Two men meet in a private hospital ward. They have been assigned adjacent rooms and are being looked after by the same nurse (Bu Kunene). One is Jacob Zuma (Andrew Francis), former president of South Africa, and the other is Ronnie Kasrils (Jack Klaff), formerly a close comrade of Zuma’s.
Their conversation, as they wait for their tests and treatments, is a mixture of the highly convivial and the confrontational. Both chide each other about their past and their personal lives, each comment skirting closer to dangerous territory. Vik Sivalingam’s production manages this tension well. Their exchanges are friendly but, within Cecilia Trono’s small, tiled hospital room, the men have the energy of big animals in a small enclosure.
As the ageing Zuma, at the hospital for prostate problems, Francis is disconcertingly charming and charismatic. He beams through criticism about his many wives and management of finances.
Klaff’s Kasrils often comes across as the more sympathetic character. Although his blind spots regarding race are touched on, he’s portrayed as an amiable man devoted to his cause.
Like many plays based on true events, The Ice Cream Boys is perhaps most interesting to audiences with at least some prior knowledge of the situations to which it refers. For example, Zuma’s early boast of “I love women” is unsettling if you know he was famously accused of rape.
There’s a bit too much exposition: it can feel like a round-up of everything from Mandela’s ascent to the Gupta scandal. But when real life is this interesting, it’s easy to see why Louw would choose to focus on it.