……BY BILLY SUTER..….
THIS week should have marked the start of rehearsals for what Durban’s KickstArt theatre company planned as its 16th large-scale pantomime. Instead the show’s annual writer and director, Steven Stead, plans something altogether different.
With Covid-19 lockdown restrictions permitting only 50% capacity at theatres countrywide, and following the announcement that the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre will remain closed until March next year, KickstArt has had to cancel this year’s panto, intended as a revival of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Stead has decided instead to turn his talents to an intimate cabaret, Once Upon a Tune, with him in the spotlight, accompanied by pianist Evan Roberts. It will mark the award-winning Stead’s first solo show in Durban, and his first time as a performer since impressing as King Arthur in KickstArt’s widely acclaimed, early-2018 production of Camelot.
Once Upon a Tune has been scheduled for 7.30pm performances at Durban’s cosy Rhumbelow Theatre in Cunningham Road, Umbilo, on Friday and Saturday, December 11 and 12. Performances are also planned for 2pm on Sunday, December 13, and at 6pm on the public holiday, Wednesday, December 16.
Tickets cost R160 each (R140 for pensioners) and booking is at Computicket or by phoning Roland Stansell at 082 499 8636. One may take along snacks (or buy light meals at the theatre) but all beverages have to be bought at the theatre’s pub. Covid protocols will be in place and masks are required.
Stead wrote on his Facebook page on November 9: “Today should have been the first day of rehearsals for our 16th KickstArt pantomime. I can’t quite believe that all these years of work and building a tradition and an audience can be stopped by a virus.
“The positive side of this is that I now have time and head-space to realise a long-held dream: my own one-man cabaret.”
He said he vividly remembers having visited the much-missed The Cellar, at Durban’s Playhouse, as a youngster, “and experiencing the magic of real cabaret, as opposed to music revue, with artists like Danielle Pascale, Judy Page and Sam Marais”.
He added: “I want to explore this very powerful, very rewarding style of theatre myself. I feel that I am the right age to do this now, and with the brilliant Evan Roberts at my side, I feel brave enough to share my life-experience with an audience”.
Stead will present a series of songs that tell stories and are inherently theatrical. These will range from witty and wicked comedy songs by Noël Coward, to powerful folk songs by Jacques Brel, to thought-provoking songs from musical theatre composers such as Stephen Sondheim, and Kander and Ebb. He will also sing songs from shows in which he has appeared, or been associated, that take the form of story-telling songs.
“I have wanted to do an old-fashioned, intimate one-man cabaret for some time now,” says Stead, “But I have always been too busy to focus on anything so complex and fragile. Now that our theatre world has been tragically plunged into a coma thanks to Covid-19, I can ironically realise a dream of mine.”
Stead has not been idle this year. While KickstArt’s Greg King and fellow performers were rehearsing for a popular production of the comedy Sylvia, recently staged at Durban’s small Seabrooke’s Theatre, Stead was in Cape Town on a surprise assignment (considering the Coronavirus pandemic) that proved hugely rewarding.
Having spent years directing opera in London, Stead was commissioned to direct the comic Mozart opera Cosi Fan Tutte for Cape Town Opera ‘Young Artists’ and singers from the University of Cape Town Opera School. This was a challenge tackled under Covid-19 lockdown protocol procedures.
Featuring set and costume designs by Michael Mitchell and lighting design by Kobus Rossouw, the opera was staged, to very good reviews, at the end of October at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre. It was also filmed and plans are for it to be streamed soon.
Stead wrote on Facebook: “As I reflect on those six to seven weeks I can’t help but feel a little emotional that it all has come to an end. As you can imagine the production process was stressful and in many ways unnatural, or rather not what we’re used to. However, it was all worth it! I’ve learnt so much, not only about music and acting, but more so about myself” .
Stead said he had no choice but to cancel the forthcoming KickstArt pantomime, adding that all tickets already bought would be refunded.
“Hopefully we will be back next year with a magical production. We are so sorry to disappoint all our many loyal patrons and supporters.”