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CROOKED (article first published : 2004-09-30)

I have to admit that when I saw John van de Ruit’s new play, Crooked, at the Hilton Festival a couple of weeks ago, I had serious reservations. The production was too long and while John states in his programme notes that he wanted it to break rules, theatrical conventions and criss-cross genres”, he didn’t pull it off.

However, being the perfectionist he is, he has cut about 10 pages from the script and the streamlined and far more effective version opened last night at the Catalina Theatre. John van de Ruit is one of our most talented scriptwriters, with a good capacity to identify the loopholes in our culture and merrily flaunt them in a dramatic context.

Crooked was brought about, as he says, from being a victim far too many times of robberies or break-ins. The play has been four years in the making and John admits that its writing process has been a frustrating stop-start one. What has resulted is an entertaining, hugely amusing and often highly incisive comment on crime in South Africa.

The play deals with three completely incompetent misfits who are handling their first kidnapping. The larger than life Leonard Hamilton-Pike, perhaps too robustly performed by Michael Gritten, is as pretentious as his name. More concerned with his Mafia accent than whether he handles the ransom message properly, Pike is prey to a number of disasters which eventually lands him in the wheelchair of the kidnapped victim – who, I might add, has been bundled unceremoniously into the cupboard and who we never see.

Playing his love interest is Clare Cassidy as the neurotic and obsessive Selina Gibson. Looking glamorous in a mock combat outfit designed by Nirma of Milkmaid, Selina battles to keep her focus as things go haywire and the master plan changes by the minute. While Clare portrays well the twitchy side of the character, we don’t get to see enough of the dark side of Selina.

The third member of the kidnapping trio is one Mlulamisi Mtwawuli. Good to see Dominic Fundam back on the Durban stage in this role and his performance is believable and highy endearing as the young man fast becoming disillusioned with the democratic system as he fails in his desire to be counted in the census.

Enter the fourth character. Professor De Vries, a multi-layered cynical character with a command of the double bluff. Making a welcome return to live theatre in this role is Tim Wells who gives his usual commanding and consistently strong performance. More I cannot say without giving the plot away!

The script of Crooked is extremely clever and humorous but it tends to become a bit too academic at times. However, I feel sure that John hasn’t finished honing and polishing this production and it will soon stand alongside his multi-award winning War Cry.

Crooked runs at the Catalina Theatre until October 17. Shows Tuesday to Saturdays at 20h00 (Sundays at 18h00). Tickets R65 (R55 concessions). Special offer of two for the price of one every Tuesday and Wednesday. Book at 031 305 6889. For schools or block bookings phone John on 084 723 0822. – Caroline Smart

NB: The play contains scenes of violence that may offend sensitive viewers. (PG 14)




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