From my seat in the back row, I am able to study the man wandering about the stage before the show. There is something inherently suspicious about a man in a loose-fitting, buttoned-up trench coat. So far, I know one thing: he is Belgian. And that means I can expect… waffles? Beer? Um… more waffles? Luckily for me, the trench-coat clad man is none other than true-blue authentic Belgian, Gaëtan Schmid. He’s about to take a trip into the mind of the elusive Belgian people and we’re all invited along for the ride. I have a feeling I’m about to learn that there’s more to Belgium than just waffles.
Introduced to the audience as “the man who needs no introduction because he never leaves the stage”, Gaëtan Schmid is certainly an actor who has made the stage his home. His latest show, The Belgian, gives us an insight into the South African experience from a Belgian point-of-view. It pokes fun at both cultures, and Schmid draws on his personal experiences living in South Africa with hilarious results. While not every joke is side-splitting, many are the kind that worm their way into your memory, eliciting smiles weeks later. I’ll certainly never look at a seal in the same way again.
With bounding energy and aplomb, Schmid delves into stories from his past, employing a vibrant combination of gestures and words and movement to bring these stories to life, from the giddy excitement of a little boy peering up the chimney in anticipation of Father Christmas, to the desperate lunges of a swimmer eager to sample Cape Town’s famous beaches only to encounter a shark.
At times, the transition between stories can be jarring, but ultimately this doesn’t detract from Schmid’s humour. What’s also refreshing is that even when he uses strong language, Schmid has enough comic skill to be funny without being overtly crude and he doesn’t rely on vulgar punch-lines. He uses it as a tool to spice up his delivery, particularly when he breaks into perfectly mimicked South African slang.
The Belgian is quirky and enjoyable, a must-watch for any South African and anyone who has ever wondered what really goes on in the mind of a Belgian. Haven’t we all?
The Belgian opened on 6 November and runs at the Kalk Bay Theatre until 1 December.