A decade of theatre, a lifetime’s worth of memories

A decade of theatre, a lifetime’s worth of memories

By Peter Tromp

It recently occurred to me that I’ve been a theatre critic for ten years. To mark the quasi-momentous occasion, I thought it might be fun to look back at ten of the most memorable, and consequently some of my favourite productions during this time. And yes, I know the headline is super corny, but how often does one get to do this?

Macbeth’
(Maynardville, 2004)
I can’t remember who won the Fleur du Cap award for Best Director in the year that Geoffrey Hyland was nominated for this production, but I can recall almost every detail of this play. In fact, it is the only Maynardville production I remember vividly. Hyland, along with his spirited cast, delivered a flawed, but ingenious production. I don’t think anyone who saw it has forgotten Claire Watling’s Lady Macbeth.

‘Chicago’
(Artscape Opera House, 2005)
Still the best big musical I have seen in my time as a theatre critic. So impactful was this production that Amra-Fay Wright was even invited to join the cast of the West End and Broadway productions to reprise her memorable portrayal of Velma Kelly. To my mind, Samantha Peo was even better as Roxy Hart, nailing every nuance of the character while at the same time carving something out of the roll that was totally her own.

‘Jesus Hopped The A-Train’
(Baxter Studio, 2005)
Lara Bye’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ acclaimed play landed with the director’s customary passion and energy; the words almost literally jumped out at you. With a strong group of players led by Tshamano Sebe, who was an inspired piece of casting as God-obsessed murder accused Lucius Jenkins, it made for one of the most original productions I have seen.

‘The Boy Who Fell From The Roof’
(Artscape Arena, 2006)
The autumnally funny and infinitely quotable text by Juliet Jenkin, her first, was as bittersweet a paean to the business of maturation as one could ever hope to see. The magnificently crafted friendship of Georgina and Simon (played with such robust sensitivity by Alex Halligey and Francesco Nassimbeni) is one for the ages and still has a special place in my heart. Although the play delved with remarkable insight into the psyche of a gay young man, it was so much more than a “coming-out” play. Instead, Jenkin gazed further, choosing rather to celebrate sensitive, precocious outsiders in majestic, lyrical fashion.

‘Angels Everywhere’
(Baxter Studio, 2006)
Abduraghmaan Adams and Ilse Oppelt asked some fundamental questions about the mystical nature of good and evil in this magnificent, almost allegorical play. Set in a Cape Flats world of angelic saints and devilish sinners, the writers delivered something bruising yet alive, oozing with the decay that is commonplace in our metropolis, yet sensitive to the pockets of beauty that can spring up at any moment, anywhere.

Karoo Moose’
(Baxter Studio, 2007)
This Fleur du Cap and Naledi award winning best work of Lara Foot has become beloved by many, many people. The play never sacrificed its entrenched charm and humour even when addressing very unpleasant things about present South African society. Fleur du Cap winner Chuma Sopotela appeared to live her part onstage at times. What was most thrilling about the production was it really felt like it was breaking new ground.

‘Assassins’
(New Space Theatre, 2008)
This opulent, yet intimate production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical by director Fred Abrahamse played at the now defunct New Space Theatre on 44 Long Street. Backed by a mini-orchestra and featuring a magnificent cast, it had wily charm to spare and left one with that pure sense of satisfaction of having seen something close to perfect.

‘I Am My Own Wife’
(Baxter Studio, 2009)
Jeremy Crutchley delivered one of the most memorable and touching performances in this one person semi-biopic of the legendary Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a German transvestite who was caught up in the great European dramas of the 20th century. From the moment Crutchley walked on stage, he had the audience in the palms of his hands, and he never let go.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
(Intimate Theatre, 2011)
The Mechanicals delivered one of the most enjoyable, inventive and strangest Shakespeare productions of recent times. Director Guy De Lancey really channelled the restless spirit and randy humour of Shakespeare’s perennially popular play to winning effect. A Shakespeare comedy where one actually laughed, and a lot? Believe it. It happened. Almost all of the Mechanicals players, plus a few guests, were out in full force and it was indeed a welcome sight to see them almost completely unshackled.

‘Brothers In Blood’
(Artscape Arena, 2012 and 2013)
Mike van Graan has made a name for himself over the years as our premier purveyor of political thrillers, but he really hit top form with ‘Brothers In Blood’. Riveting and cathartic from the first moment to the last, the play featured fascinating, layered characters breathtakingly acted by the likes of David Dennis and particularly Harrison Makubalo.