Dog Day Afternoon meets The Gods Must Be Crazy

Issue 

Jump Ralph, Jump
Carlton Courthouse Theatre, Melbourne
Wednesday to Sunday, September 25 to October 12, 8.30pm
Tickets phone 11566 or at the door, $15/$12.

Preview by Bronwen Beechey

Craig Friemond's play Jump Ralph, Jump examines universal human dilemmas such as suicide, and the specific problems of contemporary South African society. However the writer is quick to reassure people that it is a comedy. Actor Russell Fletcher describes this combination of social satire and slapstick comedy as "Dog Day Afternoon meets The Gods Must Be Crazy".

The story of Jump Ralph, Jump takes place, both figuratively and literally, on two levels. Every year on his birthday, Ralph throws his unwanted possessions from the top of a tall building. This year, he is contemplating throwing himself off.

While he reflects on his life and deliberates over his fate, he is oblivious to the drama taking place on the Johannesburg streets below. A bank robbery is in progress and the police presence grows. Gradually, the two stories collide.

The play was first produced in 1994 at South Africa's Grahamstown Festival. Shortly after, Friemond and Gilbert met at an international theatre-sports event in Los Angeles, and the idea of bringing the play to Australia began to take shape. After several years of lobbying, Friemond received a sponsorship from the South African Department of Arts and Culture to direct Jump Ralph, Jump in Melbourne.

One of the reasons Friemond wanted to bring Jump Ralph, Jump to Australia was to challenge the perception that all South African theatre is overtly political, serious drama like Wozza Albert and other plays produced here. "I liked the idea of coming here with something that is a bit off the wall", he says, adding that plays being produced in South Africa now tend to use the political situation as background to the story, rather than the story itself.

"If people do find a message in the play, and I think there is a positive message, that's fine, but my goal as a performer is to entertain people and tell a good story", says Fletcher.

His role in the play is challenging: not only does he have to adopt a convincing South African accent, but he is the sole actor, playing a number of other characters as well as the hapless Ralph. However, it's something Fletcher is used to — in his show King of Fools, which received critical acclaim during its run at this year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival, he played 12 characters.

One issue taken up by the play is the growing problem of crime in South Africa. "Crime is a huge issue, and one that is affecting everyone, especially in Jo'burg, where it's completely out of hand", says Friemond. "It's completely understandable and logical — you can't fuck people around for 50 years and then say, 'well, that's all over, everything's OK now'. The situation is tailor-made for the sort of problems we're having."