Tale distils dram from drama
Madcap adventure drops anchor in tiny new theatre
FOR MORE than two decades, Nicholas Ellenbogen and his company, Theatre for Africa, have been staging the madcap comedy franchise Raiders at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.
The 24th edition, Raiders: The Whisky Trader, is on until July 28 at the Rosebank Theatre, a new 40- seater venue that opened on Wednesday.
The Whisky Trader stars Ellenbogen and Ella Gabriel.
The Whisky Trader revolves around the secret of making malt whisky and the adventures of Charlie Hepburn who skedaddles from excise men in Scotland and jumps on to a ship bound for Africa.
On a dark and stormy night, he romances Fiona.
“Fiona brings whisky-making to the Eastern Cape in 1820,” says Ellenbogen.
“She is a fantastic woman who gets things done in the true swashbuckling style of a 19th-century heroine. The story links Scotland and South Africa at the height of Empire, with all its greed and adventure.”
Is he making this all up? Absolutely. Each Raiders is a lark and then some. Ellenbogen has been in every Raiders. He has been joined by his family – sons Luke and Matthew and wife Liz, as well as a roll call of top names such as David Kramer, Patrick Mofokeng and Rob van Vuuren.
For the series, Ellenbogen and his team conjure up props that make the action ridiculous. For example, an ice-cream cone with a sparkler may be used to conjure an image of an explosion.
Impending danger may be signified with a can of Doom insect spray and so on. In other Raiders, audience participation has been key. The Raiders casts are small – and Ellenbogen adds characters by inviting people from the audience to get in on the act.
Ellenbogen is chuffed about the Rosebank Theatre, which is two buildings away from the Alma Café. He is a veteran when it comes to building small theatres and has physically built the seats and “the whole shebang” for the Olympia Bakery Theatre, the Kalk Bay Theatre, the Post Box in Muizenberg, and Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies’ Opera House – a tiny opera theatre in Botswana.
Raiders is only a tiny part of Theatre for Africa’s work. The company is involved in development and youth theatre all over Africa.
Raiders: The Whisky Trader.
After the season at the Rosebank Theatre, The Whisky Trader will be going to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and will be on at the Merchants Hall from August 1 to 20.
South Africa is well represented at the festival – particularly on the Assembly platform – so if you are heading there, find details at www.assemblyfestival.com
● Book for The Whisky Trader at www.webtickets.co.za. Tickets cost R100.
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SWASHBUCKLING: Nicholas Ellenbogen and Ella Gabriel in