Scrapbook: Durban theatre 1998

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BY BILLY SUTER

Every now and then I dip into scrapbooks that piled up during my 24 years as Arts Editor of The Mercury newspaper in Durban and, just for fun, dig out reviews and interviews from yesteryear. Today we go back nearly 20 years, to recall two theatre reviews from 1998…both, coincidentally, having featured my cousin, Norraine Swanby, now long retired from showbiz after having moved on to teaching music.

The first scrapbook clipping, above, headed “Among the finest of 1998”,  is my review of the 55-minute Chasing Tales, a delightful song and dance  production from Mark Hawkins and his much-missed Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company.

Choreographed with tongue in cheek by David Gouldie, the show revolved around a colourful sangoma called Candy (Pinkie Mtshali), who visits a museum. There her dog, a puppet character called Floss, mixes throwing bones with that of a dinosaur, and Candy has to then gather ingredients for a spell that will help her escape.

She is aided by a fairy godmother (Swanby) in her quest to gather various ingredients that include pumpkin pips, porridge, animal teeth and a red apple.

This all paves the way for a number of fairytale characters to spring to life in the library – each arriving on stage by literally stepping through giant-size library books. Things start to go wrong when the characters cross paths, changing each other’s familiar stories and causing chaos.

Chasing Tales was huge fun, featured props by Greg King, and was one of my favourite shows in Durban in 1998. A revival would be terrific.

The other clipping pictured above is of my review of the 1998 naughty mini panto, Sleeping Beauty, staged at the now-defunct Playhouse Cellar. I noted in the review that it was not as good as the previous year’s Aladdin, which was more outrageous, but remained a light delight.

The third of Durban’s annual pantos on a shoestring budget, Sleeping Beauty was scripted by Patrick Hyland and directed by Peter Court. It featured original songs alongside lyrically reworked, out-of-copyright tunes such as Brahms Lullaby,  The Sting and Gilbert and Sullivan favourites.

The cast included Hyland as a narrator called Bladder, Anthony Stonier, Heather Barclay-Whiffin and David Hierons, with 20-year-old newcomer Karen Wood in the title role, as princess Aurora.

Stonier, who I noted had by then already so mastered the art of camp he could have opened a tent factory, played Valium, a bossy, bitchy-in-black villainness in skimp outfits. Swanby played Aurora’s nurse, Frau Botterkop Boomsing von Schyss.


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