2012 South African Theatre Retrospective: Cabaret and Comedy

Godfrey Johnson and Emile Minnie in MINNIE AND JOHNSON
Godfrey Johnson and Emile Minnie in MINNIE AND JOHNSON

2012 is almost over, which means that there is no better time to look back at the past year in theatre than the present. This third column in this retrospective feature on South African theatre in 2012 focuses on comedy and cabaret, with previous columns having taken a look at the plays; musicals and operas; and one more to come that zooms in on dance and physical theatre.

Cabaret acts proved to be popular across the country, growing exponentially in number as the festive season drew nearer. Lucy Tops returned to the National Arts Festival with her popular 2011 show, ABSOLUCY, where Port Elizabeth's Centrestage company presented their genre-bending NUVO RETRO TOPSY TURVY MUSIC SHOW. Roland Perold teamed up with Godfrey Johnson for COWARD AND COLE, a tribute to Noël Coward and Cole Porter, while Johnson went solo for his tribute to Jacques Brel, THE SHADOW OF BREL.

Johnson teamed up with Emile Minnie to create MINNIE AND JOHNSON, a 90-minute show that featured each of the two artists in solo spots before teaming up to perform a series of songs in a plethora of different styles. Insofar as cabaret was concerned, this was my personal highlight of the year thanks to the intimate presentational style and the sheer authenticity brought to the table by the performers. The show was immensely moving and uplifting. The piece was also enriched by original material from both performers, notably "Finally Young" from Minnie and "My Shattered Illusions" from Johnson.

Jonathan Roxmouth in TOPSY TURVY
Jonathan Roxmouth in TOPSY TURVY

Jonathan Roxmouth, who opened up 2012 playing the Phantom in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA after a season as Judas in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR in 2011 appeared in a solo piece based around the works of the kings Of comic opera, Gilbert and Sullivan. TOPSY TURVY allowed audiences to swashbuckle with the Pirate King, to giggle with the three little maids from school from THE MIKADO and to learn all about writing an original Gilbertian operetta. Reverence was certainly not the order of the day and the classic songs were rescued from the cluthes of amdram companies across the world, dusted off and given a modern twist for the audiences of today.

The prolific Followspot Productions produced a new show, FACE THE MUSIC, a combination of a revue and music trivia game show that won an Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival this year. Featuring Vanessa Harris, Lucy Tops and Leani Ekermans, the show featured chart-topping hits from the 50 years of pop music. The show proved to be so popular that a second edition of the show was created, with two new cast members, Delray Burns and Margaux Fouché, joining Harris in the lineup.

Comedy shows were also prominent throughout the year, with many comics doing one night shows and short runs at venues around the country and longer runs at the National Arts Festival and as the year drew to a close. Old favourites like Marc Lottering and David Newton appeared in appeared in new shows or revivals of their trademark shows, while up-and-comers like Siv Ngesi, Oskar Brown and Daniel Friedman continued to carve their niche in the industry.

Martin Evans in F.B.P.K.
Martin Evans in F.B.P.K.

The pick of the bunch for me was Martin Evans's show F.B.P.K. Evans, whose show dealt with his experiences following an accident he had on his Yamaha Zuma, which led to a protracted recovery in hospital and at home. This led Evans on a journey of revelations, both comic and moral and all wrapped up in the ubiquitous question of South Afrcan identity. What set this show apart for me were the clear sense of narrative and purpose that Evans wove into his material as well as the casual and unaffected style of delivery.

In his new show, NO, SERIOUSLY?, Alan Committie also worked in a healthy dose of audience interaction. One segment of the show, entitled "Ask Alan Any Questions That You Want", invited the audience to ask Committie any questions they want. Matthew Wild, Staff Director and Dramaturge at Cape Town Opera, said that he tremendously enjoyed the show, which covered a host of topics ranging from how 50 SHADES OF GREY can save South African education through to SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE? auditions you never got to see on TV.

In AN AUDIENCE WITH PIETER-DIRK EISH!, Pieter-Dirk Uys presented a showcase of his best loved characters (like Evita Bezuidenhout and Noelle Fine) and impersonations (including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and a range of previous South African statesmen), linked by a series of sharp philosophical insights into life in contemporary South Africa. What made this more than simply a "greatest hits" evening was the fact that every show was different, with the audience selecting the line-up from 15 prepared skits that were represented by boxes lined up on stage at the top of the show, and that Uys's social commentary was up-to-date and completely relevant. Freelance writer, actor, singer and musician Godfrey Johnson picked Uys's show as the best thing he saw on South African stages this past year, saying the show reminded him of how important honesty is on stage.

Want to share your thoughts on the best comedy shows and cabarets you saw around South Africa over the past year? Leave your comments beneath this article - and keep an eye out for our look at the shows that will be on offer on South African stages early next year.

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