Gordon and Helene moved from South Africa to New Zealand some years ago, and now there’s cause for a family reunion: a milestone birthday. The entire audience, it would seem, has been invited: party hats are made available to everyone on entry to the theatre. The South Afreakins: The Afreakin Family is therefore not an entirely dissimilar setup to a family Christmas gathering, with people who would not ordinarily choose to have anything to do with one another but for the fact they are related. This isn’t, thankfully, the stuff of soap operas – this family is civilised enough to prevent things quite literally coming to blows.
But only just. Robyn Paterson plays both members of the married couple, Gordon’s friend Clive, and the couple’s grown-up daughters, Rachel and Kelly, rapidly changing between one character and another by both physical expression and a remarkable versatility in her voice. Helene is one of those people who can’t stop talking, which proves to be periodically irritating for Gordon, but it makes for decently entertaining theatre, especially when she has yet one more thing to add, repeatedly, when Gordon would much rather the bedroom light was turned off with a view to getting some sleep.
It’s a tad exhausting to watch, frankly, as the tensions between family members rise and fall, brought down either out of the sisters’ deference to their father or otherwise because Helene has intervened and called for common courtesy. Some of the dialogue takes place off-stage, in the ‘kitchen’ of Gordon and Helene’s house, which admittedly leaves the stage bare momentarily but it adds to the entertainment. Ultimately, it’s a bittersweet evening, with both sisters (thanks to their lack of communication beforehand) having bought the exact same gift for their father.
Each character is quite distinct, which seems (in the vernacular of the Scottish locals in the audience), a wee bit contrived, inasmuch as nobody shares similar traits despite being in the same family. Then again, perhaps some families are like that. Here, practically everything is a potential point for disagreement, even down to whether a dropped item should be picked up immediately or left until such time as a general tidy up is in progress. It’s frustrating for the characters themselves, for the audience on the outside looking in, there’s plenty of laugh out loud moments in this sharp, witty and poignant production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Set in the present day, parents Gordon and Helene are joined by sisters Rachel and Kelly on the day when the family reunite to celebrate Gordon’s 70th Birthday. The South Afreakins: The Afreakin Family offers audiences a witty yet achingly raw look at real family life. Old tensions, misunderstandings, regrets, jealousies, longing, choices made, fairness and unfairness are all up for debate as emotions erupt not unlike Helene’s extravagant chocolate lava birthday cake.
Funny, dark, and deeply poignant, The South Afreakins: The Afreakin Family, explores the highs and lows of one ordinary yet extraordinary family’s immigration story from desegregated South Africa to stress-free living in New Zealand. In this new show, which premieres at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, audience get to see how one family navigates their way through the complexities of growing old, growing apart and trying to find happiness when letting go is so hard. Award winning actor and writer Robyn Paterson ups the ante and convincingly play four different characters: Mum Helene, Dad Gordon and warring twins Rachel and Kelly.
Until 24th August 2019 (dates vary, alternates with ‘The South Afreakins’)
theSpace on the Mile, The Radisson Hotel, 80 High Street, EH1 1TH