Shimmy down memory lane with Kate

GIVING it ‘stick’: Rowan Bakker on the piano, with Kate Normington. Photograph by Philip Kuhn, courtesy Theatre on the Square.

A SHOW WITH a gleaming singer in tight sparkly lamé and a fur boa, her memories of the hardships and joys of a life on stage, and an accompanist on piano, sticking to the world’s best standards is not a novel idea. Toss the inimitable Kate Normington into the mix, and you get something quite different from the sugary norm. You can experience it in her Storm in a B-Cup at the Theatre on the Square in Sandton until August 6.

Normington is an unusual figure on local stages. She has many performance talents and a naughty edge, but above all, she’s been in the industry long enough to be able to skirt from the clichés and stereotypes and reinvent them to suit herself. And this is the edge of Storm in a B-Cup, which works along the well-established performance tropes.

For one thing, Normington takes possession of the songs in the production’s repertoire in a way which shies from your expectations. Some of the songs are good old standards, but not all of them. Some are lesser known pearls cast by musicals. Her medley that references musicals which she has performed in over her tumultuous career is a case in point. This constructed work which shifts tempi and references from one lyric to the next, is delicious. Each snapshot of a song offers a trigger to a musical theatre production which will open up your own memories: when did you first see Normington on stage? What did you wear to the premier of the Rocky Horror Show, when she was Janet?

For another, as she stands on the cusp of a song, she inserts a gentle bullet of associations into how you will listen to her. Is it about her late mom? Gaynor Young, who understudied her in the fateful production of Camelot? The devastating Covid pandemic which knocked the world onto its solar plexus? This is done with a deft hand and a good understanding of how the song and the emotions interface; you find your own tears flowing in the face of what tomorrow will bring, in Annie’s terms, or how children will listen, from Into the Woods. Or even in the interstices of The Seekers’ song Georgy Girl from the 1960s.

This of course, comes with the expectation that you know these musicals. And that the inhouse jokes about the theatre industry will resonate with you, in the audience.

More than any of this, however, it is the chameleonic character of Normington herself which renders this show a quiet little gem. In her career, she’s strutted her stuff as Sister Mary Amnesia in Nunsense, been Aunty Silly in the panto, taken up Mephistopheles’s cudgels in Dr Faustus. She’s been in the chorus and on the front of stage, a witch and a narrator. She’s teetered over gender parameters, acknowledged herself as an honorary Jew and lived with a transvestite and two parrots.

She’s very distinct in her physicality, with her high cheekbones and broad wise forehead. She’s not a bland showgirl by any manner of means. And yet as she takes each song in her mouth, she has the ability to allow it to transform her, into a 15-year-old trying out new cultural miens, into the innocent Eliza in My Fair Lady and Cabaret’s Fraulein Kost. As you watch her, she veers between roles and into herself again.

This revue is as much about stardom as it is about personal triumph and victory against all odds in an industry which is often the first to crumble when the world looks gloomy. Normington’s complicated vulnerability onstage remains, however the work’s astonishing heart, and you leave, not only with the 1980 Abba classic song The Winner Takes it All thrumming through your sensibilities, but also with a poignant understanding of a life on stage, and a grown-up respect for the performer herself.  

  • Storm in a B-Cup is written by Kate Normington and Russel Savadier and performed by Kate Normington. Directed by Russel Savadier, with Rowan Bakker on piano, choreography by Owen Lonzar and lighting design by Denis Hutchinson, it is produced by Daphne Kuhn and Kate Normington and performs until August 6 at the Theatre on the Square in Sandton.

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