Stage: Big Top Rock – Barnyard Theatre, Suncoast Casino, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
IT IS always wonderful to welcome a new theatre, so loud applause for the return to Durban of the Barnyard Theatre, which now brings to seven the number of showband theatres in this countrywide franchise.
Flanked by the new, white-tent-like, Globe special-events arena and new restaurants at the freshly refurbished Suncoast Casino complex, the theatre looks impressively modern and large from the outside. It nestles between the beachfront promenade and the casino parking lot, allowing easy access.
Inside, the venue is smaller than one might imagine from looking at it from the outside, accommodating some 100 less patrons than the 430-seater Gateway Barnyard theatre which closed at the end of 2016.
However, having said that, the joint was jumping on Saturday night and there seemed a lot more people in the venue than the 257 seats shown on the theatre’s website seating plan, making access to tables a little tricky at times.
The inside is as one would expect – inviting, warm, lanterns on the walls and seating at long, varnished-pine tables. There are also single seats in rows at counters to the sides of the theatre and in its upper balcony area around the sound box.
The entrance area has a neat little bar with comfy seating nearby where you can wait for meals, a drink or for others in your party to arrive.
The show chosen to launch the venue is a revival and tweaking of one of the most successful and creative shows the franchise has staged in its 22 years – Big Top Rock, a circus-themed production meshing showband entertainment, dance and exciting gymnastic displays on a pole, ropes, silks, hoops, a metal spiral and a swing.
The result is a wonderfully entertaining show which, if perhaps not as good as the original production I remember seeing at the Gateway Barnyard years ago, makes for an ideal choice to launch the new theatre.
There were some sound wobbles on Saturday night which improved as the show progressed and the vocals, sometimes muffled, aren’t as strong as they might have been, but this is a very satisfying show with a fine band, excellent lighting effects, very good costuming and a lot of imagination in conception and delivery.
It opens with show host and male lead vocalist Wayne Cumming appearing as a ringmaster, with a German accent, to walk out on to a podium protruding into the audience from the front of the stage. It is above this area that aerial work takes place later in the show, the band and singers providing the accompaniment.
The show opens with a bang – how much better it might have been, though, had the producers added The Greatest Showman from the film of the same name – and sees female lead vocalist Peyton Amber arriving on stage, with dancers with umbrellas. All emerge from a large, checked box. A nice moment.
A slick variety of song and dance follows, but it is the fluid and dazzling aerial work by Chivonne Naude and Sam Kotze that continually steals the limelight, as well as the excellent moves of dancers Dana De Agrella, Nicholas Vries and Hoze Jonas.
The male dancers are particularly good, impressing not only as zombies in a standout second-half sequence saluting Michael Jackson’s Thriller, complete with coffin, but also in amusing routines in which they take their own spotlight, a highlight being a comical dance involving the guys naked but for white towels.
The band comprises musical director and keyboard man James Dobson, who also pays tribute to Elton John during the show; and Mike Raven on lead guitar and occasional lead vocals. Rohan Blignaut is on drums and Lihle Ndimande handles bass.
Songs performed in the show range from a medley of Elvis Presley hits and AC/DC’s Thunderstruck, to Prince’s Purple Rain, Pitbull’s Fireball, Evanescence’s My Immortal, The Beatles’s Sergeant Peppers and hits associated with, among others, Def Leppard, Aerosmith and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The show runs until February 24, with performances at 7.30pm every Tuesday to Thursday, when tickets cost R165 (Tuesday tickets are two-for-one price). Performances on Fridays and Saturdays are at 8pm, when tickets cost R165 each.
Sunday shows are at 2pm and tickets cost R130 each (pensioners pay half price and under-12s get in free, for telephonic bookings only).
Note that one can take along one’s own food although a variety of light meals and platters can be bought at the venue. A full menu is available on the theatre’s website.
All drinks have to be bought at the theatre’s bar. And a gripe here – it would be a very good idea to allow patrons to buy wine by the glass, as one can do at similar venues
For more details or to book phone (031) 940 0500.