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BWW Review: Wildly Entertaining KIDCASINO is All Kinds of Fabulous at the Alexander Upstairs

BWW Review: Wildly Entertaining KIDCASINO is All Kinds of Fabulous at the Alexander Upstairs
Joni Barnard and Roberto Pombo in KID CASINO

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see a movie at Gold Reef City, where I was staying at the theme park's hotel for a weekend getaway with my fiancé, who was performing in a production at The Lyric Theatre. When the film finished, we were walking back to our hotel room via the casino, where we saw a little boy leaning against a railing outside of the smokers' casino floor. My fiancé remarked that the same child had been standing there before we had gone into the film. I launched into a tale about my sister and I were left to our own devices at a casino when our whole family made a pilgrimage to the now-closed Fish River Sun in the early 1990s. In the wake of these memories, I saw KIDCASINO, the latest production from the team that presented FATHER, FATHER, FATHER! at fringe venues and festivals over the past few years.

Things have changed since our family crusade to the Amathole district so many years ago. Back then, we had to run around in an outdoor park all day long. The siblings of KIDCASINO, played by Joni Barnard and Roberto Pombo, have a great deal more to contend with at the Sun Star Casino: tokens, gaming arcades, fast food and tickets that hold the promise great prizes. With their mother playing big in the hope of winning big, the kids manipulate money out of their mom - often quite shrewdly represented by white handbag - to feed their gaming frenzy, bully the living daylights out of their peers and do their best to avoid "stranger danger". If they play their cards right, they might be on a roll - and it all seems like excellent training for a future in the gambling pits. With KIDCASINO poking the underbelly of casino culture, the play not only weighs up the potential gains and losses of gambling but also the indoctrination of the next generation of gamblers in places like the Sun Star Casino.

Created by Barnard and Pombo in collaboration with Toni Morkel and Jemma Kahn, KIDCASINO needles the perception still held by some of the glamour of casino culture, acknowledging the shifts that have happened in this duplicitous environment. There is a surprising volume of material to read about the gaping divide between the professed sexiness of casinos, communicated mainly through advertising and reinforced in television and on film, and its absolute seediness and KIDCASINO captures the very essence of the thesis put forward in many of these articles in a vivid and startling manner. And while the 40-minute-long dark comedy perhaps lacks the depth of layering that was so splendidly achieved in FATHER, FATHER, FATHER!, its directness is refreshing and a considerable part of its appeal.

BWW Review: Wildly Entertaining KIDCASINO is All Kinds of Fabulous at the Alexander Upstairs
Joni Barnard and Roberto Pombo in KID CASINO

Barnard and Pombo are simply marvellous as the brother and sister who cavort around the casino, also taking on other roles such as the kids' mother or a floor cashier as the play demands. They are a radiant onstage pairing, with many astonishing ideas about how to transform even the simplest of interactions into physical comedy gold. Morkel's sure directorial hand is felt strongly here, as it was in FATHER, FATHER, FATHER!, in pushing the actors through to choices that are flavoured with the kind of unhinged hysteria that makes the whole affair wildly entertaining

The design work on the production, which includes Pombo's handling of the sound and Kahn on the lights, perfectly constructs the world of the Sun Star Casino. With the set initially covered in printed fabric that is reminiscent of many casino carpets, the reveal of gorgeously lit silver slash curtains as the family arrives at the casino is a radiant and fabulous moment of theatricality.

As hilarious as it is unsettling, KIDCASINO is a candid exploration of some of the ideas that characterise contemporary popular culture. Perhaps the reality of what it means to take a gamble will come as no surprise to you. No matter, you will still be tickled pink by this show. And maybe, when you see kids hovering around the entrance to a casino floor, you might think differently about what exactly is happening in that moment of observation. You can bet on it.

KIDCASINO runs until 13 December at 21:00 nightly. Tickets are available from the Alexander Bar website, with seats costing R90 if booked and prepaid online or R100 if paid on collection at the bar. For telephone enquiries, call 021 300 1652. The Alexander Bar, Café and Theatre is situated at 76 Strand Street in the Cape Town city centre and can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.

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From This Author David Fick