Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Category: show reviews (Page 2 of 46)

Dani And The Lion – why I breathe

11015775_10155874538220525_4684693933954421769_nSometimes a show comes along that makes me feel everything. Sometimes a show comes along that I see more than once and want to see again. This time it is Dani And the Lion, on at The Alexander Bar until the end of the week.

I don’t know why this is the show that touches me in all the right places, the laughing place and crying place and sharing place and amazement place. Maybe because it is so deeply original. Maybe because it is silly and painful and hilarious and quirky. Maybe it is because Daneel van der Walt (and Roelof Coelyn also) is one of my favourite performers ever.

Daneel’s original songs are so beautiful and strange. A bit like Tom Waits lyrics crossed with Joe Jackson melodies and Eartha Kitt vocals. Not like that, but reminding me of that. Daneel’s stories would be heartbreaking if they weren’t so touchingly funny. She makes me love her and want to be her, and she inspires me, and I want to see this show again and again. You should see it. You have 4 more chances. Go tomorrow.

PS. I don’t ‘review’ shows anymore, but this is an exceptional exception.

Life is a Cabaret (but the world wants Disney)

Cabaret-03I don’t know why I have ended up at matinees at The Fugard twice in a row. I should have learned my lesson the last time, at David Kramer’s Orpheus in Africa, where all I wanted to do was kill the people around me, with their sweets and things in wrappers and coughing and cellphones and generally disgusting behaviour. I walked into the gorgeous Fugard foyer yesterday, took one look at the special matinee audience and felt sick. A Saturday matinee audience is the worst collection of old and deaf, parents and children, out of towners who don’t want to drive home too late, and me. So, what I am about to say about this extraordinary production of Cabaret is tainted by who I experienced it with. Just so you know.

As you, dear meganshead readers, are aware, I made a deliberate and hard choice not to write review style posts about theatre anymore. It stopped working for me, for many reasons (written about here in old posts). So it is interesting that I am returning to it so passionately with this show; mainly because I feel emboldened and want to declare why I thought this production was superb, on many levels, and why it is exactly this that has been its failure.

Matthew Wild’s vision for this production is dangerous and beautiful. His design is awesome, and his choices are strong. But, even just mounting this production was a huge risk for the hero director of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and The Fugard management, who must have wanted to come up with a successor to Rocky. Initially I questioned the choice. There have been recent productions of Cabaret to compare it to, and of course there is the dangerously dated Liza Minelli movie that has locked this story into that version. Ok, so Rocky suffered the same conditions, but Rocky is fun, and outrageous, and cheeky and naughty (in that join in ‘I can be a little naughty too’ way). Cabaret is dark. Cabaret is proper horror. Cabaret is bleak, and historical, and complicated, and tragic. In a nutshell, it is not fun. This is a problem that many musicals face, but there is the promise of fun in Cabaret and I think it is what people remember. Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles; a ditzy, big-eyed innocent who just loves to be on stage, is what people remember. Cabaret has been disneyfied in memory.

Before the show even started I became aware of the loudness of the gran and her friend next to me, and the clacking of the ice in the miserable teenager’s plastic cup in front of me. “Ooh look, it says Berlin!” said the gran to her friend after repeating word for word the typing as it appeared on the scrim. Clack clack clack went the ice. Everything was more or less ok until the first boy on boy kiss. Then the gran got loudly disgusted and I knew we were in for it. They didn’t even know the story. And, unfortunately, this is how it was for most of the audience; some of whom didn’t even make it back after the long first half.

Charl-Johan Lingenfelder’s performance of the emcee is totally inspired. He is a marvel in this role. It is a performance that is multi-layered, disciplined, articulate, magnetic and riveting, as well as beautiful, painful and exquisite. He moves from being charming and bold to horrifying and then exhausted, and every moment is a commentary on the world his character inhabits. And he plays the piano accordion. And he sings like a demon angel, and he dances his ass off. It is almost unbelievable.

The rest of this superb cast are extraordinary too. Everyone. Claire Taylor’s interpretation of Life is a Cabaret is the best I have ever seen. I thought everyone was fantastic. I loved the choreography, and styling and costumes, and I even loved the set (although it was a bit clunky).

This well thought out, clever, harsh, bleak, challenging show is not cute, or sentimental, or full of heart. It is ugly and raw. The girls are too thin. The boys are cruel. The main characters are complicated failures; the world is on its head. The choreography is clever; sordid but context conscious. The protagonists are weaklings, and self-absorbed. Nobody is loveable. The closest we get to liking someone is the Nazi sympathiser. He is personable. How clever. How complicated.

It is no secret that I am not a fan of musicals. The singing always gets in the way of everything. And in the real acting scenes here this is a great challenge. Also, the acting scenes are dated. They are old fashioned and long. This is also a huge challenge that I think has been handled boldly and bravely, but it is a high risk choice for a Disney ready audience. They want it offered to them. They don’t want to do a stitch of work.

I think this production is the best Cabaret I have seen. But, during the interval, in the toilet queue I heard old ladies complaining that it was too weird, and one old lady said, ” I’ve seen it twice before and this isn’t the same.” That is what they wanted it to be; the same as something they remembered.

So here we are. Between a rock and a very hard place. Thank you for this amazing but totally misunderstood piece.

(I think Jesse Kramer took this pic that I lifted from the Fugard website)


And Chomi

chomimainLast night I went to Artscape again, making it two nights in a row, to see another of the season of new writing’s offerings, Chomi. And it was an absolute treat being in the audience. The play is a young, black, gay, South African stage version of Friends/Sex And the City and it was cute and funny and moving and generally entertaining and delightful. The performances were good, the direction was very solid indeed, and the sound and lights were spot on. But the absolutely best part of the show was being in that audience. 1. It was a totally mixed audience, reflecting a much lovelier and more authentic Cape Town than I have generally seen in Cape Town, and certainly at Artscape. Yay! 2. They/we were so vocal. It was almost interactive. People oohed and aahed, laughed and expressed their disapproval, even said ‘amen’ at the end of a prayer. It was fantastic. 3. It was an audience who, for the most part, were exposed to pretty raunchy, sexy and gay stuff, and there were deep breaths of conservative shock that turned into acceptance while we sat there. Now, I think that is what makes true, meaningful theatre. The kind that after one hour  might shift opinion, change minds, and open hearts forever.

Chomi is on for two more shows on Friday so check out the Artscape website for details.

Waiting to become something

I am sad that I haven’t been more active here on my blog. I have had tons of stuff flying through my brain, and the desire to write is still strong, but I have had a lack of focus or intent ever since I stopped writing about the theatre I was watching. The really strange thing is that I have been less open to theatre since I have stopped writing about it. Maybe I am just looking at it a lot less analytically. I just haven’t been moved, elevated or inspired by anything theatrical lately. That is until this last Saturday night when I was arm-twisted into staying for the second half of a double bill at The Theatre Arts Admin Collective, a dance piece called UnMute.

Now, those who have read me or know me know that dance is my Greek. I don’t get it, read it or speak it. I am frustrated by it mostly, and generally find the art of modern dance painfully pretentious and self absorbed. So this is why I wasn’t in the mood at all.

Well, blow my brain open with a feather. From the very first moment of Laurie Anderson’s O Superman which began Andile Vellem’s piece I started weeping and that was it. Four dancers; Andile Vellem, Themba Mbuli, Nadine McKenzie and Zama Sonjica took me to a place I have seldom been before and transformed me emotionally and theatrically. I don’t know what else to say about the 30 minutes of moving magic. It was a piece that simultaneously took me out of myself and connected me to myself in the most special, organic way. I loved it. And I can’t help writing about it a little bit.

In the meantime I guess meganshead is in process. It is waiting to become something. It is waiting to become something else.

Thoughts and realisations

So, last week was a power one for me, mainly because of the completely overwhelming response I got from friends and strangers to Drive With Me. Powerful too was that I was, without too much effort, able to get three little full houses to see my show. Compared to Grahamstown this was a real success, and on a deeply personal level I was able to bury the disaster that the festival was, and rebirth Drive With Me into recognition, being visible and appreciated. I definitely feel more hopeful, proud, encouraged and fulfilled after a magnificent short time at Alexander Bar.

But this triggered another really big deeply personal realisation about me and what I do. And it has to do with this blog. My initial inspiration and motivation (back in 2007, can you believe?) was to write review style posts about the theatre I saw. I was immediately controversial, and this also meant readable. Every time I wrote a review post my readership spiked, people left comments, I was agreed with, passionately disagreed with, fought with and I was even part of a theatre scandal that took me ages to recover from as well as a recipient of a deeply personal dressing down by a friend, for something that I unintentionally did to hurt her. In all this I continued writing about theatre, and defending my position, but I didn’t make the connection, even though I was warned about how inappropriate it was for me to ‘piss where I slept’. People loved reading what I had to say about other theatre, but didn’t want to see the theatre I would make. I was the person people loved to hate. It crept up on me, getting worse and worse every time I tried to rustle up an audience for something I was involved in. My tragic experience in Grahamstown brought all of this into sharp focus, and while there is no doubt I was paranoid, desperate and most invisible, I also felt like I wasn’t doing myself any favours by writing about theatre at the same time as making it. I could manage the contradiction but people in the industry couldn’t, and made it known by actively not supporting me.

It was very hard to decide to stop writing about other people’s work, and I had to wean myself off it. At first I couldn’t resist writing about stuff that I loved, convinced I would be able to help it get an audience.I decided that I would only write about things I loved, but of course it was obvious then what I didn’t love, by the absence of writing. I also had to take responsibility for being on a few opening night invitation lists. I was being invited as if I were a critic. I was much more valuable as part of a publicity campaign for others, than as a producer of my own work. Eina. A hard lesson.

And now the challenge has been to reestablish myself as a player. I write, perform, direct and make theatre. I won’t write about other people’s theatre any more. I am sorry it has taken me so long to get to this place, but I am suddenly so much more at ease. I will heartily recommend stuff I enjoy, and I will also write about my thoughts and experiences of the industry in general. And, so, it is time to get your honest response, reader. What do you think?

The Frontiersmen

I knew we were in for it when we walked through the door. The safe, sexy black box of Alexander Upstairs looked like it had been trashed, stripped and left hollow. The dim light of dusk was slipping through the very office like blind. It looked nasty, but that was nothing. When Yuri and Shane entered the space in white suits drenched in blood and the first thing that happened was a toxic release in the corner… I had no illusions about how hard core it was going to get. Still I was shocked. Still I found it hard to swallow.

Louis Viljoen has written a savage little drama that is unbearably bleak, witty, hideous and terrifying. I am scared about the shit that is in his head. If this is really the world we inhabit then I am a naive bunny hippy. Shit on toast! Greg Karvellas directs the most outstanding performances from Mark Elderkin and Nicholas Pauling. I have to admit it was a lot like seeing a particularly gruesome accident and being fascinated by it. No, I did not enjoy it, but yes, I thought it was rather brilliant. (I thought it was much, much better than Champ.) I had no idea that property developers were that far gone, but I should have known.

I see Mamet, Sarah Kane, Tarrantino, Berkoff influences here, only Louis takes it all to new extremes. Brilliant and hectic dialogue, intense monologues and radical ideas. You need to have the stomach for it, and I’m not sure I do. My breakfast is sitting uncomfortably this morning. Still, I think it was pretty amazing.

Apparently a regular Alexander patron wanted to cancel all his future bookings after seeing it. I had an old couple sitting in front of me last night and I was occasionally embarrassed that we were sharing the space. The Frontiersmen. Not for sissies.

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