I was lucky to catch Priscilla, Queen of the Desert just three days before the Cape Town season ended. And what a dazzling, daringly-different, funny and heart-warming show it turned out to be.
As for all the raving about the 500 costumes and 200 outrageous headdresses, nothing prepared me for the masterpieces that followed one after the other.
There were pretty dancers dressed as paint brushes and others as cupcakes, complete with colourful “hundreds and thousands” decorating their bouffant skirts. Athletic men performed their antics in wildly over-the-top headdresses and camp pants, while in the finale, youngsters turned out in feathers and furs as the most famous birds and animals of Australia.
What was so apt was the restraint in dressing the leading lady Bernadette, a transsexual past-her-prime drag artist.
Modestly and tastefully attired she was played with such finesse and elegance by David Dennis that “she” could have had tea with a Queen (I mean of England) and known exactly how to hold a dainty cucumber sandwich between thumb and index figure.
Dennis was one of the clusters of future stars trained at the UCT Drama School by the late great Mavis Taylor. Others from that era included Fiona Ramsay, Michael Richard, Richard E Grant and of course Pieter-Dirk Uys.
Versatility is the hall mark of Dennis. He’s as comfortable playing Shakespeare as portraying screen villains who meet a dramatic but early end, thus leaving him time to do various female impersonations in updated Gilbert and Sullivan operettas as well as appearing in Priscilla.
This follows the adventures of three drag queens Tick (Daniel Buys), cross dresser Adam (Phillip Schnetler) and Bernadette who set off in their colourful bus, named Priscilla to travel across the Australian desert performing for enthusiastic crowds and homophobic locals.
The audience added enormously to the enjoyment of the evening.
The packed and enthusiastic house of mostly young theatregoers included a group of six women wearing cute little pillar-box hats sprouting feathers. I asked one if it was a special occasion. “No”, she replied, “We are just having a girls’ night out.”
What better way than seeing this fantastic show.
What not to do
I was fossicking among my cookery books in search of details of how long to cook our Easter lamb when Sonia Allison’s The Awful Cook’s Book fell to the ground.
I had no idea how I came to have it. It had originally been on sale for “5s. Net” at long-defunct Stuttafords Book Shop but later landed up at a book sale for 40 cents.
What a gift for 55 pages of advice on what not to do in the first place and then if you’ve done it wrong anyway, how to disguise or salvage your awful cooking.
Every culinary category from “Batters” to “Yeast Mixtures (Bread)” starts with the word in bold “Don’t” ….
Under the heading “Roasting” I learnt about all kinds of meat and because I was told what not to do, it underlined what I had to do.
It was a complete lesson on where to place the joints in the oven, at what temperature (never too low or too hot) what meats required basting, when and how to carve and never to re-heat a left-over joint.
The book was clearly a winner. Published in London in 1965 it was reprinted the same year and again in ’66, ’67 and ’68. It was one of a series of 13 “Awful” books, including the Awful Gardener’s Book, Carpenter’s Book, Slimmer’s Book and Speller’s Book.
A future book in the pipeline was The Awful Boss’s Book .That would have been fun to give your superior on May 1, National Workers’ Day.
According to Google, The Awful Cook’s Book is still available on Amazon. Getting it delivered expediently to South Africa will now cost R220 but worth it, to save making an awful mess of things.
Not a tall tale
I’m getting a bit cynical I’m afraid. Recently I wrote that I took with a “pinch of sea salt” the press release that the Theatre on the Bay’s production of Hamlet was based on one of the earliest recorded stagings of the play performed on March 31, 1608 by the crew of the East India Company’s “Red Dragon” off the east coast of South Africa.
However, the programme corroborated the press release and quoted from the journal of the merchant ship’s Captain William Keeling that on September 5, 1607,
“We had The Tragedy of Hamlet and in the afternoon went altogether ashore, to see if we could shoot an elephant”.
On March 31, 1608 the captain recorded that the crew gave their second performance of Hamlet to which Keeling invited Captain Hawkins, of the East India Ship “Hector”, to a “fyshe dinner and had Hamlet acted aboard, which I permit to keep my people from idleness and unlawful games, or sleepe.”
It was this performance which served as the inspiration for the current Hamlet production with a cast of six actors playing six Jacobean sailors who, in turn, play all the parts in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
I was hugely impressed with Marcel Meyer’s interpretation and delivery in the title role but did feel that the scene re-enacting how Hamlet’s father was murdered by his wicked brother while sleeping in the garden, lacked the dramatic punch of the original.
It’s a key scene in the play as it reveals the guilt of Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius.
Don’t be misinformed
Did “fake news” exist in the time of Mark Twain? He wrote: “If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.”