Boy was I spoilt last week. Saw two brilliant theatrical productions in three days.
On Saturday September 30 at Artscape it was Donizetti’s hugely stirring Maria Stuarda, an opera sidelined for 120 years because it ended with the execution of a monarch. Then on Monday October 1 we were royally treated to the opening night of Simon Stephens’s astonishing new play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time presented by Pieter Toerien in his handsomely renovated Theatre on the Bay.
Directed by Paul Warwick Griffin with a cast of 10 who deserve medals for their quick scene changes and record-breaking deliveries, the drama is centred round teenager Christopher Boone’s obsessive behaviour due to suffering from Asperger’s syndrome. This condition is now part of the autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
In this extraordinary challenging role, UCT-trained actor, Kai Brummer was brilliant. In his mannerisms, tantrums, rapid arithmetical calculations as well as his lack of empathy he was totally convincing as this likeable but weird young man.
His fixation was to find the culprit who “murdered” the dog next door.
The beheading (a legalised form of murder) of Mary Queen of Scots by her royal cousin Queen Elizabeth was too much for the censors who banned Donizetti’s opera Maria Stuarda which he composed in 1834 to meet his yearly contract with the Teatro San Carlo.
Nothing daunted, he set the same music to a new story, which bombed on opening night as the sparring sopranos literally came to blows. When Maria Stuarda was eventually performed it was still a disaster and had to wait until 1971 when soprano Montserrat Caballé sang the role in Milan, London and New York, for the opera to enter Donizetti’s repertoire alongside favourites such as Lucia di Lammermoor and Lucrezia Borgia.
I was bowled over by Matthew Wild’s, dark semi-staging and the superb singing of the two queens, mezzo soprano Violina Anguelov as Elisabetta and Vuvu Mpofu in the title role. Her top notes were as assured as her acting as she made her last confession of all her sins, before bravely walking to the scaffold.
The only downside of the night was that the important surtitles were illegible, but I was assured by Elise Brunelle, the new MD of Cape Town Opera, that they will be improved next year.
You have to hand it to Pieter Toerien. He’s just unstoppable. Thirty years ago, he opened his Theatre on the Bay with great aplomb (in spite of massive opposition from a difficult neighbour), and he has kept it open and vibrant with first class entertainment ever since.
This revamp is the first of a three-part renovation plan involving complete new flooring and structural changes all the way up to the third floor. The list of consultants is mind boggling. I just see multiple dollar signs.
Entering the packed foyer for the opening night of The Curious Incident, I was surprised to find that the foyer seemed bigger even though I knew a popular sitting area had been sacrificed to give the stage manager a lighting and sound box. An eye-catching innovation was the novel fan, made up of a row of “women’s” fans, which worked in unison to keep us cool.
The auditorium, in particular, has undergone major changes. The “stone wall” cladding and the dated lights have disappeared along with the theatrical drape across the stage which I did rather like. But the re-covered and restored turquoise seats look magnificent and have lots of leg room.
As always, Pieter treated his guests royally, but it will be good to return to the theatre on a quieter night to appreciate all the changes.
From theatre to cinema
Our third outing last week was hardly in the same calibre as the opera or the play.
It was to sit in Ster Kinekor’s Blue Route cinema surrounded by dozens of kids with huge buckets of popcorn watching Rowan Atkinson in a completely OTT movie Johnnie English Strikes Again.
Amid all the slapstick there were a few genuine laughs and beautiful scenery as secret agent Johnny sets out with his sidekick Bough to prevent Jason Volta, an evil tech billionaire, from extorting the G12 nations’ leaders and taking control over their countries’ data.
Short school holidays are a boon to cinema managers. The place was packed and the money dished out by parents for trays of popcorn, juices and sweets must have left big holes in the housekeeping.
There was a trail of popcorn on the black carpet stretching from the top of the stairs to our seat two rows from the front – and this after the movie was delayed to allow the cleaners to clear up the worst of the mess.
Good-bye old friend
For some years our walks in Silvermine have been enhanced by being greeted with a friendly smile at the main gate by a man we knew only as Andrew.
The smile became bigger and broader with each visit and he took to waving us on as he knew our cards were in order.
Sadly last week we heard from a car guard that he had died. Something to do with being a diabetic and being bitten by a spider.
I have emailed his boss to ask for Andrew’s surname and details of his sudden death. I know he will be missed by bikers, hikers, picnickers and dog walkers who appreciated his warm welcome.
Growing old is not for sissies. Your mind says “Yes” but your body says “What the heck are you thinking of?”