrack to the words using a variety of live sound effects recreated into loops, as well as distortion effects, which he then accompanies with musical instruments, such as the guitar, accordion, and an angle grinder (the show is worth seeing just for that moment). It's fascinating to watch, especially if you're interested in the mechanics of the construction of music. The styles dip into blues and rock, as well as industrial, and are designed to complement Septembir's words and anchor the entire show.

Theatre Review: Skop!
Above: Isabelle Grobler during a performance of Skop! at the Cape Town Fringe Festival in 2017.
More mystifying is Isabelle Grobler off to the other side, who spends the entirety of the show laying out a table setting of vintage cutlery and crockery. She does it in slow motion, frequently pausing to stare off into space in what I interpret as a sense of limbo with a touch of despondency. Her performance is utterly mesmerising and its relevance (or a relevance) eventually becomes apparent at the end of the show. As slowly as Grobler moves, you'll find that, having become distracted from watching her by either the music or the poetry, you'll glance back to see a new item has appeared on the table without you having seen it happen. I don't know if it's intentional but it's an interesting exploration of attention control, which magicians should find particularly intriguing.

These concurrent performances are both Skop!'s strength and its weakness as each one is interesting enough to be its own show. Together they fight for your attention, causing you to miss some of what's going on, which is one of the reasons that I needed to see Skop! twice before reviewing it (and, honestly, I still feel that I should watch it a few more times just to try to understand the poetry better.)

On a technical side the lighting was slightly better during the Cape Town Fringe Festival, where the show was staged at the UCT Bindery Lab at the UCT Little Theatre Complex in Gardens. I also felt the show physically fitted a bit better there, where the stage area is sightly bigger. The production doesn't quite fit in the small Alexander Upstairs space - I feel that it needs a little more breathing room even though the staging and props are relatively minimalist.

Theatre Review: Skop!
Above: Gertjie Besselsen performs in Skop! at Alexander Upstairs last night.
The sound is also problematic, with the music occasionally drowning out, or fighting against, Septembir's words. I noticed this at times during both performances, though it more frequently occurred at Alexander Upstairs. At Alexander Upstairs the Septembir's microphone was also left on as he repositioned the stand or the microphone on the stand between poems, which causes that crunching feedback sound, and I think it would have been classier if it had been switched off during those moments.

These are all minor quibbles, however. This production is fantastic and I'm grateful that Alexander Upstairs has picked up the show, which has, sadly, been turned down by a number of festivals since the Cape Town Fringe Festival. Perhaps it's too experimental or perhaps the audience support isn't there, which is very unfortunate, but I think this show deserves much more love than it's received.

Whether or not Afrikaans (or experimental theatre) is your forte it's worth your time to see this show - I cannot emphasise this enough. This is art so if you don't understand the meaning you can derive your own, although Septembir's performance makes most things clear enough.

Skop! is one of my all time favourite theatre productions and I want more people to experience the intriguing joy that I experience when I watch this.

Alexander Bar: Official Site, Facebook, Twitter
Cape Town Fringe Festival: Official Site, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

Mandy J Watson was a media guest of the 2017 Cape Town Fringe Festival and Alexander Upstairs. Skop! is directed by Sandra Temmingh and performed by Sjaka S Septembir and Isabelle Grobler, with live music by Gertjie Besselsen. There are two more performances of Skop! at Alexander Upstairs, one tonight and the second tomorrow night. Both are at 19:00. Tickets are R90 online or R100 at the door.

Tags: arts and culture, Cape Town

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