Alistair Izobell is a nice ou. This is the feel-good thought that lingers after seeing his one-man show, Kaapse Stoep Stories, at the Baxter Theatre. Izobell is real and tangible, without pretenses. If he were a work colleague, he’d be the one who has everyone in stitches around the coffee machine with stories of his weekend adventures. If he were a dinner guest, he’d be the one taking over the conversation and getting reinvited simply because he’s just so entertaining – and that’s exactly what the Baxter has done: Stoep Stories is back by popular demand.
His performance is personal but familiar. Over these winter nights of song and storytelling, Izobell takes us through his personal journey, revealing snippets from his life and the events that shaped him to be who he is today. Izobell is clearly proud of who he is and where he is from, as announced when he walked onstage in a bright red shirt displaying one word: “mitchellsplain”. And this place emblazoned on his shirt becomes the seed from which he and his stories were born: West Street, Mitchell’s Plain.
Izobell talks about his childhood at a mile a minute; about growing up in a poor but happy community surrounded by different families who all taught him something in life. As he reveals more characters, each of whom form a puzzle-piece in the bigger picture of his life, he reveals aspects of himself that only close friends and family would know. In a story about how he learned to bake the perfect flan, he mentions a restaurant he used to run in Swaziland. I would never have pictured him as an ex-restaurateur. He relates how one newspaper used to be the source of news for the whole street, and how Mister Jack, the holder of newspapers turned out to become his stepfather. Through divulging these intimate details, the audience grows to trust him and feel they know him.
A central figure in Izobell’s life and also thus in Stoep Stories is his wife. One of his most significant life events is meeting her while working in Johannesburg as a performer in The Buddy Holly Show. This romantic union spurs on a series of hilarious reflections on himself as a coloured guy in contrast to his wife, a “whitey”. Izobell reflects on seemingly mundane moments such as sitting around a dinner table; moments made curiously significant when you realize and appreciate the small idiosyncrasies of families from different upbringings.
Throughout the performance, it is clear that Alistair Izobell loves the influences that shaped him. He loves his old neighbourhood and the family that raised him with the values he still holds today. He loves his wife, as he mentions repeatedly. Despite the repitition it never gets old – instead you grow to enjoy Izobell more and more with every story that he tells. There is an unapologetic honesty, as when he muses about the coloured community’s love for “pilletjies”, admitting that he too takes a Grand Pa just in case he might get a headache.
More than just comparing brown and white and the jokes in the space between, Izobell also meditates on some issues close to all our hearts. Family relations is a big topic, and with it the issues that emerge in those relations. Infidelity, the way we treat our elders, how we handle death – these topics are all discussed in his ranting monologue interspersed by songs. With the breakneck speed at which he tells his story (a lot to tell and limited time, I guess) every sentence requires undivided attention.
You don’t want to miss one punchline but, in the first half – which is sparse with songs – I did wish for a bit of a slower lyrical break time. Towards the end the songs increase in frequency and it’s nice to sit down and just let his voice wash over you for a while. Throughout the show Jason de Laney sits smilingly in the background playing his guitar, shaping a chilled background vibe when not carrying the melodies during Izobell’s songs.
There are a lot of plays reflecting on our racial and cultural differences, but Alistair Izobell’s Kaapse Stoep Stories does more than that. It is highly entertaining to the degree that it has audiences rocking in their seats with laughter. It’s a performance with heart, with conscience and with a lot of colour. Note that the show is performed in English with a fair bit of Flats-style Afrikaans thrown in for spice, but not to the extent that a monolingualist would lose the plot completely. Go have a warm laugh on a cold night and you’ll understand why the show is back by popular demand.
Kaapse Stoep Stories was on at the Baxter Theatre on 17 June to 5 July 2014.