McIlroy on tip-top form

Aaron McIlroy as ad man Danny, facing lockdown in a third-rate Wild Coast resort. A scene from The Apology, scripted and directed by Patrick Kenny. Picture by Val Adamson.

STAGE: The Apology – Seabrooke’s Theatre, DHS, Durban

THE longtime professional partnership of multi-award-winning Durban comedy kingpin Aaron McIlroy and his equally talented writer-director pal, Patrick Kenny, has reaped rich rewards over the years.

Their enormously popular, quirky shows have won fans with a focus on manic, off-the-wall humour, loopy song and dance, and McIlroy’s trademark picking on audiences. However, the team reached a new level of excellence and sophistication with Comedy Masterclass, which deservedly cleaned up at the 2016 Durban Theatre Awards.

Good news is that The Apology seems more in keeping with that show’s concept and feel, offering not only the expected zany antics but a distinct level of seriousness, food for thought, pathos and some interesting reflections on privilege. It also arguably showcases McIlroy’s best performance since Comedy Masterclass.

Unfolding on a detailed set by Greg King, depicting a living room with a bed, the show has McIlroy appearing in shorts and golfing shirt, as Danny. We gradually get to discover that he is an advertising executive who, after accidentally unleashing an outrageously politically insensitive song-and-dance act at a national peace conference, went into hiding at a third-rate caravan park on the Wild Coast.

That’s where we find him when the play opens because, as luck would have it, Danny’s lying low for a few days has turned into months of hell due to Covid-19. Lockdown regulations have forced him to be confined to his small living space, with only the park’s dodgy, right-wing manager as an occasional, at-a-distance, passing companion.

Aaron McIlroy in The Apology. Picture by Val Adamson.

Small wonder that Danny seems to lose his mind and talk to the walls (us, the audience). In doing so, and in between a few song interludes, presumably to pass his boredom – songs including a rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity and a decidedly odd ditty sung to a plant in his lounge – he then gets to reflect on and try to examine and reassess his life.

This all transpires via constant flitting between colourful vignettes in which McIlroy sometimes morphs into the characters to whom he refers in his trips down memory lane. Among them are Danny’s kugel mother, who has more time for arranging naughty pool parties and pouring drinks than she has for a meaningful conversation with her son.

McIlroy also, in a rather gratuitous plot device, manages to squeeze in a surprise appearance by his trademark Indian character, VJ – whose hilarious, vivid description of a corpse causing chaos becomes the show’s comic highpoint.

As the play progresses, Danny’s situations and reactions, while largely hinged on hilarity and high energy from McIlroy, start to show an undercurrent of seriousness and pathos. He becomes increasingly nostalgic, looking with new eyes on his relationships with his wife and kids, bullying work colleagues and, in a sequence leading to a wonderfully poignant moment, the African woman who became and remains more a mother to him than his own.

Touching on everything from childhood binging of war-themed comic books and Beano annuals, to memories of conscription and military action, and musings on the #MeToo movement, The Apology has a lot going for it.

McIlroy runs the full gamut of emotions and accents, coming across as a lot more vulnerable, more affecting, in this intimate theatre setting than he would, perhaps, on the large Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre that has accommodated most of his previous shows.

Aaron McIlroy’s VJ character makes an appearance in The Apology. Picture by Val Adamson.

Running a little over an hour without an interval, The Apology is a welcome slice of good theatre in these trying times, and most certainly worth a visit. I am of the opinion, though, that the production has not yet realised its full potential and would benefit from a bit more tweaking, perhaps a more conclusive ending than the rather abrupt one it has now.

The Apology runs until November 29 with performances at 7pm Wednesdays to Saturdays and 3pm on Sundays. Tickets cost R150 each and booking is through Webtickets.

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