Archive for the ‘Theatre Review’ Category

Last week the Baxter Theatre was so kind as to invite my better half, @wernerels, and I to another opening night performance, this time of the Imperial Russian Ballet Company. Believe it or not, even though I have many friends who are professional ballet dancers and am a huge fan of the art, last night was my very first “audience perspective” experience of a live performance — shocking, I know. And what a privilege for it to have been a performance of these exceptionally skilled athletes, yes athletes, who move so gracefully and with such absolute precision.

If it were not for dreams there would not be such a thing as ballet, the cruelest of the performing arts.

The Imperial Russian Ballet Company is one of the most successful and well-known ballet companies in Moscow. Their repertoire exceeds them, and consists of a number of outstanding full-length classical masterpieces, such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, as well as some modern choreography in some of their works. Founded in 1994 by Gedeminas Taranda and Nikolai Ankhine on the suggestion of well-known performer Maija Plisetzkaya, the company comprises of 40 classically trained dancers — 22 of which performed at last night’s show. Although their primary choreographic style is classical, they do, however, also indulge in modern dance and choreographic novelties, which means there really is something for everyone!

The principle dancers included the breathtaking soloist perfromer, Anna Pashkova, and her male counterpart, Narima Bekzhanov. These two, as well as the 37 year old Elena Colesnicenco, impressed me the most, but Ekaterina Tikanova, Duminica-Radamaria Nazerenco, Aleksanr Volkov, Arcadie Nazarenco, and the young Igor Subbotin followed hot on their heels. To put it simply, the made the impossible seem effortless.

Under the direction of innovative Artistic Director, Gediminas
Taranda, last night’s program consisted of different segments of larger productions, such as Sleeping Beauty, “Dying Swan” from the well-known piece Swan LakeWalpurgis Night, the one-act ballet from the opera Faust by Charles Gounod, cleverly using modern ballet with the musical genius of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana,  Adagio from the ballet Scheherezade by Rimsky-Korsakov, the classical Grand pas de deux (“dance for two”) from the ballet Don Quixote by Ludwig Minkus, the moving solo piece, performed by the barefoot Anna Pashkova, using the haunting music Non Me Quitez Pas (Don’t Leave Me) of Jacques Brel, and finally the Can-Can Surprise by Jacques Offenbach to end off the evening with a bit of a laugh.

The only thing I can critique was the lighting and, on occasion, the timing of music. There were several noticeable errors in lighting design and execution. Spots were off aim, backstage shadows were seen, and, if I have to be picky, someone was a little over-eager with the smoke machine, which covered the first 6 rows of the audience . That being said, this does does not reflect on the stunning performance of the dancers in any way, who were, at all times, focused, timely and professional.

Author  George Borodin says it best …

Ballet is not technique, but a way of expression that comes more closely to the inner language of man than any other.

Alexander Pushki once said:

Ballet is a dance executed by the human soul.

I agree. Three stamps of approval in my books!









I cannot think of a better way to bring in the Year of the Dragon, than with Shakespeare’s farcical quick-witted comedy at Maynardville Open Air Theatre. At the opening of their new show, The Comedy of Errors, last Saturday, we were welcomed by rows of scarlet Chinese lanterns that lit up the path, vibrant paper dragons, and an array of other colourful Chinese New Year decorations, which fitted in perfectly with their 1970’s Kung Fu Cinema styled production. They had everything from panda’s with swagger (Oscar Sanders), multi-coloured merchants with serious ninja skills, eccentric schoolmasters (Gabriel Marchand), to a giddy, bubble-blowing harajuku girl (Jenny Stead). What more could one ask for? Well, what about a tale of two pairs of identical twins, separated at birth by a tragic shipwreck, whom unwittingly find themselves in the same city years later? Oh, yes.

This, as I’m sure you can imagine, unleashes a series of uproarious misunderstandings, farcical contortions and several cases of mistaken identities, with absolute hilarious consequences! In order for director Matthew Wild to create a modern-day “Ephesus” setting in which the foreign characters can sense an atmosphere of danger, mystery and enchantment – a mercantile city, where profit and trade are high on the residents’ daily agenda, he had consider many different factors. Drawing inspiration from films such as Enter the Dragon, it was decided upon a type of Never Never Land “Chinatown” setting, composed of irrelevant Asian clichés, signs and symbols, that would create the perfect atmosphere in which the tale could unfold. The genre of the classic 1970’s Hong Kong martial arts films, according to Wild, in which the tone may very rapidly switch from romance, to slapstick, to genuine danger, with this style of dramatic language and fight sequences, may be “the source of elegant, balletic comedy” and “a treasure-trove of vividly imagined, exotic locales”.

Despite being one of the earliest (and shortest) of Shakespeare’s plays, it has retained its popularity with audiences, having been frequently adapted to suit our ever-changing modern society. A great deal of the play’s humour revolves around the beating of servants, a potentially bleak source of amusement for modern-day audiences. Many directors have had to tackle the repeated comic beatings of the bondsmen and other servants in this play, and one way of doing so was by looking back to commedia dell’arte and slapstick-type physical comedy such as that of Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers. That being said, the physical interaction between the Antipholus twins and their bondsmen, Dromio, were lighthearted and enjoyably comical.

The play opens with Egeon(played by Stephen Jennings), father of the Antipholus twins, and his whopper of a monologue. Even the sharpest-eared audience members would be likely to miss the vital moment of clarification about the heartbreaking separation of the young twins & their reason for them ending up with identical names, but not this audience. Oh, no. Thanks to a clever director, the aid of skilfully handled visual stimuli were used to illustrate exactly what transpired that fateful day and made it so much easier for us, the audience, to follow the story from there on in. And so the comedy of errors ensues. The locals constantly confuse the visiting twins for the native twins – even Antipholus of Ephesus’s wife Adriana and her sister Luciana are easily fooled. All the confusion results in Antipholus of Ephesus (the native twin) being arrested for debt and declared mad, while Atipholus of Syracuse (the visiting twin) takes refuge from his brother’s enraged wife in a nunnery – where the abbess turns out to be Egeon’s long lost wife and the twins’ mother.

There were some superb performances by Nicholas Pauling, who played the very confused visiting Antipholus of Syracuse, along with the well-known and loved comedian Rob van Vuuren, who played his equally bewildered servant Dromio. The native Antipholus, Andrew Laubscher and his loyal bondsman, James Cairns. The leading ladies were just as captivating, especially Sonia Esgueira, who played the part of Adriana, Antipholus’ wife, and dared the stage with 6 inch heels! The poor visiting Dromio found himself unknowingly married to a lusty lady, which he himself described as a “mountain of flesh” (hysterically played by the talented Chi Mhende). With the aid of cleverly designed twin outfits with only subtle colour differences, so we could tell the two pairs of twins apart, this performance was well thought out, colourful in every sense of the word and roll-on-the-floor-laughing funny. Every detail was carefully considered, even down to the little female DJ in the roof that just gave it that cherry-on-top *KAPOW* effect.

Maynardville truly outdid themselves once again. Four and a half stamps of approval — well worth a night out at the theatre! There are still shows available until the 18th of February. Perfect for a Valentine’s cuddle under the stars.

Last Friday evening, I was kept on the edge of both my seat (and snorting with laughter) by another quirky escapade at the Intimate Theatre. This gripping journey led me down Mafeking Road, where some of Herman Charles Bosman’s well-loved stories can be relived and enjoyed by today’s generation.

The 60 min jam-packed joyride, presented by The Pink Couch at the The Intimate Theatre in Cape Town, won the Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award for Physical Theatre at the National Arts Festival 2011, in Grahamstown. The talented Andrew Laubscher (from Lovborg’s  Women, and  Is  it  because  I’m  Jack?) and Mathew Lewis (Lenny  and  the  Wasteland) are skillfully directed by Tara Notcutt (director of …miskien; Dream, Brother; and Thom Pain) to bring you four colourful tales of Oom Bosman, such as In The Withaak’s Shade, and Willem Prinsloo’s Peach Brandy in a brand-spanking  new, fresh, and creative way with complete unadulterated wit!

From opposite sides of the small, dark theatre, two humorless men size each other up, and then slowly walked towards each other, with tension mounting with every step – and then, well, it all dissolves into what can only be described as awe-inspiring silliness. Once again I was gob smacked by the utter professionalism of this tiny theatre, its crew, the lighting and the top quality acting from the Thespians centre stage.

Mafeking Road is physical theatre at its finest. Far from just an experiment in mime, it welcomes you into a world of imagination, perfect timing and offbeat humour. The pair whirls through a variety of characters who call the Groot Marico home. Their unwavering pace, physical stamina, and perfect characterization made it easy for us as an audience to remain devoted to their story throughout. Tara’s fine handiwork is apparent in the incredible accuracy & timing of every gesture, accent, and facial expression.

Even with the black box styled theatre and simple denim jeans and white shirt costumes, they embodied every distinctive character with absolute charm and effect; from Bertie, the panicky horse, the seducing beauty, fresh out of finishing school, dreamy-eyed Schalk in Willem Prinsloo’s Peach Brandy, the drunken congregant and altar-wine-fetcher, getting progressively more intoxicated as the service went on, to the mother, youngster and deaf granny at the “kerk diens” from hell, that just would not end. While the stage remained empty, they painted the scenery of a “koppie” in the veld so vividly with subtle sound effects and hand movement; I could literally smell the soft sand and African heat in the air.

In this truly physically demanding production, Tara made sure they used every inch of their bodies, right down to their incredibly expressive fingers, and yet everything was done with such spectacular ease and conviction that we, the audience, had no alternative but to allow ourselves to be swallowed up by it all. Mafeking Road is the perfect length for such a riveting, physical and fast-paced production too. It’s so much fun to watch and I only noticed afterwards how sore my cheeks and tummy muscles were  from laughing so much!

The Pink Couch came onto the theatre scene with the goal of making theatre cool again for young people. It was started by Tara Notcutt, Mathew Lewis, Gideon Lombard and Albert Pretorius, and this year they welcomed James MacGregor to take a seat on the couch. Dedicated to making brave, original, and sexy South African theatre, they aim to present new or existing work in a fresh way that reaches out to a younger and bilingual audience. Not only making some noise at the 2011 National Arts Festival, Grahamstown with the hit, …miskien, and the brand new Mafeking  Road, The Pink Couch also joined up with Jon Keevy to take up the reins of the fabulous curated venue, Cape  Town  Edge, which was heard to have made some noise of its own.

From Cape Town to Stellenbosch, to Grahamstown, to Potchefstroom, The Pink Couch is making its mark on the national theatre scene. The two-year old company has already seen some great successes, among them a Fleur du Cap and two Silver Standard Bank Ovation Awards and the Clover Soveel Beter prize for Best Production at Aardklop 2011. It has now made its company-debut on the international stage, with …miskien being invited to the Amsterdam Fringe Festival, where it received a 5 star review, as well as a Jury Commendation, making it one of the Top 8 shows of 80 at the festival.

Overall, Mafeking Road is clearly much more potent than the love juice of the juba berry, and will give my heart happy flutters everytime I think back on it. I hope to see many more such original and youthful productions from Tara and her team in the near future. Well done guys! Four stamps of approval on the Tish-o-meter.

Last Friday I enjoyed another fine ‘Taste, Tweet & Theatre’ experience at the Baxter Theatre. This time, I was privileged enough to be an audience to Ariel Dorfman’s Purgatorio performed on the Flipside stage, following its premiere at the National Arts Festival in  this year.

‘Purgatorio’ is Italian for purgatory. In Roman Catholic theology, to be in ‘purgatory’ is to be in a place inhabited by the souls of sinners who undergo a process of purification for their sins before going to heaven. This riveting tale of two lovers caught up together in limbo between life and the afterlife, is based on the mythological couple Jason and Madea. According to Greek mythology, the hero, Jason, fell in love with the enchantress, Medea, and she bore him two sons. But when Jason betrayed Medea by marrying another woman, she gets revenge on her husband, by murdering their two sons as well as the woman he loved — just as she had slaughtered her brother in the name of love years before.

Wonderfully acted by our own Dawid Minnaar and Terry Norton, their story begins in what seems like a windowless cell at some sort of mental asylum. The scene is set with a clinical single bed, small steel trolley and chair. The male doctor, an apparent aid to the next life, and his female patient, the modern Madea, are in session. They discuss her progress and her need for understanding, forgiveness and redemption for the horrid things she had done in her previous life. We see the woman revisit a time when her life was simple and innocent. To a time of kind winds, pure waters, and hungry kittens, where she was free to dream, laugh and conjure up spells and potions in her head. A time long before she met ‘him’ – the man who would change her entire world.

With the clever aid of multimedia imagery by Kai Lossgott, carefully chosen music for ambience, and the very knife she used to butcher her boys, we experience the vivid violence she vexed on others, as she tells us her story. The scene is then cut another two characters; this time a male prisoner and a female doctor. Here we meet the modern Jason and his aid through purgatory. He is the father of two murdered boys, and husband to a sorceress and one murdered lover. He too is in session, but has made remarkable progress in repenting his past sins, so this will be his last. If he successfully completes this one last set of tasks / tests by his aid, he may leave through the door. But what lies beyond it? A new life? A fresh start? Or just another task for him to complete before he is free?

From the simply and intelligently lit and designed set, thanks to Leopold Senekal and Patrick Curtis, to the exquisite acting by Terry and Dawid, Clare Stopford’s directing handiwork is clearly evident throughout the show. An intense, soul-stirring must-see for all serious theatre goers. “Hell hath no fury lika a woman scorned.” A definite four stamps from me!

Two Wednesdays ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Baxter Theatre’s “Taste, Tweet & Theatre” evening to view the opening of the latest multimedia production performed by the Handspring Puppet Company, Ouroboros. For those of you going “Huh?” and with thumbs at the ready to Google this odd title, allow me to spare you the surfing time: Ouroboros is an ancient symbol of a snake or dragon eating and/or swallowing its own tale. It symbolises the cyclic Nature of the Universe: creation out of destruction, Life out of Death. The ouroboros eats its own tail to sustain its life, in an eternal cycle of renewal – the “circle of life” sort of thing, as Mufasa put it in The Lion King.

So, that having been said, back to the production at hand. Ouroboros, directed by Janni Younge, was, as many of the Tweeters that evening had said, absolutely “magical” to watch. I would say this is a production for the kid in all of us – filled with fantasy, it had a tangible quality that can only be described as “weird and wonderful”. It was both nakedly realistic and beautifully wistful.  

The thing that immediately caught my attention was the fact that the puppeteers were distinctly visible throughout the show, wearing cream coloured clothing whilst manipulating the nearly life-sized puppets into being. And, yet, as I became more and more enveloped in the story these silent creatures were telling, the puppeteers became less and less noticeable to me. One beautiful attribute I observed about this production was how the puppets and their puppeteers were cleverly paired, both racially as well as according to gender. Three young black women puppeteers handled only the three black female puppets, whilst three white men handled only the three white male puppets. This added a certain authenticity to how these puppets moved and interacted with each other, which, I believe, would have been lost otherwise. The actors (Jason Potgieter, Cindy Mkaza, Gabriel Marchand, Tali Cervati, Beren Belknap and Chuma Sopotela) who manipulated the puppets’ movements and whose faces expressed their characters’ emotions so vividly, created a non-verbal language everyone in the audience could relate to, without intruding on the performance.

So doing, they told a story of love and life shared between Nokobinisa, a graceful dancer, and Andre, a haunted poet, spanned over three key stages of their lives –  childhood, adulthood, and the latter years. We follow them from their innocent meeting as children to their reintroduction and sensual entanglement as adults, and on to bitter-sweet goodbyes as elderly sweethearts.There is a central and an ever continuing theme of new life birthing out of that which seems dead and lost. Yet nothing ends. Nothing truly dies. They live on in their children and grandchildren. The cycle continues. 

The audience experiences all three stages of their lives as being lived presently and, on occasion, I could not differentiate between the characters, as their lives intertwined and in the way they related to each other beyond the dimensions of time. Throughout the piece they encountered creatures of spiritual significance – a dog, an Oryx, and, on occasion, even Death itself. This created the atmosphere of foreboding and we all knew that another spectre of life loomed in the darkness. One we would all rather not think about. On so many levels the audience could relate to the human emotions and experiences of each character. I laughed with them, I shed a tear with them, I dreamed with them, I feared with them, I hoped with them, but most of all, I fought for dear life with them.

“Tonight I got to see a little girl kick death in the face.” – Rob van Vuuren (@RobVanVuuren via Twitter)

These puppets, with their delicately etched features, demands constant attention and emotional investment from the audience. I for one could feel them breathing, blushing, laughing, weeping. Even the delicate love scene between the Nokobinisa and Andre is handled with such sensitivity. Such a tangible intimacy was created by the four actors who manipulated these puppets so beautifully. Their finely crafted props, along with the clever use of multi media animation, poetic citations from the Billy Collins, original music by Neo Muyangaand, and delicate shadow puppetry, made for a production that completely encircles its audience in a world of fantasy and wonder. Three stamps of approval in my book. What a show.

“What I experienced in Ouroboros. Magical, mystical, strange, uncomfortable, often unfathomable trip. Beautiful, magnificent, moving puppets who float in and out of the complicated story like cloud people. Strange art animation that delights and confounds. Haunting music. Moments of heartbreaking theatre beauty…Exquisite lighting. Confusing. Captivating. Breathtaking. Sad.” – Theatre critic Megan Furniss (@meganshead)


Woody Allen’s fictional Scandinavian playwright, Jorgen Lovborg, was no lady’s man, in fact, quite the opposite. The poor creature had terrible trouble with the fairer sex, yet was able to channel his genius (or rather Woody’s genius) into creating the most memorable of female characters in the history of imaginary dramatists.

Driven to create depressing, shocking plays of the realism / naturalism genre, as well as to bring about a safer means of weighing herring, Lovborg brought us the side-splitting Geese Aplenty, A Mother’s Gums, Those Who Squirm, I Prefer to Yodel, While We Three Hemorrhage, and Mellow Pears. He was led by his predecessors, Ibsen & Chekov, who carved the way for his exceptional ability to find the funny side within the stagnant framework of realism.

His works came alive once again in Cape Town’s Intimate Theatre last Tuesday, when the Mechanicals Theatre Company performed Lovborg’s Women. Here we considered and reconsidered some of these larger-than-life female characters with hilarious consequences.

The Intimate Theatre is exactly that, intimate. It’s snuggled in between two of UCT’s old campus buildings and the only thing indicating its whereabouts are some beautifully lit fairy lights. A true Pediophobiac, I was a little freaked out by the dolls they had displayed at the entrance of the theatre, but other than that, it was so quaint and lovely. The black box styled theatre itself is small and had me practically spilling onto the stage from the front row.

Immediately, I found myself being swallowed up by the experience. The actors were close enough to touch – literally – yet completely engrossed in their characters. Their use of sound effects was perfectly executed and lighting was simple, yet effective to set the appropriate mood. Their clever use of uncomplicated props and stage furniture made each scene unique, flowing effortlessly into each other.

The wit was infectious and had us on the edge of our seats throughout the entire show. Not once did the actors drop the pace and momentum of the piece, even through rigorous costume changes, interpretive DV8-like dancing, and flamboyant Lady Gaga & Madonna impersonations. It had me, an old Performing Arts graduate, in stitches as they considered and reconsidered the naturalistic ideals of Lovborg and other realism playwrights before him, and their comical use of theatrical terminology made me snicker with delight. This being said, it would appeal to those who don’t necessarily understand all the drama mumbo-jumbo, as the performance is jam-packed with physical humour and general silliness.

As you can see on the poster above, the show continues until the 21st of May, and I strongly urge you to get yourselves down to Cape Town’s Intimate Theatre and treat yourself to this quirky and well-directed production. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed.

Spyt … Where do I even start? Well, I have to warn you, this will be my first negative review. After the incredibly entertaining God van Chaos, I was expecting to see another spellbinding show at Woordfees, in the beautiful setting of the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre in Stellenbosch.

Boy, was I disappointed …

It all started off so well: The set was simplistic with a single stainless steel trolley centre stage, a backdrop of old morgue drawers as a focal point, and three semi see-through flats on either side. With an age restriction of 16, for language, nudity and sexual references, I had prepared myself to see and hear strange and unusual things, but nothing could have prepared me for what was about to unfold.

This very OTT drama grabbed the expectant audience’s attention for the first 5 minutes as some medieval clad men hacked and sawed at a dead man’s chest to expose his heart. Already the lighting was notably amateur and shaky. I also noticed that the actors were wearing mics, of which there was clearly no need. This was followed by an uncomfortably high Afrikaans and somewhat unnatural dialogue between husband and wife. This is not unusual for this style of theatre, namely the Theatre of the Absurd, but somehow, this playwright thought she could throw some Realism in there as well. Not a good idea, unless you know the rules of theatre well enough to break them.

Having said that, I had been intrigued by Braam (Stian Bam), the main character, his icy demeanour towards his wife, Mariana (Leanna Dreyer), and the strange threatening phone calls he had been receiving during their detached conversation, up until this point. Surely this would be an important plot point that would make more sense later on?

The actors juiced a few nervous laughs from the audience in the third scene, as Braam and his buddy, Frans (Waldemar Schultz), crudely described how they were going to “enjoy” the twin blonde prostitutes he had organised for them later on that evening. We then had to sit through a completely unnecessary show of sexual debauchery, as Braam flung mistress #1 (Vicky Davis) around in every intimate position imaginable, while discussing artworks he wished to invest in.

As the mysterious phone calls continue to pester Braam, he begins to experience some bizarre hallucinations that evolve around the morgue drawers between scenes. At one stage he opens one of these drawer doors to find the naked bosoms of mistress #2 (Pumeza Rashe). Then things start to get very weird, as these two partake in, what can only be described as, some odd wordless sacrificial ritual of love-making.

Braam continues on to mistress #3, Jolene (Nicole Holm), who just happens to be his pal, Frans’, wife. There he tries to coerce her into bed by telling her about his morbid fascination with the painting, The Punishment of Marsyas, by  the Italian late Renaissance artist, Titian. Instinctively I thought the author would now bring some parallel between the myth portrayed by the painting and Braam’s sinful reality. Sadly, no. It just added more confusion to the already loopy plot.

He then meets a wacky lady, called Moira Jean (Lulu Botha), who forces him to question his morals and to think about life beyond death, with the help of some funky, yet badly choreographed dancing – after which Braam gets abducted by humanoid versions of a Springbok, Hyena and Rhino … I kid you not. From what I could gather, these animals where the henchman of Frans, who, in the mean time, had discovered Braam’s deceit and the infidelity of his wife, Jolene. Funny enough, instead of inflicting some serious bodily harm or even killing Braam, the two friends end up reminiscing over a poorly written voice over of everything “awesome”. Sound effects and faulty mics made this scene even harder to endure.

From here on in the show just seems to throw in random plot points, such as the mysterious caller, whom I thought would tie up all those loose ends  leading up to this, turns out to be nothing more than a deranged mental patient without any direct link to Braam or anything that had happened in the previous scenes.

To round it all up, if you wish to call it that, Braam gets killed and is inevitably rowed off to Hades by what looked like the Grimm Reaper or possibly Charon. He is the ferryman who carries the souls of the deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron to the world of the dead – the only other reference to any form of mythology.

As the final misplaced monologue was performed by Braam, I looked over to the stunned audience, where I saw some heads shaking, and others sat with their heads in their hands, clearly disappointment with the closing scene. Suddenly all the madness we had to sit trough had no end, no real intelligent conclusion. It all seemed so surreal, like we were watching a real life scene from Hans Christian Andersen’s Emperor’s New Clothes, where the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new (invisible) clothes. It was like no one dared to question the quality or authenticity of this piece and I felt like I imagine many others did, that one child that cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

All in all, Ingrid Winterbach may be a superb visual artist and award-winning novelist, but as far as writing dramatic text (of which this was her first), all I can say is, don’t quit your day job just yet dear.

I give it only a half a stamp of approval, solely for the performance of Leanna Dreyer, who played Braam’s wife, and for the simple, yet effective set design.

One word can sum up this theatrical experience: Spyt.