Posts Tagged ‘Review’

Hungry Little Fellow

Last week I viewed another splendid performance by a visual theatre group called Mummenschanz, which roughly translated means “masquerade” — and they were, the most lovable and excentric imposters ever. Having been performing for many years (since 1972), they are well-known for their imaginative and laugh-out-loud form of non-verbal theatre and has quite the reputation, so I did some poking about to read up on their history before I went to see their show.

It all started with three enthusiastic young people from Switzerland , Bernie Schürch, Andres Bossard, and Floriana Frassetto, who came together with a common goal:

To create a theatrical language that would transcend traditional barriers of nationality and culture in a fun and exciting way.

The Creators

Together they created some of the most magical beings and illusions of their time. With their extraordinary theatrical style they thrilled audiences at the Bijou Theatre on Broadway for 3 years, before taking their beloved figures and fantasy creatures on tour all over the world.

Familie Floz Group

This is the second time they have performed in South Africa, and I was eager to see how it compared to Restaurante Immortale, I had seen years prior, by one of my all time favourite visual theatre groups, the German Familie Floz Theatre Group. Restaurante Immortale took my breath away with their imaginative use of lighting, perfectly illuminating the actors’ oversized masks and altering their facial expressions throughout the performance. They also used body language, mood music and simple gestures to tell their story to the enraptured audience. Now I wanted to see if Mummenschanz would do the same.

Mummenschanz opened with a hand. Yes, that’s right, a hand — one actor, dressed in all black, except for one massive glove-like costume that covered more than half of their body. It communicated to the members of the audience without any words or music to set the mood, like some old friend who didn’t need to speak to get its message across. It went about opening curtains, waving at people, pointing, patting an audience member on the head and swallowing another whole.

Courtesy of

Slinky Slinky


The show continued with a wide variety of hilarious aliens and cuddly monsters, who completely entranced the audience (myself included). We found ourselves, grown adults mind you, doubling up with laughter on watching a brown blob attempting to climb onto a step. They came and went in different shapes, versatile face masks, three-dimensional sculptural heads, and other everyday objects and materials that had been turned into abstract costumes. There were cylindrical critters that played ball with the audience, bin bag men who had a punch-up, and black velvet lady, who needed the assistance of the audience to create her face with masking tape.

These wonderful things seemed to engage us in a wordless dialogue as they slid, wobbled and bounced about on stage. What was most impressive was the giant living blob that taunted the audience and then when the audience taunted back, it formed a large angry face and tugged at our heartstrings when it shyly turned away, only to be reduced to a deflated heap of rubber.

Face to Face

The optical illusions in this piece are excellent, the simplistic lighting was superb and the best of all was that all these creatures were performed by two of the original creators, Bernie Schürch and Floriana Frassetto, as well as Raffaella Mattioli and Pietro Montandon, who joined their company in 2000, after long-time friend and co-founder, Andres Bossard, passed away in 1992. They are incredibly fit for their age and their creativity astounds everyone who watches their dream world unfold on stage.


Mummenschanz is truly magical and easy viewing for all age groups. Even described by David Copperfield as being “truly magical”, this visual poem will leave you with a childish grin on your mug.

A special thanks to Baxter Theatre for a lovely night with many well deserved laughs. We hope to have many more!







A Colourful Dream

It’s hard to believe it has been 55 years since this beautiful venue showcased its first performance of Taming of the Shrew and, now, to have them come full circle by its modern reworking. Let me just tell you that I am very cautious of productions like this, especially ones that go to work reshaping a Shakespearian classic to fit a modern mould. More often than not, these types of productions lose the essence of the original piece and its intended meaning. So, let’s reflect back for a minute and ask ourselves; what was the essence of Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy at the time it was written?

The Background:

Well, like his other romantic comedies, The Taming of the Shrew focuses on courtship and marriage, but, unlike most of them, it devotes a great deal of attention to married life after the wedding. These Elizabethan upper class marriages were most often arranged for money, land, or power, rather than for love. Wealthy fathers would marry off their daughters to older gentlemen who offered them dowries of land and fortune, and, of course, the more beautiful, submissive women would be first choice among these men.

Dangerous Little Rodents

Now, this is where the “shrew” comes in. The term shrew is used to describe a woman with a violent, scolding or nagging temperament. Imagine being married to one of those in the late 16th to early 17th century, when divorce was unheard of and completely taboo. Wives who resisted or undermined the assumed authority of the husband within a marriage would naturally be the least attractive as a prospective wife.

Kiss Me Kate

Katherine Minola, or Kate, Shakespeare’s “shrew”, is a fiery young lady who protests against the very thought of being ruled by any man, even her father, Baptista. She makes a point of showing violent hostility toward the suitors her father had chosen for her and toward the very idea of marriage. But behind her hard outer shell is a soft under belly of insecurity, doubt, and jealousy toward her younger sister, Bianca. Pertruchio’s arrival from Verona stirs even more defiance in the Minola household, as he is immediately attracted to the challenge of taming this shrew of a woman, and turning her into a submissive and obedient wife.

Because of this, The Taming of the Shrew can easily be viewed as being chauvinistic and have, in the past, received much criticism that centres upon feminist ideology. But this is as a result of simply misunderstanding Shakespeare’s original intent, and ways of interpreting the play in light of changing views on the roles of women and the nature of marriage. The way I see it is that Pertruchio first fell in love with the challenge of “training” her into the perfect wife, but then as time passed, he fell in love with her and her passionate will. As his love for her became more and more apparent to her, it became easier for her to follow his lead. She knew he would take care of her and there was no need to fend for herself any longer. It’s a beautiful love story, written by a very talented playwright.

 My Experience of Taming of the Shrew at Maynardville:

Clowning Around

On arrival, my posse and I had a brief walk through the park area to where the open–air theatre was. The stage and audience’s seating area was surrounded by lush trees and shrubs, which, in turn, sheltered us from the blustery Cape Town wind during the show. It was particularly chilly that evening, so I was thrilled that we had remembered to bring warm clothing and a blanket we could huddle under. It’s always good to come prepared to these types of al fresco events. The plants and trees, however, did add a magical atmospheric feel to the whole place, which we wouldn’t have had had we been indoors.

The set was simple; no props or large furniture cluttered the stage, and all we could see were some fairy lights strung up from surrounding trees, a sign that said “bar”, and three stage entrances that had been discreetly camouflaged with green mesh. The show opened with a freshly South African feel to it as the story began with a drunk being thrown out of a bar and falling asleep on the pavement, only to be carried away by some colourful circus folk to the land of nod. Naturally this wasn’t in the original play, but added a nice touch to set things in motion and helped the audience ease into Shakespeare’s world. Thereafter we see the skilful work of director, Roy Sargeant, really come to life as Lucentio and his servant Tranio began to speak the words that had been written all those hundreds of years ago, yet were undeniably contemporary in both stance and attire. It seemed to gel together naturally and the actors seemed comfortable in conversation.

Father and Daughter

I especially enjoyed the simple, yet clever, use of sound and light in this production. The use of cymbals, drums, and other instrumental sound affects greatly enhanced the physical comedy aspect of the play and was especially effective to liven up a good phony kick or slap on stage. As expected, our prone-to-violence Kate dished out quite a few of these. The lights used for this play were minimal, but perfectly executed according to the mood of the each scene. A couple of parcans & profile lamps carefully positioned amongst the trees, the strung up fairy lights, as well as some UV lights, made the colourful costumes even more brilliant and created the illusion of place, atmosphere and time. So, bravo to Sydney Savage, the Lighting Operator, and Lynley Pillay, who was in charge of sound – I’m certain you did your director proud.

What I found particularly delightful about this production is the clear cut character differences. It wasn’t a case of identification by apparel, but each character had such distinct mannerisms, ways of moving about on stage, and the way they spoke, that they were clearly identifiable as well as memorable. The three characters that stood out most to me personally, where the flamboyant Tranio (played by Darron Araujo), the delightfully quirky clown, Grumio (played by Juliet Jenkin), and the Elvis of the evening, Hortensio (played by Daniel Barnett).

Roaring Success

One thing I did not expect was the beautifully crafted puppets that would be used during the show. It took three men to operate the breathtaking lion and one man to work the mischievous spaniel – pets of Pertrucio and an extra annoyance to the poor Kate. It added another dimension to the whole production and I found myself in awe of how realistic these puppets seemed. I couldn’t take my eyes off the exquisite big cat and just about forgot that it was being manoeuvred by a trio of skilled men.

The Conclusion:

Taking all of this into account, this production left me feeling completely satisfied, yet longing to experience more of their colourful world of dreams. It was the perfect balance between respecting the original text of the playwright and its meaning, and of the modern methods and flair of this exceptionally talented production team. The costumes were exquisite and the acting was suburb. Well done to you all and Encore!