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PLAYHOUSE DRAMA IS TRANSFORMED (article first published : 2004-05-6)

All is not doom and gloom at Durban’s Playhouse theatre complex – despite reports in recent months of ongoing union-driven picketing and ‘go-slow’ action, and of the recent forensic investigation into alleged irregularities of the organisation’s senior management during the years 2002 and 2003.

While the results of this investigation, initiated by the Council (Board) of the Playhouse Company, are submitted at its next meeting before being taken further, exciting signs of a Playhouse revival have steadily been taking shape on the ground.

“Things are looking up,” says Playhouse Artistic Director Linda Bukhosini, who has proved a positive force within the company since her appointment last December. “We have had a terrific response of no less than 94 proposals from the Durban theatre community to our call for productions to be mounted in association with the Playhouse over the coming year. Full details of the final selection will be released soon, once the selection process has taken place,” says Bukhosini.

Meanwhile, after more than a decade, the onetime state-of-the-art Playhouse Drama Theatre has once again been given a chance to show its versatility.

When agreement was reached for Shades of Marguerite Poland to be presented with support from The Playhouse Company, the show’s producer Peter Gardner of Troubadour Productions made a request that the Drama be re-arranged in its theatre-in-the-round format.

This request was greeted with understandable sceptism from the Playhouse technical and maintenance staff as the last time the theatre had been used in this configuration was with The Dream in 1992 – and, before that, in productions such as Superbike, Richard III and Equus. It was felt that the mechanism had fallen into disuse as it had not even been serviced for more than a decade.

“The section of the drama floor involved is operated by four or six screw-jacks under the platform, all driven by one geared motor. This motor drives the individual screw-jacks via flexible prop shafts, ensuring that the entire level is lifted consistently and at the same pace throughout the operation which takes about a minute,” says Peter Gardner.

“Sadly, whilst installing such a fantastic facility as the lifting section of the Drama auditorium some 20 years ago, inadequate thought was given to a similar separate section in order to raise and lower the orchestra pit (unlike in the Opera). This meant that the Drama pit section has to be manually raised and reconstructed prior to the uplifting of the auditorium section and its turnaround. This was a major labour-intensive project and my thanks and congratulations go to all involved.”

There were a few stumbling blocks as platforms, which had comfortably settled into their current placings over years of inactivity, resisted being moved. However, the Playhouse technical team accompanied by adhoc workers refused to be defeated, pulling and shoving until the sections of seats lifted onto the Drama stage and were rolled into their positions.

The transformation was an eye-opener for Henry Paul, one of the production managers of the Playhouse, who has been with the company for 16 years: “In the past, I mainly worked on the big musicals, so this is a first for me. I love challenges and it was very exciting for everyone – we all held our breath to see whether the mechanism would actually operate after 12 years and when it did – Hallelejah!

“My team felt that it was something of a challenge. They felt excited and got even more enthusiastic when the mechanism kicked in and the seats lifted - and what had seemed an impossible idea worked!”

The cast of “Shades of Marguerite Poland”, which includes Edwin Khumalo, Stacey Taylor, Thomie Holtzhausen, Clinton Marius, Jabulani Msomi and the show’s director, Caroline Smart, were equally excited.

“When working on Marguerite Poland’s extensive and sweeping novel, Patrick Collyer and I created this dramatic exploration specifically to allow the audience members to feel part of the dramatic process,” says Caroline Smart. “Youngsters nowadays are exposed to immediate drama through reality TV shows, internet chat rooms and sms communication. I am delighted that everyone involved has gone the extra mile so that the learners will be able to enjoy this production in one of the finest venues in the country.”

Performances for schools will run from May 10 to 21 at 09h00 and 12h00 and the show’s running time is approximately one hour. There will be an evening performance on May 14 at 19h00, which the public is welcome to attend. Tickets R20 per learner (R30 public). To book contact Margie Coppen on 031 266 7892 or 083 251 9412.




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