‘PopUp­stairs’ for three new Joburg shows

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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?

Pic­ture: NARDUS ENGELBRECHT

CLEVER: Un­fair Lady is a satir­i­cal ex­plo­ration of the women’s mag­a­zine in­dus­try.

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