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The Flying Dutchman

4 Feb

When I was younger, I had to do a project about myself and list my likes and dislikes. Under dislikes, amongst vegetables and bullies, I also listed opera music. Why this should be I don’t know – at the age of 11, the closest I had come to hearing opera music was probably  Les Mis (definitely not opera!). Luckily I went to see Rossini’s La Scala di Seta in 2009 and had my mind changed – it was delightful and funny and I really did enjoy the music.

I found myself at the Artscape Opera House on Saturday to see The Flying Dutchman by Wagner (yes, the one Hitler liked!). My first mistake was to wear jeans – apparently the patrons of the Cape Town Wagner Soceity do still dress for the opera and I was trying not to stand near the man in the white tuxedo and the woman in the fur coat! Fortunately there was a range of dress between the tuxedo and jeans, but I still felt rather out of place.

The overture was beautiful. There is something inspiring about hearing a live orchestra and I’m told the conductor, Kamal Khan, really knows his stuff. It set the mood of turbulent storms and tempestuous love to come (if you think I’m being melodramatic – you ain’t seen nothing yet!) As the curtain lifted, we were treated to visual effects of rippling sea water projected on to a screen to give us on the feeling of being at sea.

This is director Lara Bye’s third opera project. She certainly took the opera out of the 19th century with her use of interesting lighting, costume and set design – all by very talented theatre makers. As the opera is in German, subtitles were provided along with other multi-media effects throughout the show. Jon Keevy and Sanjin Muftic, of Yawazzi, certainly showed their talents for thinking outside the box. Who would every think that opera could be combined so successfully with modern technology?

The first act was clearly not for me. While the visual effects were stunning, the story was far too overboard and the Dutchman’s long solos consisted mostly of eternal damnation, suffering and hopelessness (really, he was rather self-indulgent!).

But then came the second act and Nkosazana Dimande. Wow. She sang the role of Senta and blew me away. She is currently studying in Sweden and her talent is obvious. If there was a danger of me falling asleep (I wouldn’t admit it if I did!) it was never while she was on stage. Matthew Overmeyer created real stage presence as the tossed aside lover, Erik, and his melodramatic attempts to win Senta were highly entertaining.

The liberetto by Wagner was by no means my favourite – his lyrics and melodies were too heavy for me, but The Flying Dutchman did receive a standing ovation from those far more knowledgeable than me. I would far rather see another Rossini operetta again as I will definitely be striking opera off my dislikes list and try to support Cape Town operas more in the future.

 

Unfortunately The Flying Dutchman was only performed for two nights, but upcoming operas in Cape Town include Bizet’s Carmen (I will be seeing this!) and Schicchi’s Suor Angelica, both at the Artscape.

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Nando’s Comedy Festival

1 Sep

Disclaimer: This review has been written by a prude who is proud of her brain!

Trevor Noah

Americans are loud, brash people. A generalisation yes, but one that enforced itself at the opening of this year’s Nando’s comedy festival. I was amazed at how different American humour is to the rest of the world’s : aggressive, loud and focused on sex. That being said Trevor Noah (South African comic extraordinaire – duh!) and Dave Thornton (Australian) stole the show for me, by showing that a sharp wit and insight are far funnier than the F-word and sex.

Ian Bagg was the formidable American MC of the event (though I’m sure I heard some “oots” and “aboots”). He rushes off his lines like an auctioneer or a boxing commentator and is focused on the audience. He clearly was not impressed by South Africans as he kept saying, “oops, I’ve gone too far.” I thought comedians are meant to be quick, but he kept making the same mistakes – rape and paedophile jokes are just not funny in South Africa. His funniest moments were those when he wasn’t trying to be funny – not knowing what M-net was he asked people if they had “an M-Net”. Oh dear. Well done to the sponsors for letting their starts know about their company! He popped up between each act and in the end I could tell he just wanted to go home!

Next up was Bobby Lee who clearly suffers from small man syndrome. He is loud, obnoxious and focused on his small pecker.  His style of comedy is classic stand-up, running from joke set to joke set. He was funny about his typically Korean father, but otherwise, again with the sex and the F-word. Seriously? Are we not more intelligent than this? His funniest jokes were when he turned to self-deprecation, which I suppose is why I enjoy British humour so much more than American, as self-deprecation is at its core.

After Bobby Lee I could breathe a sigh of relief as our own wonder boy of comedy, Trevor Noah, bounded to the stage. What I love about Trevor Noah is that he is funny because he is observant, up-to-date, politically relevant and clean. He definitely plays on racial stereotypes, but South African audiences are so comfortable with this and he offends all racial groups equally. His accents are fantastic and really get to the essence of whichever race was being mocked at the time. I will definitely make an effort to see Trevor Noah again.

Mo Mandell, another American, was next and started out pretty well. His humour was mostly focused on being Jewish. When he made some sex jokes at least he picked up on the fact that “South Africans are racist but don’t have sex!” My problem with this statement is that it missed the point. Yes, South Africans laugh at racial and ethnic jokes (now mostly when they’re told by a person of said race/ethnicity) and yes, we are more conservative than many nations about sex, but why is that a problem? Aren’t comedians meant to adapt? If your whole act hinges on one aspect of life, you’re not going to appeal to the broader audience.

Dave ThorntonEnter Dave Thornton – Yay for the land down under (I know, I’m a South African and I’m cheering for an Aussie – shock!). Dave Thornton once again proved that wit and insight are king. His gentle manner of delivery and self-deprecating humour trumped any of the American acts. The odd sex joke and swear word came up, but coupled with his style of humour and mixed in a range of topic, these jokes actually were funny and not a bombardment.  

Orny Adams ended the show. At last, an American comedian with something else to talk about! Orny Adams certainly got himself worked up on stage, but his keen look at modern life, including obese children, texting and products made for real belly laughing. He certainly made the best one-liner of the night: “This generation is so fat, the next war will be fought over cooking oil!” Classic. His age was also key to his set and, though I’m still pretty young, these were some of his funniest cracks.

The comedy festival really did provide me with some good laughs, but it definitely showed me I need to appreciate our local comedians far more. It also proved how uncomfortable I am about sex in the public domain, which is something I freely admit. If you are more like my friends than me, you will surely roll with laughter. Just don’t take your little brother or mom.

Nando’s Comedy Festival: Baxter Theatre, Rondebosch, Main Arena. 31 August -19 September. 8pm Mondays-Saturdays, 6pm Sundays, special 10.30 pm shows on Friday & Saturday 17-18 September.R120-150. Tickets through Computicket or at the Baxter Theatre

Between You & Me

19 Aug

Director: Tara Louise Notcutt

Relationships make good entertainment and art because they are a never-ending cause for reflection, disgust, comedy, interest and, of course, drama. Directed by Tara Louise Notcutt, Between You & Me takes the old formula of dissecting a stale relationship and modernises it, at times it seems for the M-TV generation, (well, those members with brains).

Tarn de Villiers and Jaco Notnagel are the couple and the play opens with them across from each other at a massive dining room table. The tension in the air is palpable as Henry (Notnagel) asks, “How was your day?” of a clearly distressed Cara (de Villiers). Literally, I could hear myself swallow. This tension is sustained throughout the play, something which I imagine is not easy to accomplish.

Rather than serving up the entire relationship, Notcutt gives movie montage-like scenes which create a short hand for the couple’s first meeting and other various parts of the relationship, interspersed with the deterioration of their conversation and thus their intimacy. These montages are largely movement pieces set to a range of contemporary alternative songs and this is where the play becomes part MTV. The use of movement between the actors is integral in showing their relationship, but each movement piece (which shows Tarn de Villiers to be a very flexy and talented dancer) was too long, too repetitive (though the repetition was not lost on me) and too much like a music video. The exception to this is the last one, which is perfect in showing the final climax of the couple’s relationship.

The dialogue was one of my favourite parts of the play. There is a tension between De Villier’s English and Notnagel’s Afrikaans, but what they say is down-to-earth and very, very real. Almost too real in fact, as I, scarily, realised I had had many similar conversations before. Part of the reason for this good dialogue is that the script was work shopped by the company, which produced a rounded script with clearly real experience. Jon Keevy provided two monologues for the script and these too have an ear for real conversation.

The set is also interesting and a different experience to watching a play in a traditional theatre. Between You & Me is in a church hall and places the audience in two rows on either side of the dining room table, facing each other. The actors share their attention equally with both side of the audience and the movement pieces were as beautiful no matter which side of the actors I could see. At times I was worried about the dining room table (a lot of action takes place on top of it) but I was assured afterwards of its sturdiness,

All in all, Between You & Me is a play well worth seeing, at only R20 and running at 1 hour, it is a good investment and will definitely provide you with reflection, disgust, comedy, interest and, of course, drama.

Directed by Louise Notcutt, Starring Jaco Notnagel and Tarn de Villiers,Methodist Church Hall, Cnr Milton and Wesley Rd, ObservatoryShowing 17th -21st  August, 8 pm.

Cosi

11 Aug

They say that laughter is the best medicine, and it certainly is a wonderful anti-depressant, but can it fix crazy? I hope not, because then the cast of Cosi would be cured and the fun would all be over! Cosi is the chaotic Louis Nowra play, first performed in Australia in 1992.  The chaos on stage was matched only by my own raucous laughter, which has often been the embarrassment of my friends. 

Cosi follows a director who is plunged into an asylum for a social experiment to direct the inmates in a play. The social worker is determined that this will “bring them out of their shells.” She has clearly forgotten that most people are in asylums for not staying far enough in their shells as is socially acceptable! The cast contains a pyromaniac, murderer, committed drug addict and other various crazies. 

The cast within the cast ambitiously decides to stage Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte much to the dismay of the director, as he would rather do something more meaningful for him, like Brecht. His is eventually swayed and the story rollicks forward with the production of an opera involving no singing and in English!

Guy de Lancey absolutely gleams as the ring leader of the inmates. He is mesmerising. But don’t only keep your eyes on him, because then you will miss Adrian Collins and Luke Ellenbogen’s hilarious side antics which could easily overtake the drama. Seeing Luke with a bucket on his head and later hopping around naked (in strategically dimmed lighting!) made me roar with that same embarrassing laughter.

Kate Liquorish is the overbearing social worker on the edge of a mental break herself, and the cool Andrew Laubscher plays the director, playfully nicknamed Jerry by the inmates.

Scott Sparrow’s direction is wonderful and he clearly has worked hard to get the absolute best out of his cast. The relationships on stage are believable and the truth about the complications of love really shines through in both the opera and the play itself. The characters are warm and loveable (except of course when they’re vulgar and repulsive, but such is the charm of nutcases!). Adrian Collins’ character produces particularly poignant moments and brings the central conflict of the time to life.

 Unfortunately Cosi’s run at the Little Theatre has ended, but I sincerely encourage you to see anything done by the Mechanicals troupe. This season lasts until the 29th August and they have moved to the Intimate theatre to present Highway Crossing and Endgame. I doubt my laughter will ring through the theatre in Endgame, but I’m sure it’ll be worth every absurd moment.

Cosi, Written: Louis Nowra, Directed: Scott Sparrow, Starring: the Mechanicals troupe.