THE AIRPORT: A place of meeting and greeting, of tearful goodbyes and certain levels of anxiety – particularly given the history our world has faced with the complexity of flight. Playwright Frances Slabolepszy does a delicious kind of a mash up in this English medium radio play, in which she takes two event managers fairly new to the job, the whole machine of the airport, a bunch of international delegates and a film crew who are using the airport as a backdrop to their psycho drama with spiders. Not to forget a woman with jujitsu skills coupled with an anxiety disorder. In less able hands, this would have been a silly fruit salad. But it isn’t.
Slabolepszy’s work is structured with the funnies all carefully in place to their best advantage. As the play begins to unfold, so do you get swept up into the drama, unsure as to how it will unfold. Tossed into the mix is the issue of African names that do not stoop to gender specificity, and foreigners who have a slight command of English idioms. The result is complete hilarity, of the ilk you might have seen on TV in the 1970s and 1980s with the weekend series, Mind Your Language, written by Vince Powell. Xenophobic? Not a sausage: this work is about gorgeous misunderstandings and cultural miens.
It’s a work that you are forced not to take too seriously in thinking about all the kinds of things that can go wrong in the confines of an airport, but it is put together with wisdom, beautifully cast and performed with a sense of theatrical fun and perfection. The cast brings together well established performers such as Louise St Claire and Esmeralda Bihl, together with younger, but no less seasoned thespians. You will laugh because it is funny and you will laugh because there’s an element of terror here that messes with your sense of safety.
Clocking in at just under an hour, it’s the best possible reason to stay at home this Sunday evening, with a warm cuppa and a comfortable chair.
The Jet Set is written by Frances Slabolepszy. Directed by Posy Keogh and featuring technical input by Bongi Thomas and Evert Snyman, it is produced by Julia-Ann Malone and Niquita Joseph and is performed by Esmeralda Bihl, Patrick Bokaba, Ryan Flynn, Sibulele Gcilitshana, Robyn Heaney, Victor Malepe, Lerato Mvelase, Jeremy Richard and Louise St Claire. It is broadcast on SAFM (104-107FM) on Sunday, June 10 at 8pm.
What happens when three drag queens decide to turn a new page on life, armed with a bus named Priscilla, lots of shoes and an urge to strut their stuff in the Great Australian Outback? The world turns on its heel, glitter and tears characterise the moves and you, in the audience, probably really do have the most fun you can have in a theatre. The stage musical of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is simply as good as it gets.
When you watch the original eponymous film which first saw light of day in 1994, you get a very real sense of the scrappy mismatched wildness that characterises sheer unadulterated camp ramped up to the max. On paper, it might be difficult to imagine how this utterly fabulous film could be translated into a stage production, but you’re in safe hands: the international and local creative teams behind this project have produced something uniquely beautiful and majestic in its visual glossolalia and kaleidoscope of sexual jokes and nuance, replete with technological tricks and surprises all along the way.
The tour de force performance is that of David Dennis playing Bernadette, the character who is undergoing gender reassignment, has a Les Girls history and is nursing a broken heart beneath that spirit of fire and all those wigs. While Mitzi (Daniel Buys) and Felicia (Phillip Schnetler) are in fine form, great eyelashes and performative splendour, when Bernadette’s on stage, she’s where your eyes are. But the hero in the narrative itself is the character of Bob, a redneck with vision and sensitivity, played with true aplomb and sheer grit by James Borthwick. The kernel of the tale of Priscilla is not only about acceptance and the magic of lip syncing your way through life, it’s also about the meaning of love and reflects very astutely on how sex is secondary to what love is about.
But there’s no smarmy soppiness in this brightly coloured essay on the madness and freedom of being able to stand on top of a bus in the middle of a desert and belt your heart out to an aria from La Traviata. It’s Drag with a capital ‘D’, which is about all the vagaries and joys of performing on stage as it challenges gender expectations. By the same token, it doesn’t hold back on the ugly face of homophobia and gay bashing that remains a part of being different in the world.
Generally, a show with a big cast, lots of energy and all the tricks in the make up bag that you can conceive of, is a great hiding place for inferior performances. That doesn’t happen here: Priscilla hides no one, and the ensemble, from the three divas suspended from the sky (Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini, Candida Mosoma and Thembeka Mnguni) to the yellow dragons and acid green cream cakes and shocking pink paintbrushes all dancing in sequence, to the cameo which features the child of Mitzi, are utterly fabulous – the choreography is tight and on form, and the costumes are unbelievable in their wildness and wisdom, appropriately grotesque luridness, speedy changes and sense of freedom.
With a sound track that melds everything from the Village People to Tina Turner, Cindy Lauper to Kylie Minogue, Priscilla’s sound is pastiche with a tone of saccharine and it celebrates difference with abandon. It’s a show that will continue reverberating in your heart for months.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert: the Musical is based on the book by Stephan Elliott (who also wrote the original motion picture) and Allan Scott and directed and developed for the stage by Simon Phillips. Anton Luitingh is the resident director. It features designed by Brian Thomson (bus concept and set), Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner (costumes), Nicky Schlieper and Per Hörding (lighting), Michael Waters and Mark Malherbe (sound), Cassie Hanlon (make up), Bryan Schimmel (music director), Ross Coleman, Andrew Hallsworth and Duane Alexander (choreography) and Stephen Murphy and Charlie Hull (orchestration, musical arrangement and supervision). It is performed by James Borthwick, Donae Brazer, Daniel Buys, Taryn-Lee Buys, David Dennis, Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini, Darius Engelbrecht, Ryan Flynn, Michael Fullard, Zane Gillion, Nadine Grobbelaar, Craig Hawks, Chantal Herman, Samuel Hyde, Dirk Joubert, Thembeka Mnguni, Candida Mosoma, Tshepo Ncokoane, Henk Opperman, Jonathan Raath, Phillip Schnetler, Logan Timbre, Candice van Litsenborgh and Michael William Wallace. The child cast comprises Jack Fokkens, Jagger Vosloo and Alexander Wallace (Cape Town) and Ashton Mervis, Michael Fry and Levi Maron (Johannesburg). And the orchestra under Bryan Schimmel comprises Kevin Kraak (keyboard), Kuba Silkiewicz (guitars), Luca de Bellis (drums), Roger Hobbs (bass), Camron Andrews (reeds), Lorenzo Blignault (trumpet/flugelhorn), Nick Green (trombone), Zbigniew Kobak (trombone) and Pieter Ross (standby keyboard). It performs at Teatro, Montecasino Fourways until June 18. Visit www.showtime.co.za