Nataniël tones down the flamboyance, but maintains high standards

Nataniël tones down the flamboyance, but maintains high standards

Show: Mannequin
Cast: Nataniël, Charl du Plessis, Juan Oosthuizen, Werner Spies, Hugo Radyn, Nicolaas Swart, Dihan Slabbert
Director: Nataniël
Venue: Theatre of Marcellus, Emperors Palace, Kempton Park, until 25 September.
REVIEWER: Peter Feldman

Iconic entertainer Nataniël is always expected to come up with a different show at Emperors Palace each year – bold, ambitious productions with different themes, costumes and music. It cannot be an easy task to conceive bigger and better productions each year, especially when one sets such high standards.

In 2015, Nataniël produced the Naledi Award winning ‘After Animals’, a brilliantly conceived extravaganza of music and movement and an array of costumes that were out of this world.
It would be an odious exercise to compare that with ‘Mannequin’, because not only are they different “animals”, but the acute visual and audio attack one experienced last year has been toned down.

Though less spectacular, the key components remain much the same: the extravagant costumes by Floris Louw; the evocative lighting; props and music that are comprised of both original material, and some borrowed and re-interpreted.

Nataniël’s narrative, conveyed in his trademark dead-pan delivery, is an often obtuse storytelling exercise. It tells the story of an author who toys with the idea of writing a book about the life of a reclusive tailor. The tailor is the narrator and his tales are inhabited by a host of small town characters with bizarre names. Told in both English and Afrikaans, the story is punctuated with strong musical interludes in which Nataniël’s flair for composing once again shines dramatically through. He also re-works classic numbers such as ‘Cry to Me’ and a stunning rendition of the Prince opus, ‘Purple Rain’, in which guitarist Juan Oosthuizen grabs the attention with a stirring solo.

Visually appealing, Nataniël makes striking use of mannequins on stage, bathing them in a galaxy of changing colours as the various moods invade. His band comprises long-time fellow musicians Charl du Plessis (keyboards), Juan Oosthuizen (guitars), Werner Spies (bass), Hugo Radyn (drums) and his favourite singers, Nicolaas Swart and Dihan Slabbert. These musicians and singers are arranged in a tightly-knit group behind Nataniël and not in the normal format where they are usually spread out across the stage.

Nataniël’s own compositions are tuneful, with strong melodic hooks and delivered with meaning. Once again he demonstrates his vocal prowess, a facet of his creative armory that is not always fully recognised. Mention must be made, too, that this is a venue in which the sound balance is near perfect and is never allowed to drown out the singer.
‘Mannequin’ does challenge the senses and those who enjoy this performer’s unique talents will find plenty to savour here.

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