The Ice Cream Boys at Jermyn Street Theatre
A play that thematises two ageing politicians with a troubled history is both fascinating and dramatic enough that one would expect good entertainment. In this production of Gail Louw’s The Ice Cream Boys there is a lot to like – but it is the writing itself that takes a toll on the overall production quality; where there could have been more tension and strong political arguments, the audience is instead treated with banal simplifications and unbearable amounts of preaching. It is still a beautiful production with some heartfelt acting, but only despite, not because of, the play itself.
In a luxury hospital, former South African President Jacob Zuma (Andrew Francis) meets his once-friend and ally Ronnie Kasrils (Jack Klaff), while they are being attended to by their Nurse, Thandi Dube (Bu Kunene). As one would expect, the cards are quickly placed on the table as Kasrils criticises Zuma for his corruption and acts of sexual misconduct, whereas Zuma defends his position on the basis of having “his turn” after the atrocities of the apartheid. Kunene, meanwhile, briefly takes on the role of other characters from the past of the politicians, until she at the end gets to deliver “the moral of the play”.
What could be an exchange of powerful arguments, a gripping tragedy of the fall of a once-great revolutionary and an intoxicating debate on some pressing political issues, is instead reduced to one-sided arguments that are as weak as they are predictable. Zuma in fact appears so ridiculous that one can hardly take him seriously; Kasrils never gets beyond stating that he dislikes the corruption after the initial promises of the ANC; and Dube’s final morality speech is forced and expected and certainly not deserved.
The saving grace comes in the shape of the production. Francis, Klaff and Kunene are very convincing indeed in their roles and above all likeable, to such an extent that one just enjoys watching them perform, despite the forced politics. This is especially notable in the moments when the writing deals with the characters as characters, rather than as political mouthpieces for whatever position they are portraying. Vik Sivalingam’s directing, too, is outstanding, portraying a play that is both beautiful to see and hear.
But these successes sadly don’t save the play from itself; a great cast and creative team can only do so much to distract from bad writing.
Photo: Robert Workman
The Ice Cream Boys is at Jermyn Street Theatre from 9th October until 2nd November 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.