Profile: Two to Tango has us laughing at ourselves

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It’s a Mike van Graan script, reworked after a decade to incisively cut into the intersection of personal relationships and sociopolitical context we muddle through. In true van Graan style, it dissects all the serious issues while keeping us laughing at the ridiculousness of our own hypocrisy.

Cape Town-based The Drama Factory used both hands in grasping the opportunity to stage Two to Tango and put their own spark into one of South Africa’s most prolific contemporary playwright’s works.

Actor Paul du Toit, who plays one half of the married couple around which Two to Tango revolves, says the work is both a relationship comedy and a human drama.

He’s the white, English speaking, middle-aged, middle class semi-professional who cracks those uncomfortable jokes around the braai. You know the ones. They hinge on racist or homophobic or sexist assumptions. Most often racial ones. The ones you don’t want to laugh at but also don’t not want to because you don’t want to upset the social vibe of your genial host’s suburban afternoon.

His wife in the play, acted by Sue Diepeveen, is, in his eyes, a bleeding heart liberal whose social conscience he patronisingly indulges while counter-arguing that it’s he who pays the taxes yet still has to endure loadshedding. And everything else. Sound familiar? Most likely. And this is why it’s such a hit.

“People recognise their own relationships and the peculiarities of marriage,” says Paul. “We flail around as partners and parents. People recognise this… the ridiculous of what happens in relationships.” Likable, well-meaning people who are “just trying to raise their kids and not totally mess it up”.

The fact that the audience is laughing all the time, says Paul, is what allows the sociopolitical commentary to slip through. The contemporary issues that affect all our lives, the background to our dreams and ambitions. Such as white privilege and what it is. While his wife is berating him for complaining about paying for the domestic worker’s children’s school fees, he is facing his boss telling him it’s time to go. “But don’t go yet, please supervise the guy who is going to take over your position,” adds Paul.

It’s complex. “But there’s always the ultimate (white) privilege of “just walking away and going to Perth”. So it raises the question of whether we are required to stay and do what we can to create solutions, to “fix” things. What do we individually owe to a country or place? And does choosing to stay make you complicit in corruption and malgovernance?

“We like to think people have interesting conversations in their cars on the way home after the show,” says Paul, “it certainly got me thinking”.

They’ve tried and tested it at The Drama Factory’s 90-seater in Strand, where it’s been a hit. Although, says Paul, the laughs didn’t always come when expected, so they have been able to “discover what works”.

And what’s not to love? Paul du Toit as a cantankerous but likable middle-aged casually racist bloke who, when he cracks that joke and someone takes offence, responds: “aah, c’maan man”. And Sue Diepeveen as his well-meaning, sincere wife. The two of them a decade or so into marriage, with the kids, mortgage, lawns, and all the compromises that come along with them, just trying to get by in the madness that makes up South Africa.

It’s a relationship comedy in which people recognise their own peculiarities, the kinks in their marriage relationships in which they make a vow to stay together forever even if they outgrow each other, all set in a context we instantly recognise, because it is ours and we can laugh at it.

“There’s a million shades of grey and nuance depending on where you are and what you feel you can do,” says Paul. “But sitting around and cracking those jokes is not the answer.”

Two to Tango has five shows at The Gymnasium at the National Arts Festival from Tues 2 July, to Saturday 6 July. Book here.

Director: Ira Blanckenberg

Writer: Mike van Graan

Performers: Paul du Toit and Sue Diepeveen.

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