Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Faheem Bardien

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.

London Road

London Road_40 Last night was the ‘world premiere’, as Simon Cooper (owner of The Kalk Bay Theatre, theatre producer and all round theatre lover) proclaimed of Nicholas Spagnoletti’s play London Road. It was a glamorous affair at my favourite independent theatre in Cape Town.

I feel like I have already been on a long journey with London Road, having seen both staged play readings of the play over the years, so I felt like I knew what to expect from the characters and story. Wrong!

London Road is a two hander, set in sea Point. It is about the unlikely friendship that develops between Rosa (Robyn Scott), an old and sickly Jewish granny, and Stella (Ntombi Makhutshi), a Nigerian drug dealer. Lara Bye directs, with design by Craig Leo and lighting by Faheem Bardien.

I have to say that I cried. A lot. It is a very moving piece. Unexpectedly moving. And that is because this team of creators have done a fabulous job. Nicholas has written characters that any actress would die to play. Jealous is how I feel! Lara has teased out the script with Nicholas, making it subtle, poignant and very, very moving, and the actresses are completely brilliant. Craig Leo’s design, and by that I mean his magic drawers that bring out everything but the kitchen sink, is the perfect solution to the play.

Robyn Scott is a master of transformation. She becomes my great auntie Hilda. Rosa is so completely…Rosa. Her attention to detail, her weird little vocalisations, her make-up, her funny old lady sandals, her constantly moving little hand. She is a master. Ntombi Makhutshi is gorgeous, powerful and just so engaging. It is a treat to watch these two on stage.

I cannot think of a single reason why anyone in Cape Town shouldn’t see this play. It is proof that a play can grow, develop, be reworked and become something totally precious and beautiful. Bravo to all.

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