By Robin Crigler
Is there anything fundamentally more Capetonian than living off the grid in a caravan 90 minutes outside the city?
That’s National Arts Festival veteran Ambrose Uren’s life, and in the course of his hour-long one-man show African-ish, we learn about it from many different angles.
Forgoing a warm-up act, Uren bursts in dancing to a Johnny Clegg-style song. When the audio starts to skip like a damaged CD and throws off his rhythm, it doesn’t take the audience long to grasp the metaphor he’s going for. From then on, the ride really begins.
Uren touches on his childhood in the Cape Flats and tells some very funny stories about growing up in dangerous surroundings. But despite the title of the show, African-ish is not primarily concerned with identity – at least not racial identity. Rather, it’s Uren’s hippie lifestyle that gets the most attention – his veganism, his appreciation of a certain herb, and the caravan he shares with his fiancée.
There weren’t many vegans in the audience when this critic saw the show, reflecting the fundamentally un-Capetonian nature of the basic Makhanda aesthetic. Yet Uren’s take on these issues is refreshing in the world of comedy, where performers can feel pressured to appeal to the lowest common denominator of audience cynicism. Maybe it’s Uren’s unique background as a son of two pastors – both mother and father – that influenced him to follow a more altruistic path.
Overall, Uren’s African-ish presents one of Cape Town’s leading comedians at the top of his game. He may feel only “African-ish”, but his comedy embodies the curious and free-spirited vibe that is Cape Town at its best.
African-ish may be finished at this year’s Festival, but denizens of Gqeberha will have the chance to see it at the Savoy Theatre on 29 June. From there it will move to The Ou Meulteater in Paarl on 15 July, before beginning an international tour: Uren is taking a shortened version of African-ish to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland and the Lund Comedy Festival in Sweden in August.
Presumably, the show will look different in Europe, where audiences may not be as familiar with the reputation of South Africa’s “most European city,” but there Uren’s physical enthusiasm and unique niche in the comedy world will surely serve him well.