Comrade Babble

The Life and Times of Brett Kebble

Playwright: Allan Kolski Horwitz

Director: Alby Michaels

Cast: David James and Lebohang Motaung

Venue: The Market Theatre Laboratory

Until: May 13

Rating: ***

Just as journalist Mandy Wiener’s book Killing Kebble – an underworld exposed became a best- seller, Allan Kolski Horwitz’s play Comrade Babble – which is about the same subject, mining magnate and fraudster Brett Kebble – has attracted a great deal of public interest.

This is probably because Kebble and, more specifically, his death was a revelation into the SA underworld and the extent of the corruption that characterises post-apartheid government and corporate spheres.

So this can be seen as a new wave of political theatre and the writer hopes to spark a debate while entertaining and to “portray society’s general complexity through Kebble’s crimes”.

The narrative is centred on Kebble/Babble’s return from the dead to tell his side of the truth against the versions found in numerous books and articles describing him as a “profiteer and a manipulative pirate”.

Various perspectives are explored by way of five characters who were involved or had dealings with Kebble/Babble.

This is a satire and, when given your tickets to the show, you also receive a tomato which you will get to use in the show.

The show opens with the seven gun shots that killed Babble, but the monologue that follows does not match the intensity of the action that preceded it, although it reveals the nature and style of the play. The audience is a central part of the storytelling, as it is to them (the media and public in his living room) that Babble and his party are presenting their truth.

The introduction of Buti Bhunga, the prosecutor, gives the content its weight as the exchanges between Babble and Bhunga are antagonistic – representing the corrupter and the law enforcer.

Other characters include Butch Deratti, the mafia capo; Mshini de Boom, the hit man; and Wilhelmina Randridge, the artist. They provide laughs and insight into how Babble lived.

The direction serves the story and makes use of the space the Market Theatre Lab offers, but some scenes could be shorter and sharper.

The production still has to settle, but the soul and impact of the play is pronounced, making this an important story.