Review: ANGELS ON HORSEBACK: RELOADED Delivers on its Promise to Be Daring, Dirty and Delicious

By: Jul. 30, 2016
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Alicia McCormick and Daneel Van der Walt

ANGELS ON HORSEBACK: RELOADED is a revival of a successful cabaret first devised by Fiona du Plooy - who directs this reboot - and Candice D'Arcy in 2007. Its 2009 run saw the pair win a Fleur du Cap Theatre Award for Best Performance in a Revue or Cabaret. This year, Daneel van der Walt and Alicia McCormick saddle up for a wild ride through a series of original songs, covers and parodies, some crazy banter and even a line dance. They are accompanied by Jonathan Tait (who also handles the musical direction) and David Lubbe.

Entertainment is the name of the game in ANGELS ON HORSEBACK: RELOADED. The show has the audience in stitches as it explores the benefits of dating a metro man and transforms hit country songs into tributes to unconventional lovers and breastfeeding. The show also pays tribute to the Queen of Country, Dolly Parton, and gets the full audience involved in a line dance without anyone having to leave their seats. The show is pure fun from beginning to end, and its season at the Alexander Bar, Café and Theatre has no doubt seen Fiona du Plooy's peppy staging of the material become slicker and tighter.

Daneel Van der Walt

A show like ANGELS ON HORSEBACK: RELOADED reminds one of the specificities of cabaret as an art form. There is some irony, given that that specificity, that producers frame revues, concerts and even plays with music as cabaret pieces. Some of the elements that define cabaret are sometimes seen in those other genres: a theme (sometimes explicit and sometimes ineffable), social or political commentary, particular structural conventions and an intimate actor-audience relationship. But what draws all of these together and truly sets authentic cabaret apart from pretenders is the performer. Clowns search for a persona: the make-up and performances, and everything else for that matter, are derived from the development of the personal mythology that constructs the performer's inner clown. The cabaret performer faces a similar task. When a cabaret such as ANGELS ON HORSEBACK: RELOADED places four performers on stage - two actors and two musicians - the work becomes four times as challenging.

Fresh off of her Standard Bank Ovation Award win at the National Arts Festival with DANI AND THE LION, Van der Walt reiterates her talents as a first class cabaret performer here. She knows how to work the material, her co-performers and the audience, making everything feel completely spontaneous. McCormick is similarly playful as a more meticulous, self-aware persona who is aware of their performance as a performance and wants to get it right. It is hilarious when she side-eyes the whirlwind of country pastiche that surrounds her, of which she is, of course, also a part. With ANGELS ON HORSEBACK: RELOADED being a piece that relies on having two leading ladies that make an equal impact, she can give her persona a little more weight to balance the scales.

Alicia McCormick and Daneel Van der Walt

McCormick's cynical posturing is shared by Lubbe, who plays the piano and - in one hysterically funny moment of indignance - a tambourine. Tait, on guitar, cuts a fine figure as a droll folk-singer, especially when he comes into his own with a number midway through the show. The personae of all four performers keep the show on its feet, despite a few slips in the singing - usually when a song is more sincere than ironic - or the harmonies - usually when the comedy and choreography overtake the singing.

The design of ANGELS ON HORSEBACK: RELOADED is the embodiment of absolute frivolity. The scenic design is a piecemeal affair that plays into several comic gags during the performance. McCormick herself has collaborated on the costume design with Anya Kovacs of The Velvet Letter to dream up a pair of outfits where corset meets denim and a series of funky details, such as the deconstructed bustle in which the performers open the show. Like Johnny Cash, Tait and Lubbe are men in black.

ANGELS ON HORSEBACK delivers on its promise to be a daring, dirty and delicious evening at the theatre. It has the makings of first-class cabaret entertainment, but on opening night, the show still had to assimilate some of its various parts into a completely cohesive whole. I would love to see the show return, to see where these angels can ride.

ANGELS ON HORSEBACK finishes its run at the Alexander Bar's Upstairs Theatre tonight. The performance is sold out. For more on Alexander Bar's jam-packed August line-up, follow the popular venue on Facebook and Twitter, or visit the Alexander Bar's website.