WHITE MEN WITH WEAPONS
Pleasance, Edinburgh
August, 2000

The semi-autobiographical solo theatre piece about military service is a small but enduring sub-genre on the Fringe, and Greig Coetzee's account of his time in the South African army just as De Klerk was beginning to dismantle white rule is better than most.

After the opening scene frantically making the bed and dressing, all within less than five minutes, for morning inspection and a brief narration covering his trip to and induction at the training camp at Oudtshoorn in Natal, Coetzee pops up only occasionally in propria persona. The rest of the 80-minute show is a series of character monologues: the bored captain explaining the sheaf of forms in which inductees sign themselves over to the state, the sergeant explaining the rituals of rank (bizarrely, the approved form of respect shown to non-commissioned officers seems to be a kind of rigid slouch), the useless Anglican padre, the raving queen whose little realm is the "awkward squad" barracks, and so forth.

Coetzee was visibly irked on the afternoon I saw the show with noise from the happy, horn-blowing Haitians in the space below, but nevertheless managed to generate atmosphere at crucial moments of the tale of squaddies out on the tear for a weekend, assaulting and killing a "coolie" woman, and the old-school Boers harking back to the glory days of the interventionist SADF. He comes to no conclusions except that everyone who passed through such a system was marked by it for life, but does more than suggest the range of possible marks.

Written for the Financial Times Web site, ft.com

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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