Music and theatre, food for the soul

Photo: Henk Kruger / ANA

I’ve had a wonderful trip down memory lane being reminded of the great plays and musicals as well as the actors, directors and producers who helped to create the magic of live theatre in Pieter Toerien’s Alhambra Theatre in Doornfontein.

In the 1980s Toerien bought the iconic building for R235 000 as a birthday present to himself. It thrived for 20 years but by 2000 the CBD had become a ghost town at night, forcing him to put the Alhambra into mothballs and move his productions to the Montecasino complex.

Deciding last year to sell it, he commissioned the handsomely illustrated book Celebrating 20 years of the Alhambra. Its recent launch coincided with the news that the Alhambra had been sold to four new owners who seem set to love it as much as did Toerien.

One of the partners is Gordon Cook, co-founder of the Vega School which promotes art as a subject. He reckons it will cost R15m to renovate the venue for its future uses.

Toerien’s book reminds us of the distinguished building’s past and the 170 plus shows staged from October 1981 to October 2000. The Alhambra opened with that ground-breaking production of Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, starring the marvellous soon-to-be-late actor Richard Haines in the daunting role of Antonio Salieri .The last show there was Kevin Feather’s The Doowah Boys 3.

Many of these productions were also staged in Cape Town so that glancing through the long list brings back memories of actors like Rex Garner and Eckard Rabie in Mass Appeal where Garner was a priest and not a funny man, Hallo I’m 8, probably the first play about homosexuality, The Importance of Being Oscar, starring the impeccable actor Michael Atkinson and Schaffer‘s Equus where the simulated sex scene between Jeremy Crutchley as the horse-fetish boy and stable girl Merle Lifson shocked audiences.

Then there were all the Christmas Christies starring the incomparable Bill Flynn with saucy moustache and magnifying glass as Hercule Poirot, going even one better than Peter Ustinov in his favourite role.

Malcolm Terrey, Jeremy Taylor, Tobie Cronje, Mark Banks and even the leggy Miss World, Anneline Kriel, get their moment of glory in this book. The text by Alan Swerdlow and Tracey Saunders is succinct and the press cuttings and photos assembled by Suzaan Keyter and Dean Roberts form a wonderful record of the life of this lively theatre. I will treasure my copy.

No more standing ovations

I think I’m going to give standing ovations a miss after my recent experience of rising with the audience to applaud Aviva Pelham at the end of Santa’s Story at the Theatre on the Bay. I was so carried away by the moment that as soon as everybody had stopping clapping, I turned right and walked out of the auditorium without a thought of my cellphone lying on the seat.

Had I remembered the phone on the way home and turned back to fetch it, I would have saved me five days of angst wondering if I’d ever see it again. The cleaners did not find it. The two patrons who occupied my seat on the following two full houses did not feel something cold and flat on their derrieres during the performances. It was left to the theatre’s staff finding out where I had sat and going to look. The dark phone on dark seat in the darkened auditorium was not obvious but they found it. Phew! What a lesson I learnt.

Here today, gone tomorrow

I found out what happened to that beautiful palm tree in Brocker Way which, after being pruned and trimmed, was removed and laid out like a corpse on the grass outside the property only to disappear overnight. Spotting the lady of the house, I nosily enquired if the tree had indeed been sold. She said it was one of four in the immediate Tokai neighbourhood which had been bought by a company needing to buy and transplant about 40 palm trees to beautify a new development up north.

Though the crane had no difficulty lifting her tree out of the hole it turned out to be too long to fit on the truck with other three palms. It was placed on the grass outside her house “and they came at the dead of night and took it away”.

She was delighted the tree had gone as it had shaded too much of her garden. For the first time in years her Brunfelsia (aka Yesterday, today and tomorrow, Kiss Me Quick, Morning Noon and Night and Brazilian Raintree) had enough sun to flower properly.

CPUT situation tough

The on-off situation at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) is tough on students trying to complete their academic year. A week ago it “was closed indefinitely” then last week classes commenced with few disruptions.

We know one mature student who is financing her studies in gemmology by renting out her house on Airbnb. This means she is always moving out of her home so she can pay her fees but considers the disruption worthwhile because of the excellent teachers and having access to CPUT’s expensive equipment.

Last year the student unrest led to the October closure of the university before she’d finished her first year and now she’s concerned that her second year is also going to be scuppered.
Does she hang in and hope for the best? Or move next year to a more expensive place of learning? It’s a tough choice.

Getting lucky

Once you hit 75 “getting lucky” means walking into a room and remembering what you came in to fetch.

fionachisholm@iafrica.com