You Suck: Yes you do, but in a good way

Klara van Wyk plays a Grade 9 Afrikaans schoolgirl trying to ascend the social ladder in You Suck and Other Inescapable Truths. Photo: Cue.

You Suck and Other Inescapable Truths. Okay, I’ll bite. Where are you going with this?

Directed by Francesco Nassimbeni and written and performed by Klara van Wyk, You Suck looks into the life of Pretina de Jager, a Grade 9 Afrikaans teenager going through the trials and tribulations of being in an English high school. Spending an hour with Pretina in her neon-coloured bedroom, she details the experience of trying to climb the social ladder, the steps to achieving success in hip-hop dancing, and that time she was invited to hang out with the B-group (not the A-group, as the despicable Sarah Walker made clear that Pretina is not welcome).

With a performance that takes a hacksaw to Afrikaans schoolkid stereotypes (and I know them firsthand to be stereotypes), Van Wyk provides a good set of laughs and delivers some jabs at the shallow and materialistic characters that I’m sure we’ve all seen at some point. The brilliance of the comedy lies its presentation of the excessive use of social media, the obsession with that cute guy Jonathan in Grade 11, and the pride to be had in those precious Eisteddford certificates — this is all coming from an experience that the current generation of schoolkids are going through. At that age, life is that materialistic. It is all about how the world sees you.

The show is divided into two halves, which have very contrasting tones. The first half is very much on the lighter side, with Pretina giving us the low-down on what it takes to be like her, and her plan to ascend to even higher levels of social perfection. The plan is foolproof and simple — it’s even detailed on a pie chart. We also get to see Pretina pump out some “awesome” dance moves, and even a song number in preparation for courting Jonathan at the mall.

The second half takes a very sharp left turn. We see the aftermath of Pretina’s plan smashed by everything and everyone, even by her object of desire. In fact, there is a very dark moment in the show which seemingly comes out of nowhere, and may work against the overall feel of the performance, given its appearance right near the show’s end.

But like the gags that we laughed at in the half hour before it, the moment comes from a place of truth — that the high school experience can be cruel and traumatic for those who are unable or refuse to conform to its shallow and materialistic norms. They say that all comedy comes from some place of misery, and we forget that while we can laugh at all this, there is someone in high school suffering. Because of that moment, You Suck actually ends on a very sincere and quiet note. It gives a subtle message of hope that can be appreciated by all the age groups.

By Samuel Spiller