The theatre year in review – high highs, some lows

The theatre year in review – high highs, some lows

PETER FELDMAN takes a look at productions that caught his eye in 2015.

The theatre scene in Gauteng in 2015 was an exciting blend of comedy, musicals and some serious straight plays that made you think.
During the course of the year I saw no fewer than 45 productions, many of them outstanding, but quite a few turned out to be great disappointments.
Someone who didn’t disappoint was the inimitable Nathanial, who once again came to the party in all his splendour with ‘After Animals’, which had a potent message about killing off our wildlife heritage.

Once again he demonstrated his penchant for the theatrical, with outrageous costumes, superb musical numbers and a group of agile dancers, which helped keep up the revs.
On the musical front, we had ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ ‘Sweeney Todd’ the brilliant ‘Sister Act’ and Janice Honeyman’s annual pantomime, ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ which I felt was her best yet.
‘Sister Act’ was superb. I wrote: “Mother Superior in the form of Kate Normington utters the prophetic line: ‘I have no words.’ This about sums up Janice Honeyman’s sensational production of ‘Sister Act,’ as no words can adequately describe this theatrical triumph, a magnificent production in which every facet comes together in a brilliant, cohesive whole. It’s been a long time since I have left the theatre on such a high and I can only say that this habit is catching.”

A scene from 'Sister Act'

A scene from ‘Sister Act’

On a more serious note was ‘Doubt: A Parable’ with Fiona Ramsay and Janna Ramos Violente. In John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Ramsay played the bitter, unrelenting Sister Aloysius, a complicated and complex character who accuses Father Flynn (James MacEwan) of sexual impropriety with a 12-year-old African-American altar boy. Her accusation is based on a few circumstantial details and a lot of assumptions. What unfolded was a riveting indictment not only of the manner in which Sister Aloysius ran her school, but her own deeply buried prejudices.
Two deeply involving plays which were staged at the South African State Theatre in Pretoria were ‘Fishers of Hope’ and ‘A Voice That Cannot Be Silenced’, about author Alan Paton.
‘Fishers of Hope’ was written and directed by the renowned Lara Foot. This significant voice in South African theatre fashioned a play that went to the very soul of life in a poor African village that relied on fishing for its livelihood. Here we met a group of intertwining characters, living out their versions of hope, and desperately trying to come to grips with a life that has not been very good to them.
Greg Homann’s ‘A Voice I Cannot Silence’ threw the spotlight on Cape Town actor Ralph Lawson, who played Alan Paton. The moment he stepped on stage and uttered the first words he had you in the palm of his hand.

Bearing an uncanny likeness to the great South African writer, Lawson was a consummate performer. He triggered to life in vivid detail, and through every movement and gesture, a man who made an invaluable contribution to the South African literary and political landscape. ‘A Voice I Cannot Silence’ was a brilliantly written slice of theatre which went to enormous lengths to examine Paton through his own words, his stories, poems and autobiographies.
I travelled to the Soweto Theatre where a packed house was emotionally involved in ‘The Story I Am about to Tell,’ a stirring recreation of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings. It was directed by Monageng “Vice’ Motshabi.
Two other shining examples of South African talent at work were Neil Coppen’s ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Epstein’, the tragic story of former Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, with brilliant acting from Nicholas Pauling (as Epstein) and Sven Ruygrok.
As next year approaches we can look forward to another thrilling and though-provoking programme of productions to stir the imagination. The musical ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ kicks off 2016 in January and is bound to hit all the right notes.