Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Matthew Wild

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)

 

Special Special Thanks to Guests from Afar

The drought has been broken. Last week I saw three not good things in a row. I was feeling like theatre was the emperor and it was wearing no clothes and the people were praising because they were too scared to say what they thought. But last night definitely restored my faith.

I went to see the first preview of Nicholas Spagnoletti’s new play Special Thanks to Guests from Afar (I have been kicked off the opening night invite list after years of attending everything at Artscape’s New Writing Programme – probably for writing about  a production I didn’t like) and it was like drinking from a fresh new glass.

Special Thanks is about old South African friends attending a wedding in a weird little spot in Germany. Two good friends and the brother of the groom hook up for some interesting discovery stuff about themselves and each other and it is a really funny, touching, wacky and lovely script.

The best part about the production (especially since it is the first outing of the play) is that it feels like such a successful collaboration. Visible is the crazy funny sensitive hand of the director, Matthew Wild (Matthew I have got to get my hands on some of that weird German folk music! Ehrmagherd!) , the gorgeous cast of Nicholas Dallas, Gideon Lombard and Chi Mhende, fab designers Angela Nemov and Alfred Rietmann, and of course Nicholas.

I love how Nicholas has chosen three really strange and interesting characters to bring to life. They are not the marriage couple, or even the best friends. They are the strange “what do we do with them?” bunch. “Adults who will sit at the children’s table.” The brother of the groom (Lombard) is even weirder. Go and see why.

These delicious actors are going to have a ball, the minute they realise that this production works. They are already busy with such lovely nuance and it’s going to be fabulous to watch them grow. I think this one is a winner. Bravo.

Kung Fu The Comedy of Errors

A big new breeze, a fresh young wind has blown into Maynardville with director Matthew Wild and his creative team at the helm of this year’s Shakespeare in the park. The most exciting thing about this production is how young it is. Let’s face it; Maynardville is an institution, and coupled with the fact that it’s an annual Shakespeare, it pulls serious weight. So a young, new generation of theatre people is so welcome to shake it around a bit. Did they? Almost.

Last night the park looked so pretty with the chinese lanterns and lights and I loved the White Rabbit sweets, chinese fortune cookies (and completely irrelevantly, The Creamery ice cream).

Then we took our seats as the sun went down for some The Comedy of Errors. This is so difficult for me to ‘review’ for a number of reasons, but the main one is that I saw the National Theatre production in London not two months ago, and I can’t help comparing, which is totally, ridiculously unfair. The Comedy of Errors was also one of my first Maynardville experiences, which I remember unbelievably clearly. Soli Philander was in it and it was done Asterix style.

So, I thought, how about two lists, of things I loved and liked and things I didn’t like or didn’t work for me.

I loved the concept. I think the Kung Fu theme and the execution of it was delicious, iconic, modern and funky. The detail of the design (Angela Nemov), costumes (but not so much the girls’ ones), the styling, the actual Kung Fu and the music was fabulous. I loved the second half which was jolly and rompy and Kung Fuey. The school kids will go crazy. I loved Rob van Vuuren and James Cairns as the set of Dromio twins. They were brilliant. In fact, I’ll come right out and say it, Rob stole the show. Literally. He was the best thing in it, on it and through it. I will never, ever forget his explanation of how fat Nell was. James was his perfect twin. Lovely. I loved Andrew Laubscher as Antipholus of Ephesus. He was just the right mix of arrogance, frustration, speed and wit to be hilarious. I enjoyed Stephen Jennings as Egeon and his opening speech was warm and truthful and set the right tone. I also enjoyed Chi Mhende as Solinus. She was still, commanding and clear, with a gorgeous voice. I could hardly believe she was huge, fat Nell as well – a total transformation. I enjoyed Francesco Nassimbeni’s Angelo a lot. His character, the cockney-crooked foreigner-doing deals in China was totally slimily typical, down to his cotton socks in sandals (although I did worry for his voice). I loved the fact that I could hear and understand every single word on stage, and mostly get the meaning of the Shakespearian (having Liz Mills as voice coach was a genius move). I loved the silent basket merchants, carefully placed with their stock for eating, and fighting. I loved the fighting. And the sound effects. And the omnipresent, cute and quirky DJ (Nieke Lombard).

Things I did not love. I thought that it was all a little bit too serious, especially in the first half. I know, that’s when you have to set the scene, but I think the first half was handled too carefully, making it a bit slow and brooding. I did not love the fifty million accents. None of that made sense for me, especially that the sisters Adriana (Sonia Esgueira) and Luciana (Frances Marek) had two different accents.There was Italian, old fashioned Chinese, send-up Chinese, posh English, standard English and a kind of Kung Fu Chinese and it was too much. I did not totally love Nicholas Pauling as Antipholus of Syracuse. Though his performance was clear and well delivered, it was too serious and slow and considered to fit the comedy, and it was out of whack. I was disappointed that in the gorgeous styling there was the choice to have cloth sea. I hate cloth sea, especially if the cloth is too short to make like water. Ban cloth sea I say. I did not love the immovability of the set. Although I loved what it looked like I thought it was underused and a bit overbearing.

My advice to the cast, especially in the first half, is to find the funny. The play is a ridiculous case of Shakespearian mistaken identity. Let’s get there as fast as possible.

In a nutshell. Yes there is a fresh new wind at Maynardville. Did it blow my wig off my head? No. But the gentle wind does bring with it some pleasant possibility of change. I love the youth, effort, commitment, courage and flair of a brave new thing.

 

Mostly mesmerising Interrupting Henry

I finally got to Artscape this evening to see Interrupting Henry, the second play in Artscape’s New Writing Season; there have been a series of misses resulting in me not getting there sooner. It’s written by Myer Taub, directed by Matthew Wild, and designed by Angela Nemov with music by Shaun Michau and lighting by Faheem Bardien.

Interrupting Henry is about a new drama teacher who tries to put on The Diary of Ann Frank as the school play and he gets into a bit of trouble with the rigid school staff and the normal school rules and regulations. The problem is that this isn’t very fleshed out in the script so it doesn’t have much emotional weight or resonance. Nonetheless, the story and it’s execution are very entertaining.

Things I loved about the play: The Set. Angela created an amazing set that was interesting, had great, shifting perspective, excellent usability and great colours. The lighting. It completely worked. The sound and music; it was haunting, rousing, big and contemporary. Ivan Abrahams as Samuels. He was hilarious, complex and totally delightful as the onbewus, typical headmaster. Julia Anastasopoulos as Elsa Brown. I love watching Julia on stage.

Things I didn’t like: Teresa Iglich as Smith. Sorry, don’t get her. Bits of the script that worked too hard or too little at making sense or delivering the issues. Travers Snyders. He brought very little to the role of Zed, the schoolboy. Vaneshran Arumugam as Henry. I think Vaneshran had an off night (I usually love him as an actor) but he seemed very unfocused and all over the place tonight.

I think the script needs to be developed. I remember being a stand-in teacher for Myer (the playwright) when he was a school drama teacher, so I see where he gets his inspiration but I think that the issues need to be brought to the fore in a more committed way.

Still, I really enjoyed watching it.

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