Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Heinrich Riesenhofer

Crazy, funny Puppet Asylum

I must be honest, I was a bit dof and didn’t connect the dots that Conrad Koch’s Puppet Asylum was basically the same show My Pro Doll and Neuro Friends, but with a totally different title, and I saw it in Jozi when I was there in August. It is hard for me to see a show twice (unless it’s improv of course) and I had quite a few misgivings when I arrived at The Baxter for opening night last night.

I had nothing to worry about. Yes the set, structure and theme is the same, but this show has been nipped, tucked, shaped, and it has tidied up really, really well. (I can’t say cleaned up because it is absolutely, totally filthy actually). Set in a ‘puppet asylum’, three of the puppets are there, working with Conrad and a doctor on the phone, to help get over their puppet issues. The famous Chester Missing is there. Hilary the aging cabaret star ostrich (who looks exactly like Sybil Sands) is in rehab, and Ronnie, the green monster kid is in a box. They all have outings where Conrad tries to help them with their problem puppet stuff.

Conrad is an amazing ventriloquist, who has honed his skill really well over the years. His craft is slick, and he really pulls it off by being not only fast with doing all the different voices, sometimes in the same sentence, but also by being a good puppeteer. His puppets really come to life.

I love Chester Missing because I love Conrad’s political take, and because Chester is a great vehicle for that voice. Conrad understands perfectly how far a ‘coloured’ puppet can go (very) in dissing the current political status quo on all sides, while Conrad himself remains the voice of reason and moderation. I find Hilary hilarious, especially in her interaction with the audience (which I won’t spoiler here), and Ronnie is a complete crowd pleaser. These characters allow Conrad to showcase his skill, wit and stagecraft brilliantly.

Director Heinrich Reisenhofer has worked hard and well to develop this show and it has come such a long way since I last saw it. I have two little niggles. I think Conrad was nervous last night (being opening who could blame him) so the first intro felt a little forced and childish. Also, I wish the dialogue and repartee with each character was more markedly different; they all get into the same style of “yes I can”, “no, please” conversations. But, niggles they are.

I like that this show straddles stand-up, puppetry, ventriloquism and theatre. I like Conrad. I like Ronnie. I love Chester. Pretty good going. In my 2012 “call to action” campaign, this is a show I feel absolutely comfortable about saying “GO”.


CA 12-6, Cape Town Revisited

The bar at Artscape’s Arena theatre does not help this show. Last night I came through the main venue where hordes of sparkly, well dressed and lit Afrikaans people dripped over railings waiting to get in to Mannetjies Rue, and The Arena around the corner felt like theatre hell. The door was closed on account of the weather! The miserable barman showed me the two kinds of red wine they had, from horrible labels with screw-top bottles. I passed. (It’s a theatre bar without sherry). There was no music. It smelled of toilets. When I think of The Arena’s heyday, it was the kind of place you could even go to after a show somewhere else in Cape Town, to hang out with the cast of some production or other. You could even dance to the loud music until after midnight in that seedy little black bar. It was a great place to start your own CA 12-6.

Up the stairs I went, too early, because I didn’t want to stay in the foyer. And I’m so glad I did. It gave me a chance to absorb and tweet about Alfred Rietmann’s delicious set. Scaffolding and railings threaded with neon strip lights, still off and dull for the pre-show. A bar, threaded with fairy lights. Dead man body outlines painted in white on an otherwise black, black  set. I got shivers of theatre anticipation. Yes, I thought. Then the house lights went down, the strip lights came on, and it was beautiful.

CA 12-6 is a devised production, directed by Heinrich Reisenhofer with the Siyasanga Company for Artscape. There is something old fashioned about this style of devised production, reminding me of work I did at drama school all those years ago, reminding me of productions with Mark Fleishman, reminding me of one he devised and directed about the prostitutes of Cape Town…but. Back to the here and now.

In a series of partly interconnected monologues, six actors share their Cape Town night lives with the audience. I was literally taken to the streets of my Cape Town jauling past by them, and I could smell the streets, smoke, clubs, bars, hangouts long gone. I heard the music, shared the conversations shouted at The Lounge, now Zula Bar, the drinks at clubs, the drives, the parking, the pool, the whores, the late night snacks. This production is totally evocative and true, true true.

I loved Anele Sithulweni. Ok, I am biased because I think he is one shit hot young actor. I loved his story, his take, his angle, his action; young black boy from ekasi who has made good and has ‘access’. I loved the honest way his character bridged the city and the township and the painful identity issues it evoked. I loved the questions he asked, and how he answered them. I loved his vision of a night on the town, from Camps Bay to The Bronx, from Long Street to the taxi rank. Mostly, I loved his moves.

I loved Zondwa Njokweni’s prostitute Honey. I heard from Anele after the show that she had ‘a source’ who she researched and it paid off in buckets. She is amazing. She picked two duds from the audience last night (one who wouldn’t come up, and one who tried to ‘act’) and she still pulled it all off. Loved her.

I enjoyed Lee Roodt’s stand-up comic, although I wasn’t sure he felt like he was in the same play sometimes. Stylistically it jarred. Michael Inglis’s character, the accidental photographer and night time voyeur felt like he had to carry the weight of the play (and I’m not sure that he did, or had to, it just felt like that). His character was from Joburg, and I think he needed to be more from Joburg. Both him and Melissa Haiden were ok in their parts but they were slightly shown up by Anele and Zondwa who were so truly connected. Frans Hamman played puppeteer to a street child puppet and he was the least successful of all, which was a little disappointing because of the amazing visual promise his appearance set up. All the way through he slinks and crawls around the edges of vision, an image of the ever present homeless on Cape Town’s street, with what looks like a miserable baby in his arms. Scary and sad. Unfortunately his puppet skills weren’t great and his monologue was a bit disjointed.

That’s the detail of it, which only gives half a picture. The lovely thing about this show is that I was immersed. I enjoyed watching it. I was irritated that some audience members left, until I realised that for them the subject matter might be a bit rough, and I hadn’t even schemed of it! It is an evocative, gritty, intelligent, connected piece of home grown, totally Cape Town piece of shivery live theatre. Fight against the difficult title, the horrible bar and the fact that things are quiet on a Cape Town winter’s night. Go. See. It. Let’s relive CA 12-6.

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