‘Protest’ theatre featuring a man in a dress

Observatory actor Sizwesandile Mnisi, Woodstock actor Roberto Kyle and Rondebosch actor Adrian Galley chat about Aunty Merle, the Musical at the Baxter.

Aunty Merle has been an honorary family member in many households in the Western Cape, including that of actors Roberto Kyle of Woodstock, Sizwesandile Mnisi of Observatory and Adrian Galley of Rondebosch who now have the opportunity to bring Aunty Merle, The Musical to life.

The musical, created by comedian Marc Lottering who first brought “Athlone’s rose” onto stage in his stand-up routine in the early 2000s, sees Aunty Merle’s character given a whole new lease on life at the Baxter Theatre. Merle’s family drama unfolds on stage and the threat of an interracial marriage causes a stir and laughter on stage.

“You will laugh you in your m**r from beginning to end. The show touches on sexuality, race, abuse and class. It says something about it, but it doesn’t enforce its opinion on you, so it’s nice.

“The show is about a man in a dress, so you come with an open mind. Audiences laugh at themselves when they see themselves reflected in the characters,” said Roberto who plays Aunty Merle’s son, Carl Abrahams.

Carl loves Beyonce and is very close to his varsity friend Siya, played by Sizwesandile, who many of the audience members realise has a closer-than-close relationship. Aunty Merle addresses this issue in the drama which changes her relationship with her son, and allows the audience to deal with the topic of intersexuality.

“I love that, there are two men on a bed in a big theatre and the audience goes “oooh and aaah”. It’s framed in a safe space to interrogate sexuality. The show presents these topics in a safe space and you’re laughing the entire time,” said Sizwesandile.

Roberto agreed with Sizwesandile and Adrian, who has been in theatre since the 1990s, saying that Aunty Merle would ideally be categorised as protest theatre back in his day due to the social commentary it makes, be it in a light-hearted manner.

“The theatre has changed. Prior to 1994 the theatre was less integrated. Mainstream and protest theatre was separated. It mixes in quite well now. Aunty Merle is part protest theatre because the social commentary is protest in itself. It comments on social awareness because the theatre reflects society and society reflects change.

“The cast is demographically representative and it’s not forced. This is the country we live in. My character is David White, his name works so well, it’s a play on words. He grew up in the old South Africa and his son is a millennial who introduces him to the new South Africa. So they rub shoulders with humanity over some dhaltjies,” said Adrian.

The cast members were thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Marc Lottering, especially Roberto, who said he grew up watching the likes of Terrance Bridgens, and Marc and said that it is good for people of colour to see others of colour on stage portraying their culture in such a beautiful and festive way.

“I grew up watching them and the hope they instil in young boys can change lives. Marc told me that I could become the man I looked up to. What the show represents is beautiful in that light.

“Growing up, my mom would make me do Aunty Merle impressions for my aunts. I did an Aunty Merle monologue as my fourth-year piece at UCT. So it validates me that I’m doing the right job now,” said Roberto.

Adrian said what he especially enjoys about the show is working with his stage wife, Claire White, played by Kate Normington whom he studied drama with at Wits in 1994. This is the first time the two are working together since then and they’re having a blast being part of the Aunty Merle, The Musical cast.

Aunty Merle, The Musical will be on at the Baxter Theatre on Sunday December 31 at 8.30pm, Saturday January 6 at 4pm and at 8.30pm, Saturday January 13 at 4pm and at 8.30pm and Saturday January 20 at 4pm. Tickets range from R135 to R260. Book at Computicket.