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The South Afreakins review at Spotlites, Edinburgh – ‘snappy’

Robyn Paterson in The South Afreakins at Spotlites, Edinburgh Robyn Paterson in The South Afreakins at Spotlites, Edinburgh
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The idea of an elderly white South African couple making a new home in New Zealand offers an unexpected angle on migration. And while avoiding the end-of-empire bleakness of a related play, such as Staying On, there’s a razor-sharp edge to the comic observations in Robyn Paterson’s snappy solo show about the older generations losing their roots.

Gordon, a man of few words, has just retired, prompting dippy spouse Helene to dream of leaving their homeland. Without the constraints of offspring or work, South Africa now appears remote and hostile as the couple face growing older. Tales from neighbours of recalcitrant maids, burglaries and attacks add to the unease. And so Helene persuades an unconvinced Gordon that they’ll be happier in New Zealand.

The scenes that transpire as the couple adapt to their new life veer from comic to absurd to achingly poignant. Spot-on observations focus on gentle quirks and wisely avoid full blown parody, meaning that it all somehow seems natural; strangely, you don’t feel sorry for the couple. They are prepared to unlearn things like not fearing black people and to learn to cook and clean for themselves. It’s not an easy process.

Paterson creates utterly convincing characters with a deft physicality that plunges them into double Skype conversations and the awkwardness of dealing with racism while sitting in the centre seat in the plane.

For its bittersweet message that even ingrained identities can adapt and evolve, The South Afreakins more than does the job. It would be good now to see a linked workshop or Q&A. Or even a Part II.

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Spot-on observation and a snappy script combine to create a bittersweet portrait