BY BILLY SUTER
CAPE Town’s Bree Street is the new hot spot in South Africa, a buzzy place for bars, restaurants, people-watching… and one of the most novel and fabulous entertainment draws in the country.
So it was with great excitement that I flew to the Mother City at the weekend to catch some shows and also experience what goes on behind the walls of Gate 69, at 87 Bree Street, on the corner of Bree and Hout Street. The venue, eye-catching in lilac, is referred to by locals as ‘the purple palace’.
Here, as the venue’s website states, you will find Burlesque meets The Birdcage, a mini Moulin Rouge as some have called it. It offers “a complete and heightened sensory experience… a world you’ve never been before; a world where we welcome you to get lost in the magic that is cabaret”.
Often all the PR guff fails to live up to expectations. Not here – Gate 69 is truly ab fab and everything it claims to be.
An upmarket venue noted for its splashes of glitter and gold, dark and romantic ambiance and unashamed theatricality, it is the brainchild of amiable Brendan van Rhyn, who has dreamed of realising it for more than a decade and is now reaping the rewards with business partners Luanna Shonfeld and Christopher Dudgeon.
The venue opened in September 2016 in a building that formerly accommodated an auctioneer and a dress shop.
Brendan, for those not in the know, is a performer who won theatre awards in 2016 for his reinvention of sweet transvestite Frank N Furter in the excellent touring production of The Rocky Horror Show, directed by Matthew Wild.
He is perhaps better known, however, for his many years as a towering drag artist, the queen of all flight attendants, Cathy Specific (Cathay Pacific, get it?) – a regular at corporate functions, a star of the much-missed touring Madam Zingara troupe, and the blazing star of The Trolley Dollies trio that performs regular cabarets at Gate 69.
The venue also presents other entertainers. The award-winning South African production of the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch (now impressing Johannesburg audiences) started life there, and others who have taken to the Gate 69 stage have included Christina Binaco. Also, note that on May 22, Marc Lottering, Rob van Vuuren and Alan Committee will be among the stars of a comedy show titled Camp Comedy.
Men want her, Cathy tells us. Women want to be her. She is the quintessential Trolley Dolly, “South Africa’s First Lady of flying!”. And, boy oh boy, when she is in full flight she is enormous fun and quite the beauty, those huge man hands notwithstanding.
Little wonder, then, that so many people return for second, third or even fourth viewings of the shows Cathy puts on at Gate 69 with her fellow Trolley Dolly sidekicks – the bitchy and tattoo-chested Holly (Christopher Dudgeon) and the ditzy, Bloem bokkie, Molly (Rudi Jansen).
In keeping with the aviation theme, the venue, which seats only 80 to 100 people at tables in front of an ornately decorated stage proscenium, has seating in an upstairs economy section, with the downstairs area reserved for business and first class.
The latest show at Gate 69 is Snip/Tucked, subtitled “a mini medical musical”, which opened on February 28 and runs every Wednesday to Saturday until July 28 (extended from May 26).
One arrives for a drink in the vibey downstairs pub at 6.30pm, then at 7pm takes the steps to the theatre, passing giant floral displays, a cluster of feathers and a wall of multi-coloured, Andy Warhol-like Cathy Specific close-up photos.
Each table in the warm and cosy theatre has a two-tiered Lazy Susan packed with yummy eats, ranging from chicken kekabs, assorted cheeses and breadsticks, meatballs and olives, to varied dips and gourmet beef sandwiches. A hot soup in a glass, served with a warm roll, is also brought to the table, and after the show one gets a delicious purple soft-serve ice-cream in a crunchy cone.
It’s all camper than a glittered poodle, a place where Cathy, Molly and Holly, each 8-feet tall in heels and massive wigs, act as your hosts, waiters (first-class area only) and entertainers.
The show starts at around 8.15pm, runs for 80 minutes or so without an interval and, afterwards, the three performers return to continue with bar service and often stop at the first-class tables for a chat and/or to give a neck rub.
Snip/Tucked unfolds on the small stage as a collage of comic one-liners, song and bitchy banter, the unique aspect of the drag act being that all three men sing to backing tracks, rather than lip-sync. Also, they make no attempt at exaggerated female voices, so it’s a refreshing take on an old art form.
The plot of the show is meagre and loose, centred on three diverse first-class flight attendants who decide to consider plastic surgery. Each is in skintight leggings. They sport monstrously high hairdos that resemble ice-cream twirls frosted with kitsch ornamentation.
The plot, however, is neither here nor there, as these dollies simply use it as a hanger for their joking, varied song and occasional collapses into laughter, rounds of corpsing that delight the audience.
Songs featured range from a lyrical reworking of Bohemian Rhapsody to Enough is Enough (No More Tears) and a strong closing rendition of My Life that has the performers without wigs and removing boas and cloaks to reveal outfits that are w-a-y more sexy.
“Pricked, plucked, pulled and prodded – brace yourselves for a titillatingly turbulent treat”, as the show publicity puts it.
By the way, don’t, like us, arrive too long after 6.30pm or you might miss out on being welcomed, on the red carpet outside the venue, by Cathy Specific or one of her sidekicks. Red carpet selfies with Cathy on the red carpet are so much a part of the Café 69 experience that the venue’s Facebook page is flooded with photos of visitors.
FACTS TO KNOW:
Cost: (Excluding drinks, but including the show and the soup, ice-cream and designer mezze platter on a double-tiered Lazy Susan) – Economy Class: R500; Business Class: R550; First class: R595
Dress code: Looking fabulous is recommended, but smart casual will do. Gentlemen, note, however that no sandals or shorts are permitted. Wear them and Cathy Specific will swallow you whole – and spit nothing out!
Address: 87 Bree Street (corner Bree and Hout Street).
Phone: (021) 035 1627 or (071) 589 2915
Corporate bookings: Luanna@gate69.co.za