The Ice Cream Boys by Gail Louw. Jermyn Street Theatre, 118 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y to 2 November. 4****. William Russell.

London
The Ice Cream Boys
By Gail Louw.
4****
Jermyn Street theatre, 16B Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST to 2 November 2019.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3.3opm.
Runs 80 mins No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7287 2835.
www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk
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Review: William Russell 14 October.

Gail Louw’s play could hardly open at a better time since it stages a confrontation between Jacob Zuma, the former President of South Africa, now finally facing corruption charges over a £1.98m arms deal, and his former spymaster Ronnie Kasrils. They are both in a smart private hospital in adjacent rooms. The result is a deeply interesting and very illuminating war of words as the former President defends his record and his one time colleague accuses him of betraying the ideals they fought for. The problem is, at least it was for me that a times I felt that I really did not know enough about South African politics to get the play’s full impact. Andrew Francis is a wonderfully paternal Zuma, confident of his charm, a man who thinks any woman, especially a Zulu woman, is his for the taking and sees nothing wrong in what he did when in power, while Jack Klaff as Kasrils creates a magnificent opponent, the white man who fought against apartheid and was in government with Zuma but now considers betrayed by what the President did and his association with the Guptas, the Asian businessmen who seemed to own everything in the country, and who fled when Zuma fell from power in 2018. This is acting by equals.
Add a friendly coloured nurse, whom Zuma tries to seduce, who injects the hopes of the young South Africans of today into the argument between these two grand old, but not by any means good, men of the past and the result is a gripping theatrical experience. Bu Kunene is a match for them both and also gets to play all the other people mentioned in the war between the two men, ranging from Kasrils’ first wife to Nelson Mandela, which she does with considerable skill. The lighting in the clinically smart hospital lounge changes colour as she assume the characters, one being Mandela, commenting on the dispute. It is a tricky theatrical ploy Ms Louw has devised but director Vic Sivalingam and Ms Kunene pull it off with ease.
Zuma is unrepentant about his palaces, his lechery and his wives, bitter about the years he spent on Robben Island,and dismisses Kasrils experiences by pointing out that he is white and knew nothing about what it was like under apartheid. The confrontation is skilfully fought over a game of chess, a game nobody wins. There is a splendid clinical set, one of the best that Jermyn Street has had in ages, by Cecilia Trono, which means what he hear of the horrors of apartheid seem all more hideous because this is so obviously part of a rich man’s world. It is one into which Zuma would once not have been admitted. As for the nurse, the two men are fighting past battles, wars that have ended, she is more concerned with the life style her generation has to cope with and repulses Zuma’s advances with icy scorn. That is not how she will better herself. In a way one might have been more interested in just how the ANC and the new generation will cope with the legacy of the Zuma years.

Jacob Zuma: Andrew Francis.
Ronnie Kasrils: Jack Klaff.
Thande Dube: Bu Kunene.

Director: Vik Sivalingam.
Set & Costume Designer: Cecilia Trono.
Lighting Designer: Tim Mascall.
Sound Designer: Nicola Chang.
Production Photographer: Robert Workman.

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