The Memories Season
THE ICE CREAM BOYS
By Gail Louw
Directed by Vik Sivalingam
Jermyn Street Theatre
9th October - 2nd November 2019
Review by Clive Burton
Nothing if not topical, the Jermyn Street production of Gail Louw’s imagined meeting between former South African President Jacob Zuma and the man who masterminded the intelligence services before he came to power, Ronnie Kasrils, premiered shortly after Zuma is due to stand trial for corrupt dealings relating to long-delayed, allegedly crooked, billion-pound arms deals.
The play’s unusual name derives from an incident in the dirt-poor Zuma’s childhood and The Ice Cream Boys ranges far and wide in its use of material that shows each man at various stages in his life – and the effect that their decisions had upon the life of the other as old scores are settled over an imaginary game of chess played out in the sterile hospital atmosphere of Cecilia Trono’s set.
Tim Mascall’s intentionally harsh lighting adds to a sense of the unforgiving to create an atmosphere of a morgue where nothing can be hidden as the protagonists’ lives are stripped uncomfortably bare in a performance of rare candour under Vik Savilingam’s unremittingly focussed direction.
Without prior knowledge of either man, Boys’ 90-minute single act may prove challenging for audiences unfamiliar with the events and personalities who shaped the destiny of The Rainbow Nation.
At the time of their supposed meeting, Zuma and Kasrils are imagined confronting each other as old men undergoing medical treatment that stresses their mortality (octogenarian Zuma has prostate problems and Kasrils has signs of melanoma) and determination as human beings to live – scoring points off each other as they attempt to justify their actions in power.
In the claustrophobic setting of The Jermyn Street Theatre, the acting comes under the closest of scrutiny; in its dissection of the men’s attitudes towards each other, it is often uncomfortably intense (in a good way) and the extreme commitment of the players demands to be watched.
Their sheer force of personality is amplified considerably in the small space where Andrew Francis imbues the bluff Zuma with the same sense of dangerous self-aggrandising, self-delusion shared by so many leaders of our own times. One of the most charismatic performances to be experienced on the West End stage, he is uber-convincing thanks, in part, to Ms Louw’s no-holds-barred writing.
The spirit of his adversary in the on-stage chess game as in life, is distilled into every aspect of Jack Klaff’s Kasrils; a man with an equally accountable past, he too, must remain on his mettle to defend his own mis-steps in power.
The audience is drawn, moth-like, by the blazing light of personality emanating from both men and, questionable as many of their actions appear, it is easy to understand how they commanded loyalty among their followers despite the historic animosity now emerging against them.
Equally convincing is Bu Kunene in a portfolio of cameo roles that includes Zuma’s mother and Nelson Mandela and demonstrating an impressive versatility that contrasts with the serene forbearance that her take on Nurse Thandi brings to caring for her two ego-centric charges now re-living their past with such devastating conviction. She manages to convey with admirable restraint the many injustices the Zuma regime also inflicted on the women of South Africa in this remarkably topical play.
The Ice Cream Boys may not be for everyone in today's Brexit-benighted nation, but - as a timely reminder that politics is a messy business - it should satisfy those keen to explore the dynamics behind two of the most influential personalities in recent global politics and their part in shaping The Rainbow Nation.
Running time Around 90 minutes.
Monday – Saturday 7.30pm. Matinees Saturday 3.30pm
Under 30? 100 tickets at £10 are available for under-30s.
Bookable online or by telephone – please bring proof of age to the performance.
‘There will be a post-show Q&A on Wednesday 16 October
including writer Gail Louw, Ronnie Kasrils, Director, Vik Sivalingam
and Peter Hain. Entrance to the Q&A only with a valid ticket for
the 16 Oct performance at 7:30pm.’