Review: The Ice Cream Boys
Image courtesy Jermyn Street Theatre
Andrew Frances as Jacob Zuma
Jack Klaff as Ronnie Kasrils
Bu Kunene as Thandi Dube (and other characters)
"Oh look, there's a chess set. How about a game, like old times?"
There are some enemies you'd wait a lifetime to see face-to-face.
Charismatic, corrupt and dangerous, Jacob Zuma was until recently President of South Africa.
But before Zuma came to power, Ronnie Kasrils masterminded the intelligence services.
Now at last they're alone together.
When you've been betrayed, it's never too late to settle old scores.
Funny, fascinating, and hugely enjoyable, The Ice Cream Boys is a gripping exploration of politics and power.
An expensive private hospital is the setting for two former South African politicians and anti-apartheid activists from the African National Congress (ANC) to confront each other on their records in office and their very different political standpoints.
Ronald "Ronnie" Kasrils (played by Jack Klaff) was South Africa's Minister for Intelligence Services from 27 April 2004 to 25 September 2008 and Jacob Zuma (Andrew Francis) was President of South Africa from 2009 until he resigned on 14 February 2018.
These two men unexpectedly find themselves confined in neighbouring beds in this up-market medical facility seemingly having not met for some time.
Initially, Mr Zuma tries to use his infectious charm with young nurse Thandi Dube (Bu Kunene) to get his bed moved to another part of the establishment in order to avoid Mr Kasrils.
But the stalwart nurse, who respectfully calls her patient 'Mr President', refuses his appeal thus setting-up an inevitable heated confrontation between these former allies that takes us through their struggles against apartheid and subsequent times in political office.
(From left) Jack Klaff (Ronnie Kasrils), Bu Kunene (Thandi Dube), Andrew Francis (Jacob Zuma) - photo by Robert Workman
Andrew Francis's Jacob Zuma is a man who "loves women" having had four wives and many mistresses in his life, and possibly fathering as many as 35 children.
We also hear of an allegation of rape against Mr Zuma as well as accusations of considerable corruption too.
On the other hand, Ronnie Kasrils still seems an ardent communist who rails against bourgeois morality and cares about the poor.
Much of the argumentative conversation between these two men is about South African politics.
But during the twists and turns of the dialogue, we find issues that are pretty-well relevant in all societies and to many current political situations around the globe.
Cecilia Trono's meticulously effected design provides an important contrasting element in the production - though it doesn't become wholly obvious until the closing moments.
Describing an up-market hospital that one suspects few people in South Africa might be able to afford, the design is meant to contrast the lavish medical care these two men are enjoying with the desires and needs of ordinary citizens.
Gail Louw's play turns out to be a wide-ranging discussion of political standpoints and concerns that at times proves almost overwhelming in terms of complexity.
Morality, social justice, corruption, marxism versus socialism, the plight of the poor, economic policies, foreign investment etc etc, surface in a maelstrom of issues this political duo throw at each other ... and, thus, the audience.
In the end though, much of what these two men say - at least about the past - is ultimately dismissed by the nurse as irrelevant in a conclusion that underlines that what really matters is what citizens want - jobs, homes, good salaries.
Vik Sivalingam's admirable direction delivers a fluid and well-acted production that is highly watchable, at times appealingly humorous and always engaging.
Even so, though most people would probably concur with most of writer Gail Louw's ultimate points about yesterday's men and their past struggles, her final summing-up, through the vehicle of nurse Thandi Dube, was spelt out too overtly leaving the audience with little to do in deciphering the play's gist for themselves.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Jermyn Street Theatre
Our show listing for The Ice Cream Boys
Read our reviews' policy