Stage: Godfrey Johnson: Unhinged – Rhumbelow Theatre, Tina’s Hotel, Beryldene Road, Kloof
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
IT IS always a pleasure to welcome to Durban the Cape’s Godfrey Johnson who, with six Fleur du Cap Award nominations and numerous awards to his name, can always be guaranteed to provide a memorable evening’s entertainment.
Unhinged, which follows his cabaret salute to Jacques Brel, Noel Coward and others at the same Kloof venue last weekend, rates as yet another thumbs-up.
Elegant but informal, endlessly quirky and unpredictable, always satisfying, it is cabaret offering a mix of offbeat and amusing songs in its first half and a more varied selection of music, both comedic and commercial, in the second.
A writer, director, composer, brilliant pianist and beguiling singer with a quick wit and oodles of charisma, Johnson has a knack for rearranging songs in a way that infuses them with freshness while accentuating lyrics, some of which he changes for fun.
In Unhinged, while showcasing deft keyboard skills, Johnson yo-yos between aching poignancy and things camp and quirky, seated at a black piano, against a simple backdrop of black curtaining, on a gently lit stage.
His show opens with a jaunty rendition of the usually plaintive Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, from Showboat, then careers into clever camp with Tom Lehrer’s amusing Masochism Tango and the equally tongue in cheek My Shattered Illusions.
In the first half you will also come across a bit of acting – Johnson as enigmatic concerned citizen, Nugent Stein, who forever tries to find a woman who dumped him, one Cheryl, who now likes to go as Cherelle.
This seques into a series of fun songs, one highlighting a meeting with The Pope, another discussing 21st century blues. We also get the loopy I’m Not Gonna Sing That Song, in which we get brief snippets from Someone Like You, I Dreamed a Dream, YMCA and All That Jazz.
The fun makes way for the slower, haunting, poetic Leonard Cohen classic, Famous Blue Raincoat, before we go into a song about the marriage of feminine and masculine, and an amusing I Love Paris.
Johnson views the second half as more of a ‘karaoke request’ session – asking audience members to shout out requests which he may or may not play. I got to hear one of my requests – Brel’s Port of Amsterdam – but would have loved to have heard Johnson’s slow interpretation of Prince’s When Doves Cry again, as he performs it brilliantly.
The song list may change with the requests element, but other items performed on opening night included a superb version of David Bowie’s Life on Mars (loved the fists-on-piano-keys moments), a rearranged Nature Boy, a lyrically reworked Cell Block Tango, and a great delivery of The Boomtown Rats hit, I Don’t Like Mondays, made more haunting with Johnson’s clear diction emphasising the unsettling lyrics.
Another favourite was the melancholic delivery of the usually upbeat Bronski Beat hit from 1984, Smalltown Boy. Also of note were a hell-for-leather delivery of The Minute Waltz, set to music by Chopin, and a great closing moment in a moving, unhurried delivery of The Rose.
To give a bit more background info, Johnson broke new ground with the acclaimed one-man play, Vasla, co-written with and directed by Lara Bye. He also composed the music for the 2015 Pieter-Dirk Uys musical, Die Van Aardes van Grootoor; and has performed hundreds of cabarets countrywide.
Unhinged has final performances at 8pm today (Saturday, September 29) and 2pm tomorrow (Sunday, September 30).
Tickets cost R150 each (R130 for pensioners and students with cards). Also available is a Family Pack: R300 for two adults, with two chldren admitted free. Booking is at Computicket or by phoning Roland Stansell at 082 499 8636.
Note that no food is permitted at the Tina’s Hotel theatre, where the venue opens 60 minutes before the show. Beverages have to be bought at the theatre pub and food is available at the hotel restaurant before the show.