It feels strange to hear the two speak in ‘white’ accents when we sit down with Liam Magner and Cobus van Heerden of the Neon Anthems after watching their show, Escape from Nombiland! As for the guy sitting in between them, Loyiso Macdonald, we’re still trying to figure out which side of the colonial line he lies on.
Liam and Cobus met in high school and had what Cobus described as an “intuitive comic understanding of each other”. They started their career by writing comedy songs which became popular because of their “unpretentious” style. A while later their careers leapt forward when they performed an impromptu act using Zulu accents. And that was their inspiration behind their hit show Tokoloshe Come and Go in which the guys play characters with Zulu accents while telling an African folk story. After years of performing it at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival they decided to write a sequel, Tokoloshe Come Again. Their accents coupled with their comedic chemistry and original premise made the shows a great success, especially with young audiences.
Escape from Nombiland! is the Neon Anthems’ new show which made its debut at festival this year. It features the subtle humour of Loyiso as a colonial Englishman while the other two again adopt their polished Zulu accents. Similar to their previous shows, Escape from Nombiland! plays heavily on stereotypes, but unlike their previous shows, it carries a message about racial politics and colonial discourse in a way that’s accessible and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Liam states that “it seemed the obvious [artistic] progression to include a black guy with a white accent… there was no one point where we sat down and decided we’re going to do this to make a statement.”
Theatre is a craft that is considered as high culture, but the Neon Anthems seem to have positioned themselves beautifully in the market. In their words, “We want to make theatre fun. A lot of people in theatre take themselves very seriously.” Their style of caricatured story-telling sets them apart from their perhaps more ‘snotty-nosed’ counterparts in the industry. So, as the Neon Anthems prove, it doesn’t matter which side of the colonial line you lie on or what race you are, as long as you have a sense of humour about it.
Escape from Nombiland! moves to Durban theatres after Festival.
Devaksha Vallabhjee & Pearl Nicodemus