‘PopUpstairs’ for three new Joburg shows
POPUPSTAIRS. At Alexander Upstairs until December 19. TRACEY SAUNDERS previews and reviews
THE traditional influx of tourists from the northern regions of South Africa has begun early with a vanguard of theatrical delights to soften up their Southern compatriots in advance of the manic festive season.
Hayleigh Evans the founder of POPArt felt that there was a synergy between her intimate theatre in the Maboneng Precinct in Johannesburg and the independent and increasingly popular Alexander Upstairs and has joined forces to start the holidays with an array of productions to titillate, delight and entertain. Evans is more than a producer however and her talents on stage are as formidable as those she exhibits behind it.
She stars in Unfair Lady alongside Rachel Neary. This wickedly clever satirical exploration of the women’s magazine industry begins with a letter from the Editor read in a tone which captures the exact sound of the opening salvo of many a glossy magazine. Popular columns including Agony Aunts, how to get fitter faster and sexier are included along with an interview with Charlize Theron that wouldn’t be out of place on The Daily Show.
The script is intelligent and scathingly funny. Jon Keevy the technical wizard of the Alexander achieves a backdrop of shadow boxing which is no mean feat in the small theatre. The script, written by Gwydion Beynon (Epicene Butcher and El Blanco: Tales of the Mariachi), is an insightful commentary of what is expected by and from women in a patriarchal society. There are moments of brutal honesty in the script that will have you wincing, but on reflection there is not a moment in the parody sketches that is not based on a very large dose of fact. Both Neary and Evans are spectacularly good in the many roles they don through the performance which flies by way too quickly.
The jewel in the POPArt crown is without a doubt Jemma Kahn’s We didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants. Following the runaway success of The Epicene Butcher and other stories for Consenting Adults. Kahn returns with her provocative and sassy Kamishibai style stories for adults.
This time she has engaged the talents of several of South Africa’s foremost playwrights, Tertius Kapp, Rosa Lyster, Lebogang Mogashoa, Nicholas Spagnoletti, Louis Viljoen and Justin Oswald. Their cautionary tales exploring the theme of the Seven Deadly Sins are literary gems and illustrated in different styles. Each one is cunningly told and Kahn together with her lascivious assistant Roberto Pombo will have you squirming in equal measures of revulsion and delight.
A format brought to the Alexander for the first time is First Person Story Telling. Lebogang Mogashoa ran a workshop which introduced Cape Town actors to the art of storytelling similar to that of the cult podcast The Moth based in New York. The no-holds-barred personal revelation can be a tad too revealing and the muffled accusation of over sharing was heard in the audience. It is the combination of brutal honesty and heartfelt authenticity that gives the format its charm, though, and the very short season showcased the Joburg based story tellers and introduced Callum Tilbury to the audience in this incarnation. Tilbury has graced the stage in many formats, including that of Lady Aria Grey, but his first outing as a first person story teller was poignant and beautiful and hopefully the beginning of a new theatre trend in the city.
The final piece is Aquarium. Perhaps unaware of the existence of our very own aquarium Ryan Dittmann and Rachel Neary have brought a travelling aquarium together with BoneyM tunes, some magic and a trained cat. And if that is not enough to get you in to the theatre then not much will. Directed by Frances Slabolepszy this quirky and unusual family story is the perfect antidote for the usual family tensions at this time of year.
This collaborative exchange is bound to be the first of many and may spark a revived interest in the regional touring of yesteryear which enabled actors to travel through out the country and gave audiences the opportunity to enjoy a selection of work from other Provinces. So if it’s a cheeky croissant, a provocative feminist read or a family drama you’re after take your pick. The added draw card is if you see all three of the productions you stand in line to win 1000 Florins (the Alexander Bar currency) equivalent to R1000. When last did the invasion of seasonal holiday makers feel so fabulous?