BY BILLY SUTER
IF YOU are a theatre fan in Johannesburg in the next few weeks, note that three shows well worth checking out – The Mousetrap, Aida Abridged and Aunty Merle, The Musical – are soon to open there.
One is a classic slice of theatre, Agatha Christie’s legendary murder whodunit, The Mousetrap, which will run at the Pieter Toerien Theatre at Montecasino from January 24 to March 3.
A murder-mystery in which every cast member is a suspect, the play opened in London’s West End in 1952 and has been playing continuously ever since, making it the longest running play in history.
The tale focuses on a group of people who, gathered in a guest house, Monkswell Manor, and cut off by the snow ,discover, to their horror, that there is a murderer in their midst.
One by one the suspicious characters reveal their sordid pasts until at the last, nerve-shredding moment the identity and the motive are finally revealed.
Pieter Toerien’s new staging is directed by Jonathan Tafler, who himself an actor (Carry On Columbus, Yentl), has played the role of Mr Paravicini in the St Martin’s production of The Mousetrap on the West End.
The local cast features West End star Mark Wynter as Mr Paravicini, Melissa Haiden as Mollie Ralston, Mark Sykes as Giles Ralston, Matthew Lotter as Christopher Wren, Michele Maxwell as Mrs Boyle, Malcolm Terrey as Major Metcalf, Shannyn Fourie as Miss Casewell and Aiden Scott as Detective Sergeant Trotter
Performances are scheduled for 8pm Wednesdays to Fridays, 4pm and 8pm on Saturdays, and 3pm on Sundays. Tickets range in price from R100 to R240. Booking is at Computicket.
Also new in Johannesburg is Aida Abridged, headed for Daphne Kuhn’s enchanting Auto and General Theatre, Nelson Mandela Square, 5th Street, Sandown, Sandton, from January 11 to 31.
Verdi’s famous opera, which usually employs some 200 singers, is being re-imagined for the Auto and General theatre stage. The epic story of love and loyalty gets downsized in this version directed by Greg Homann.
Aida Abridged teams singers Clint Lesch and Len-Barry Simons alongside pianist Wessel Odendaalm, and is described as a fresh and fun take on an operatic classic. The version in Johannesburg premiered at the National Arts Festival in 2018, where it delighted audiences young and old.
Director Homann says: “Our production is best described as a musical comedy – it’s not the dramatic opera it once was. We are not doing Verdi in any purist way, but we are paying homage to the original work by playing with it to create this entertaining and stripped down version of the original.”
The highly theatrical staging makes use of hat-stands, cleverly chosen props, and a large roll of brown paper to create the world of the story. This includes a cheeky treatment of the famous Triumphal March, where the two actors attempt to bring ancient Egypt to the stage.
Performances are at 8.15pm Tuesday to Saturday, and 3pm on Sundays. Tickets cost R150 each and booking is at Computicket outlets.
Aunty Merle, The Musical, which had two sell-out seasons in Cape Town last year, runs at the Mandela Theatre, in the Joburg Theatre complex, from February 1 to March 3.
Written by comedian Marc Lottering, and directed by Lara Foot, the production has received four Fleur Du Cap Theatre Award nominations.
High drama unfolds in Belgravia Road, Athlone, as Merle’s daughter, Abigail, announces her engagement to her boyfriend, Alan. As Merle puts it: “He’s a good-looking white chap!”
But it’s never smooth sailing in the world of musicals when Abigail’s twisted and corrupt ex, Denver Paulse – who holds a dodgy top job with the SABC – is determined to get her back and, if not, threatens to reveal a very dark secret which is bound to tear the lovers apart.
Aunty Merle, The Musical boasts a talented South African cast including Lottering as Aunty Merle, Tracey-Lee Oliver as Abigail and Paul du Toit as Alan, Loukmaan Adams as Denver Paulse.
The supporting cast includes Royston Stoffels, Tankiso Mamabolo, Gina Shmukler, Adrian Galley, Carmen Maarman, Zandile Madliwa, Sizwesandile Mnisi, Anzio September, Crystal Finck and Austin Rose – accompanied by an eight-piece, on-stage band.
Twenty-two original songs, with lyrics by Marc Lottering and Tarryn Lamb; musical direction by Alistair Izobel and choreography by Grant Van Ster, have earned the cast thunderous standing ovations.
Tickets range in price from R145 to R340 and booking is online at Webtickets (also at Pick n Pay outlets). Performances are at 8pm Wednesdays to Fridays, 3pm and 8pm on Saturdays and 3pm on Sundays.