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A CHRISTMAS KEREL (article first published : 2004-12-11)

Most people will be familiar with Charles Dickens’ classic tale, A Christmas Carol, which deals with a miserly old man called Scrooge who believes that Christmas is “humbug”! In a succession of visitations, he encounters the ghost of his former partner and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future. These experiences so disturb and move him that he changes his ways and everyone lives happily ever after!

Such is the tale of A Christmas Kerel running at the Catalina Theatre which, as the title suggests, has been humorously brought up to date and placed in a South African context. The Scrooge character is now one Prem Sooj, played by Adhir Kalyan who makes his loyal assistant Mr Kenshaw’s (Hamish Kyd) life a misery. He constantly bawls at a gang of carol-singing street children, which include Aimee Vogelsang as Penny and Mbali Bhengu as Thandi. After firing Mr Kenshaw for playing a trick on him, Sooj falls into a troubled sleep. He is visited by the ghost of his former partner (played with suitable bitterness by Matthew Venturas) who predicts that he will soon meet the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

As predicted, Sooj’s sleep is further interrupted by this trio of visitors. Ghost of Christmas Past, played Bradley Marshall (who also performed a very good song later), shows Sooj a painful scene from his past with his beloved Banu (Layla Swart). Ansuya Naguran was a delightfully lively and forthright Ghost of Christmas Present who reveals to Sooj that Mr Kenshaw has a charming wife (Meryl Collins, putting in a mature performance) and a disabled daughter Gaby (Pelisa Tsala). Ghost of Christmas Future provides Sooj with the unpleasant knowledge that when he dies no-one will come to his funeral, apart from the loyal Mr Kenshaw. A heavily masked Kamini Govender, who also played the Young Sooj in the scene with Banu, brought an ominous silence to this role.

Direction is by Lulu Davies, Hamish Kyd scripted the adaptation and artistic direction is by Themi Venturas.

Adhir holds the show together, throwing in some highly amusing lines and proving that he’s not too bad a singer, either! Hamish instils a sense of naiive poignancy to the character of Kenshaw. Apart from Adhir and Hamish, the cast is made up of newcomers to the theatre scene – except for Matthew Venturas who grew up in this environment and looks set to be as engaging an entertainer as his father, Themi.

The production suffers from having to compromise with the lighting which is designed and set for Defending the Planet running concurrently in the evenings at Catalina. However, A Christmas Kerel is seriously underlit and something should be done about this as soon as possible as it impacts on the audience’s enjoyment.

While A Christmas Kerel provides valuable experience for the young performers and it is good to see new talent emerging, the show should be looked at as a development project and not evaluated on the same level as other productions for young people this festive season. This year, there is some serious competition out there from the professional performers!

Go and see A Christmas Kerel to support new talent in Durban. The family will enjoy this original comedy which incorporates popular Christmas carols and pop songs. The show runs daily at the Catalina Theatre on Wilson’s Wharf, from December 7 to 24, at 10h00 (Monday to Sunday). Tickets R40 (R25 concessions). Book on 031 305 6889. – Caroline Smart




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