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Buried Alive

Suip!

By • West End
WOS Rating:
Set in the shadow of Cape Town's Table Mountain - wonderfully conjured by a huge wall of stacked orange beer crates - and presented as part of the Celebrate South Africa festival of all things cultural hailing from this country as it finds a new identity, Suip! is hardly, however, a cheerful tourist advertisement for the new South Africa.

The title - pronounced "sap" - refers to the practice of drinking alcohol to excess. And the show is a rough, ragged but riveting piece of street theatre that explores this phenomenon amongst a group of Cape Town "bergies" (homeless, alcoholic Cape Coloured street dwellers, one of them recognisable - as here in the UK - by the Big Issue shoulder bag he's sporting).

In the vivid, bare-bones style of Heinrich Reisenhofer's production, a cast of five - accompanied by an onstage percussionist who provides constant musical punctuation and background - tell their highly charged, intimate and personal stories of life on the streets, and their dependence on drink to get them through the days and nights. South Africa may be free now, but it's not made much difference to them: they're still imprisoned by their poverty and situation.

Sometimes polemical, occasionally poignant, frequently hilarious and ultimately shocking, not all of these stories are fully realised, but what is really an impressionistic series of sketches is given shape and texture in Reisenhofer and Oscar Peterson's script by the warmth and connection established by the exemplary company who bring it so fully to life.

So totally do they inhabit their characters - and the entire audience, with whom they establish an instant rapport right at the top of the show by rushing in and begging for coins so that they can buy an alcoholic round, and maybe a bit of ganja (marijuana) too - that, however sketchily their stories emerge, we nevertheless feel intimately connected to each and every one of them.

Reisenhofer's resourceful staging also impresses - a supermarket trolley becomes both a police car and a jail cell, and a judge's wig and gown are simply a set of empty toilet rolls and a bin bag.

The result is an altogether terrific piece of rough but always ready theatre.

Mark Shenton


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