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FINTASTIC (article first published : 2000-03-15)

I have long maintained that the University of Natal’s Open Air Theatre, now re-named the Pieter Scholtz Open Air Theatre in honour of the drama department’s former long-standing head, is a much under-utilised venue. Also, few productions have been able to re-capture the sheer magic of one of its first shows, the original Umabatha (Zulu “Macbeth”).

Generally, Durban’s weather conditions offer balmy evenings which are highly conducive to listening to good music in a picnic atmosphere. However, with their innovative Fintastic which offers live music combined with dance, Fantastic Flying Fish Company hit a bad patch when several shows had to be cancelled because of rain.

Those fortunate enough to be in the audience when the show did take place enjoyed a couple of hours of sheer delight. Patrons either arrived with their own picnic baskets or took advantage of the wine sold at the kiosk as well as a delicious mezze platter at R20 organised by Beanbag Bohemia. A starry night with a cool evening breeze rustling the surrounding thick foliage of the trees and bushes provided an atmosphere of charm and sophisticated informality.

Fintastic contains works in a variety of dance styles choreographed by FFFDC resident choreographer David Gouldie. The show also incorporates live music and fashion as an integral part of the production. Popular jazz band Trevor Harper and Tin Jam and the Tekweni String Quartet jointly shared the musical honours – offering a wide scope for David Gouldie’s imagination. Durban Designer Emporium created new outfits for some the dances.

A fine group of dancers, FFFDC acquitted themselves well in this programme that showcases their versatility. From Tin Jam ‘s Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby with a wild and wonderful mix of outfits from Laurie Holmes and Colleen Eitzen’s sinuous flowing black outfit for Nicole McCreedy in Teach me Tonight to the cream and white layered Edwardian styled outfits for On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, the mood was cool jazz and contemporary movement.

A more balletic theme was introduced when The Tekweni String Quartet changed musical styles, performing numbers ranging from Bach’s Air, with designs originally created by Gideon for the Playhouse Dance Company’s With Attitude, to Handel’s Largo which introduced dramatic black, grey and white outfits originally designed by Dicky Longhurst. Karen van Pletsen joined Tekweni to sing her own number Be True.

And all that was just in the first half!

Also featured were the costumes from the ill-fated Don Quixote, scheduled for staging at the Playhouse some years back but cancelled because of strike action, and the angels’ flowing white costumes and wings from Queen at the Opera subtley – and successfully - masquerading as leaves for The Falling Leaves.

Both musical groups had solo numbers – Trevor Harper’s arrangement of My Funny Valentine is always a winner - and at the end of the show, Tin Jam invited the audience to get up and dance! A little girl who had been irresistibly drawn to the stage throughout the performance, needed no urging and before long, the area was filled with couples dancing to numbers such as A Foggy Day.

Due to popular demand, there will be two more performances of Fintastic at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on March 18 at 19h30 and March 19 at 18h00. Obviously, it will be impossible to create the same kind of open-air magic in the theatre but FFDC are planning to give the venue as much atmosphere in the form of foliage as possible!

Tickets are R30 (R25 for pensioners/students, R15 scholars/children). Book at Computicket. Special corporate block booking discounts of R5 off ticket price (20 or more tickets) from (031) 209-0142.

Wheelchair report: The Pieter Scholtz Open Air Theatre can be accessed by road providing the organisers are warned beforehand to open the gate at the bottom of the lane which opens onto the venue. There is a disabled toilet but this was locked on the night I went. Thanks are due to Mark Hawkins, FFFDC’s artistic director, for facilitating my entrance into the gents’ loo!)




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