IN THEIR forties, actors Coco Merckel and Esmeralda Bihl decided they were dik! Perhaps not quite, but the title of their latest play Is Jy Dik? (Are You Fed-up?) created with director Robert Coleman and adapted from Arthur Schnitler’s (at the time) scandalous play, La Ronde.
“We only found afterwards that Paul Grootboom’s Foreplay was also based on La Ronde, but his approach was very different,” says Merckel.
It started for them in 2010 when Bihl during the 16 Days of Activism did a very heavy piece that dealt mainly with abuse.
“It was all snot en trane and I knew we had to do something on relationships, but much lighter in approach,” says Merckel.
The problem was money “We needed sponsorship for the development, but could never find it,” says Bihl, so they kept working at it, but also kept pushing it aside.
“We want to stop waiting for the phone call, creating our own work,” she confesses, but the young lass who first hit the headlines as the young actress in Fugard’s premiere of Valley Girl has come a long way and knows it’s tough out there.
They approached director and collaborator Robert Coleman but also knew that he had to put the bread on the table. “You can’t keep asking people to waive their fees,” says Merckel.
They also knew they had something that could work.
“There are so few stories for coloured audiences,” he says, and while this isn’t specifically aimed at that audience, they do get the characters and the situations. “They know the language and the people,” says Bihl.
The play, which is running at the Soweto Theatre until August 3, consists of sketches. Both of them play at least five characters that weave their way into one another’s lives.
When the Soweto Theatre offered assistance, they knew a door had opened. “Hopefully a few managements will come to see it,” says Merckel, who is hopeful that they can get this show on the road.
And while there’s lots of fun and games, there’s an underlying message that will probably hit you when looking back. They describe Is Jy Dik? as an adult comedy about sex, monogamy, love, lust, everything in-between and beyond.
Even though La Ronde was first written in 1897, the questions about morality, specifically South African morality, are no less urgent. How do we define normal? What is acceptable in our society?
Let your mind go back a few weeks, and many issues will surface, ones we are almost faced with daily – universally. But they want to keep it close to home.
What is considered abuse? When is young too young and the age difference between a couple unacceptable?
Do we even know what it means to be faithful to one partner? Or, says Merckel, do we say: I am dik!
As the play is sketch driven they have cleverly divided the stage with screens that are moved into different spaces to suggest rooms, swimming pools, a dance floor or any environment they want.
On each side of the stage, they have a washing line which provides the costume changes for their different characters.
It’s a fun show, but the two actors have some work to do. Running for some 75 minutes, it can still do with some skilful cutting and the different characters need more than a costume change to make an impact.
Especially when part of their story is the fact that they’re involved with different people, one needs to recognise and remember these characters as they move from sketch to sketch. At the moment, they still flow into one another too easily. The different people have to be more marked. When a name comes up again, audiences must immediately recall who is stepping into the picture at that moment.
They have the basics and as this is a time that seems to encourage embracing different cultures, especially those that need to move into the spotlight, they should shout more clearly.
But these two actors know their stuff. They have a unique voice and they understand their audience. It’s not quite there yet, but with their experience and stage craft, it will be fun watching them explore and endeavour to turn this into everything it promises to be.
• For more information, phone the Soweto Theatre at 011 930 7461/2/3. Is Jy Dik? runs until August 3. Times: Tuesdays to Thursdays (11am), Thursdays to Saturdays (8pm), Sundays (3pm).