Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Dicky Longhurst

Romping Taming of The Shrew

Last night was my annual trip to the suburban bush, for Shakespeare among the trees. Maynardville is a treasured institution of Cape Town, and, for some, I imagine it’s their only theatrical trip of the year. That’s why it’s important for me that the experience is a good one. It’s Shakespeare, and a bad production can put someone off for good.

I met friends before the show and we picnicked on the lawn. I made sushi and picnic salad pockets (but that’s a discussion for another blog) and we listened to the actors warming up, and then we all filed in to take our seats under the stars. For the last almost ten years I have managed to make sure I was invited to opening night of the yearly Maynardville, but this year there was a double glitch so last night I sat down with Cape Town’s general public. It was a treat. (One of the things I have been really good about is not reading what anyone else thought about the production so I could have a very open mind.) Before the lights went down a young woman behind me told the Wikipedia summary of the story to her quite inebriated and very jolly boyfriend. It was a wonderful summary, for in case the story was difficult to follow, but she had nothing to worry about.

Now, I need to say a few things about the actual play. I can totally take or leave the Taming of the Shrew. No, actually, I would rather just leave it. It is not my favourite Shakespeare play. I have never before seen a successful production of it (I remember a particularly laborious one at Artscape many, many years ago). I think it’s because often the production gets seriously bogged down with the terrible responsibility of trying to manage the sexism and misogyny inherent in the story. Well, the huge success of this production is that it doesn’t take this on! There is a “who cares?” attitude about it that allows it to be silly, comedic and clever without a smidgeon of high horse or excuses. What follows is a story that is clear if not ridiculous, performances that are delicious if not serious, and spectacle that can be enjoyed without any analysis.

Director Roy Sargeant has done a really good job, particularly in these areas: He has cut the script brilliantly. The story skips along and makes total sense, and he has managed to keep all the important bits in. He has taken a concept and style and setting that works really well with the text and has run with it. This makes the production brave and cheeky (although the Seffefrican beginning and end is unnecessary and a bit clumsy) and, from an audience point of view, delightful and accessible. He has not for one moment been bogged down with the issues of the story. It is as if he had a ‘whatever’ attitude. And it works.

The other thing that Roy did brilliantly is the casting. This is a delicious cast. Anthea Thompson and Grant Swanby, the leads, are fabulous. Anthea is brilliant, with her ability to send up, be ironic, really speak the language and give it shtick. She was my nine year old friend’s favourite. And what a relief to see a more mature Kate, giving the story more credbility. Grant is delicious, relaxed, flowing and gorgeous to watch and listen to. Then there is the next tier of characters and actors. I am going to list my favourites, Mark Hoeben is brilliant. Brilliant. I loved every moment of him on stage. Francis Chouler is really, really good. He totally got the character right from the start. Darron Araujo is amazing. He is hilarious and delightful. Adrian Galley is wonderful; easy, warm, funny and great. Nobody was bad. And John Caviggia as the widow was hilarious and mad. Even the teeny, non-speaking parts were well performed, and special mention must be made of the lion puppeteers who were outstanding.

The great thing of having a small(ish) cast is that the production didn’t suffer from the big parts being played by actors who are good at Shakespeare and the smaller ones not managing. With this cast I heard and understood every single word. I can’t tell you how important this is for me.

Dicky Longhurst’s designs are delicious. The Italian circus styling, retro combined with modern cheeky Rome, is sumptuous and gorgeous, and fun to look at. That lion puppet was magnificent. (My only quibble was Richard Lothian’s blue one piece which was his costume from A Circus Side Show. At least make one change to it. It’s mine!). Faheem Bardien’s lighting is awesome. His tent of fairy lights is especially delightful and magical. And the shlocky Italian retro pop pre-show and interval music is my best!

This production offers a non-snobby, totally accessible, fun, beautiful to look at, exciting Shakespeare. If Shakespeare makes you nervous, this is the one to see.

Fleur du Cap, fun, feast, faux pas

I’m supposed to be asleep; it’s a public holiday after all, but the Distell red has woken me I think. And my feet are a bit swollen from those damn shoes.

Last night was the Fleur du Cap awards and this year I was a proper nominee, which basically meant preparing an outfit in advance. Big Friendly chose my shoes, which looked great, gave me the extra height, but were impossible to actually live in.

As usual it was a pretty glam affair, with lots of air kissing on arrival. All the nominees I spoke to beforehand gave away their insecurities by saying how much they hated these kinds of things, but I could see their eyes sparkling.

Off we went for the ceremony and show. This year’s offering was directed by Hennie van Greunen, the director of Die Naaimasjien (winner of best new SA script and Best Actress Sandra Prinsloo), and on the whole I think he did a really nice job; it was quite short with a great opening number. I have to say though, I felt like he didn’t really know his Cape Town audience. I got the feeling that the whole thing had been put together and rehearsed up country and then shipped down for the night. Luckily, most of the presenters of the awards (actors and others) made up for it. My favourites were kept for last; Soli Philander and Helen Zille! They were brilliant, hilarious and totally entertaining. I had no idea she had it in her! (The same can’t be said for old Fiona Coyne, who did not exactly embrace the generous spirit of handing over awards!)

There were two awards that I was absolutely delighted about. Tara Louise Nottcutt’s award for Best New Director, and Angels on Horseback’s award for Best Performance in a Cabaret. And Rob Murray for Best Lighting. Naturally, I was disappointed that none of the ones I was associated with won; especially for Dicky Longhurst and Alfred Rietmann, both nominated in the same category, Best Set Design, for Noah of Cape Town and The Tent.

The big mess of the evening for me was the damn voice over announcing Noah of Cape Town in the category of Best New South African Script. It was a hellova voice over, that went on for ever, pronounced my name wrong (twice!) and then announced Jacqui Singer as the director of the show. What a disgrace! Surely not! Surely every singe piece of material had the right Jaci de Villiers down as the director! Surely. I’m still a bit bitter actually.

Soli and Helen put me back in the mood though. They rocked. Then it was back into the fray to chow and drink. I was very well behaved and didn’t overdo it for once in my life. Big Friendly was so excited by the dessert tables he got stage fright! At a totally respectable 10.30pm we (I) hobbled up those endless stairs, thinking of everything I need to do this year to make sure I get to go to next year’s one!

Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards

The nominations for the Fleur du Cap theatre awards are going to be public this morning; in about an hour, so the idea of speculating is ridiculous, and yet! I have butterflies. Will Noah of Cape Town be nominated, and if yes, for what? How do you choose performers from an ensemble cast like that? Obviously I believe that Jaci de Villiers was the best director of the year (if not the decade) and Dicky Longhurst’s design was beyond spectacular and Mannie Manim’s lighting took the production into the stratosphere, but hey, I am a bit biased.

We’ll know at 9 this morning!

Noah is coming

TEST04 I can’t believe it but it’s true. In just over two months Noah of Cape Town, the most brilliant, original, local, never before done, futuristic, a capella musical opens at The Baxter. For me and Graham Weir, the writers of this magnum opus, it is the realisation of a dream long in the manifesting. We started writing it about eight years ago, when 2012 still seemed quite far into the future. (We’ve had to keep pushing that date forward!)

In 2005 the Cantata version was staged as part of Artscape‘s New Writings Programme, and that’s what gave us the kernel of possibility that the full, sixteen member version might, in this lifetime, still happen. And ‘strues bob, thanks to the belief, commitment and backing of Simon Cooper, Noah of Cape Town is in the final stages of getting the cast absolutely finalised. Graham and I are frantically doing rewrites. Jaci de Villiers our most awesome and visionary director is coming soon. Dicky Longhurst is wikkeling with set. Amanda Tiffin is transcribing and working on the music while Graham (who has composed and written all the music) is writing and composing some more. And naturally there is all sorts of stuff happening behind the scenes to get this monster up and running.

Rehearsals start on Monday, which means everybody will need to have a script by then.

Watch this space, and all the other spaces. Noah of Cape Town is coming.

As I Liked It

Off to a perfect evening for opening night at Maynardville I went last night for As You Like It, directed by Geoffrey Hyland. It’s a jolly good production and I had a jolly good time. This is a great way to do Shakespeare; picnic on the lawns, have a glass or two of Distell’s finest, cover yourself in mozzie repellant and take in a bit of the old bard.

As You Like It is a bit of a nothing play, but what made this production work was that it was so easy to follow and that the funny bits were really quite funny, which is actually the hardest thing to do in Shakespeare as far as I’m concerned.

I have lots and lots of good things to say about this production, and only a few complaints, and they are small in comparison, I have to say.

Firstly, I know Geoff is really good at visuals and visual design of a show but here it really goes further and his concept for the show is very strong. The heavy, restricted and rather gloomy and oppressive court is Gothic and boldly visual with blacks and reds. Then, to the forest of Arden where everyone floats about in hippy floral in the pastoral Ashram in the woods. Delicious. And very funny.

I loved the opening dance sequence, choreographed by magician Jay Pather. I was a bit sad when it ended and we had to go through the opening introduction scenes which are always a pain; lots of explaining to get the story going. And it was a bit heavy going until the crowd scenes which lifted the whole thing up. Claire Watling stole the show as Madame Le Beau, with her perfect comic timing, outrageous costume and madly restoration voice and accent. It was good that she did steal the show because, the first half is not nearly as much fun as the second, and she was the comic relief. In fact, at half-time I was not loving the play as much as I did at the end.

The second half was great and it gave my favourite performers and characters time to bloom and flourish, They were the absolutely surprising and delightful Mark Elderkin as Touchstone, who was properly funny, spoke the Shakespeare like it was his native tongue and was magnetic, charming, camp and huge, the consummately talented Guy de Lancy as Jaques the melancholy traveller, who is by far the guy who speaks Shakespeare the best, and his famous ‘all the world’s a stage’ speech was impeccable, Gys de Villiers who played the bad guy Duke Frederick in the first half and totally contrasted him with the love machine, guru leader with the voice, Duke Ferdinand in the forest. The smaller parts were also too delicious. Nicola Hanekom‘s Phoebe and Pakamisa Zwedala‘s Silvius were delightful and funny, as was enormous Adrian Galley as the no-frills shepherd Corin. I have to mention Paul Savage’s second character ‘Sir Oliver Martext, a free spirited but questionable priest’ as one of the funniest teeniest cameos I have ever seen.

The hardest parts to play are the romantic leads. It’s hard to take them seriously. They recover unbelievably quickly from the terrible things that happen to them, make decisions in the blink of an eye and fall in love at first glimpse. It’s just so hard to care about them, and they aren’t really funny either. Having said that, I thought that Lika Berning as Rosalind was terrific. She was clear, comfortable and totally present, especially in her boy disguise. Matching her, as her cousin and side kick Celia, was the delicious, clear and so beautiful Astara Mwakalumbwa. The only thing I thought that really could have helped these two a lot was a bit more cutting of their scenes which were long and repetitive. They do go on about not much for quite a bit. It was Andrew Laubscher as Orlando who suffered the most though. He had the terrible job of starting the show off and he just didn’t manage it for me. Granted, his character is the poor, love-lorn dweeb! (I know this is rude, but when I saw Scott Sparrow in the bar afterwards I thought about how good he would have been in that part.)

The ensemble worked like a dream, and even those who had little or nothing to say were fab. I smaaked the hippy folky songs and was amazed at how well everybody danced! Wow guys. The zulu wedding ending was very lekker.

I found the guy-with-the-stick a bit irritating though, even though we ‘got’ what he was doing. Also, although the set looked good and I loved the fiery crosses in the court, the funny poles in the forest were not terribly successful and the one did look like it was going to tip over.

There were two other things I loved about the production that made it for me: Dicky Longhurst‘s costume design (I can’t believe he had the girls in beautiful red ball gowns and sparkly red stilettos in the first half!) was amazing, and William Baker‘s original music was fabulous.

I can’t wait to see and hear what everyone else thought of this one. Go and see it and let me know.

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