Stage: Non-Specific – Gate 69, corner of Hout and Bree Street, Cape Town (until September 28)
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
A NIGHT at the fab Gate 69 supper theatre is as much a must-do in Cape Town these days as a trip up that mountain, a vineyard visit and a decadent munchie at the colourful Charly’s Bakery, made famous in the TV series of the same name.
So kudos to the polished and popular team that runs the cosy and classy “purple palace” at the corner of Bree and Hout Streets, a venue awash with splashes of glitter and gold, dark and romantic ambiance, and unashamed theatricality.
Gate 69 has gained its reputation in less than three years, having opened in September 2016, in a revamped building that formerly accommodated an auctioneer and a dress shop,
It is the brainchild of bubbly singer-actor Brendan van Rhyn, also known as towering drag queen Cathy Specific (of Madame Zingara fame), who has dreamed of realising Gate 69 for more than a decade and is now reaping the rewards with business partners Luanna Shonfeld and Christopher Dudgeon.
The concept is simple but effective and unique. One arrives for a pre-show drink around 6.30pm, first walking a red carpet at the plush venue’s entrance to receive a hug, a kiss and a photo opportunity with seven-foot-in-heels Cathy. She welcomes guests in a glittering gown and a giant blonde confection of a wig.
Around 7pm, patrons leave Gate 69’s vibey downstairs pub to take 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.
The venue, which seats only 80 to 100 people at tables in front of an ornately decorated stage proscenium, has seating in a small upstairs area as well as downstairs, reserved for “business” and “first class” patrons.
Each table in the warm and cosy theatre has a Lazy Susan packed with yummy eats, including chicken kekabs, assorted cheeses, meatballs, breadsticks, olives, varied dips and other treats. A hot soup in a small glass is also brought to the table, and after the show one gets a delicious purple soft-serve ice-cream in a crunchy cone.
Diva Cathy and her drag co-stars, The Trolley Dollies – naïve but sweet Molly (Rudi Jansen) and stern and biting Holly (Christopher Dudgeon), each seven-feet tall in heels and massive wigs – act as hosts, waiters and entertainers.
The latest show at Gate 69 is Non-Specific, running every Wednesday to Saturday. It is being widely praised as the trio’s best to date and it certainly is a constant delight, eclipsing the trio’s Nip/Tucked, “a mini medical musical”, that I saw at the venue early last year.
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 tables for a chat, a hug or to offer a neck rub.
Non-Specific focuses on song, dance and bawdy humour, but also backstage banter, bitchiness, moans, groans and poignant stories from the three drag queens.
It has the performers as zealous, naughty and amusing as one would expect, but here they also show their vulnerability as their chats see them sliding from stilettos into slippers to peel away their glamorous disguises. They get to accentuate the grey among the glitter in their lives as gay men and drag queens, and it adds a new dimension to Non-Specific.
The trio, in snug black leotards and fluorescent wigs that could be made of polystyrene tubing, get the party started with a rousing rendition of One Night Only from Dreamgirls, then retreat to the lightbulb-lined mirrors of their dressingroom.
There, in between performances, they offer a sneak peek into their lives, loves and losses, discussing hopes, dreams, fears, maladies, melodramas, traumas and tantrums.
Slickly choreographed and laden with humour, the show sees the queens singing solo and as a team (no lip-syncing here).
The variety of show tunes and chart favourites includes Vogue, Big Spender, You Don’t Own Me (performed in paper wigs), From a Distance, Send in the Clowns, The Ladies Who Lunch and a wonderful, lengthy medley of ‘80s hits that has the team adding new pieces to their costumes with each song. There is also a moving interpretation of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours.
As with the trio’s previous shows, there is no attempt at exaggerated female voices, even though the performers are in drag. It makes for a refreshing take on an old art form.
Non-Specific opened at Gate 69 on March 22 and has proved so popular it has had its season extended until September 28, after which Cathy, Molly and Holly will star at the venue in The Three Blind Mice, a new, quirky, mini panto for year-end festivities.
Non-Specific, which has a 16 age restriction, was written and directed by Christopher Dudgeon. Additional lyrics are by Brendan van Rhyn, sound and lighting is by Chad Goldsworthy, set design is by Eddie du Plooy, wigs are by Tessa Denton and costumes are by by Lloyd Kandlin and Kyle Jardine.