Stage: Benny Bushwhacker: Human Nature – Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
DURBAN actor and producer Ben Voss has long been noted for his comic clout and theatrical elasticity, having achieved early success with his Mamba series of shows with John van de Ruit; in drag as colourful Beauty Ramapelepele and, more recently, in his Naledi Award-nominated role as the evil Queen Hildagona in Janice Honeyman’s 2018 Joburg panto, Snow White.
Now, having grown a full beard, hopped into khaki shorts and shirt, and donned a bush hat, he has loaded a cheerful new alter-ego to his cannon. And he is being unleashed to the public in a national tour that started last night in Durban and follows a successful debut at the recent National Arts Festival.
Genial, conservation-conscious Benny Bushwhacker, in the show of the same title, has been introduced in pre-publicity as a renowned conservationist, an environmental campaigner, and the only man to have thrice walked the length of Africa barefoot.
Directed by Janice Honeyman and with a script by Spud author and Voss’s longtime friend and collaborator, John van de Ruit, Benny Bushwhacker: Human Nature certainly kept its Durban opening night audience happy, emerging as an unpredictable 75-minute entertainment that moves at a good pace and has no interval.
The setting is a circular clearing within a grass-walled boma at the Mkuze Conservancy where, in a boma sign behind him, Benny shows he is part of The Paradise Project to protect environment and wildlife.
A quirky, wide-smiling character, he greets his audience with a cheerful “Howzit!”, before going into an explanation as to why his wood fire is not burning. Kudu and other animals have urinated on it, he says, with a shrug.
The show then has Voss constantly going wild – morphing between various characters and shooting off on various tangents to cover everything from bush business to politicians (Zuma, Ramaphosa and Malema among them) and Steve Hofmeyr.
He also makes observations about everything from unique and comic animal behaviour to the curiosities of human nature, touching on environmental concerns, his Standard 4-level education and the eight senses known to man (commonsense and nonsense among them).
Heck, this is such a zoo of a show that we even get amusingly mimed depictions of the sad fates of the Titanic and Notra-Dame Cathedral.
Voss also chats about his menacing former wife, Brenda; his doddery gran; and a high-voiced pal called Skinny who lost his testicles to one of God’s creatures. He also acts out the characters in his tale of how they met and interact.
With no costume changes, only a shift of voice and mannerisms, Voss also becomes other characters, my favourite being a spot-on portrayal of a near-comatose, pampered and privileged 17-year-old. He is Riley from Umhlanga, who, with pants hanging down by his knees, expresses more concern over his lack of phone reception at the bush camp than the dwindling numbers of world wildlife.
Voss also adopts a posh accent for the voice of a pompous British lodge developer who hires Benny to create dunes from scratch in an area he wants developed as a tourist attraction – a place where Benny first meets the argumentative Brenda and pants-pulled-high Skinny.
Not all the show’s humour works – I found a fair bit of the overstated nudge-wink wordplay rather corny – and was surprised to find no poisoned darts aimed at the easy target that is the abundance of wealthy trophy hunters in the world who love to pose with their kills on Facebook.
That all said, Benny Bushwhacker: Human Nature has enough going for it to keep the customers satisfied and the national tour, by all accounts, seems set to be a roaring success.
While touring, Voss will be raising awareness and moola for the Lebombo Leopard – Human Conflict Survey. And while leopards are not known to change their spots, through this initiative, Benny will try to help humans to do so.
Benny Bushwhacker: Human Nature runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until August 11.
The show will then be staged at the Hilton Arts Festival at Hilton College, from September 13 to 16, after which it will visit the George Arts Theatre (September 20 to 21) and Johannesburg’s Studio Theatre at Montecasino (October 2 to 20).
Performances are also scheduled for the Savoy, Perridgevale, in Port Elizabeth (October 22 to 26), Pietermaritzburg’s Hexagon Theatre (November 5 to 9), Pretoria’s Atterbury Theatre (November 13), Somerset West’s Playhouse (November 15 and 16) and Cape Town’s Golden Arrow Studio at The Baxter (December 10 to January 18).
Tickets for the Durban season cost R150 (R100 for under-18s child) and R120 each for block bookings of eight or more. Booking is at Computicket.