The South Afreakins is a comic and heartfelt story of an elderly couples’ emigration from South Africa to New Zealand, inspired by writer and performer Robyn Paterson’s own family. In this one-woman show Paterson plays both roles – Gordon and Helene – and her energy feeds the imagination, making it feel as though both are genuinely present on stage.
When Gordon’s retirement finally sets in, Helene is determined to convince him to move to New Zealand from their home in a South Africa – to leave behind her fears and the memories of her murdered son. Reluctantly, Gordon joins her on this journey, and as Helene becomes comfortable and confident with her surroundings, he becomes more and more isolated in his new home.
It’s takes a bit of time to get used to Paterson switching between the two characters, as well as trying to understand Gordon’s especially thick South African accent – this isn’t helped by the fact that our initial introduction is in the dark and behind the curtain making Paterson’s voice quite muffled. But once she gets into her stride, it’s a delight to see her as the old couple. Her characterisation is brilliantly thought-out and her mannerisms as each person are hysterically on point. By the end you’re heartbreakingly invested in both characters.
Paterson is a strong performer. She fills the stage with life and her familial ties to the story add warmth to her performance. The show is hilarious from beginning to end, but does have some intense sobering moments highlighting themes of displacement, immigration and race. The South Afreakins is a great piece of work expertly put together and performed by Paterson.
The South Afreakins is at the VAULT Festival until 19th February.