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LA COCO ROCHE (article first published : 2005-04-20)

Catalina Theatre is currently hosting La Coco Roche (simply translated as The Cockroach!), a little gem of a two-hander which features welcome new faces to the Durban theatre scene. While it deals with the designer label culture currently embraced by most youngsters, it is set in Johannesburg – sorry, Sandton! – where you are so definitely what you, like, wear!

However this kind of upfront presentation can backfire seriously when two young people assume the other has the financial capacity to acquire such threads, jewellery and cellphones. The real scenario is that they are from downmarket backgrounds and both of them spend all their earnings on adornment and accessories, which means that by the tenth day of the month, they are stony broke. They’re also not averse to helping themselves to anything that’s going – like spare rolls of toilet paper or the odd lipstick from a cosmetics counter!

Our two characters are Siobhan and Sheldon – or “Shah-vorn” and “Shel-darn” played with aplomb, energy and - when the occasion demands, much poignancy - by Lulu Davies and Owen Swanson. Both have strong links with Durban, with Lulu having co-directed one of the Catalina’s festive seasons productions, A Christmas Kerel, with Themi Venturas.

Having played the National Arts Festival and had a season in Johannesburg, it is good to see La Coco Roche finally here in Durban. The production was out of commission for a while and it was thanks to Themi Venturas and director Jo Watson’s efforts that it has now been reworked and is running at the Catalina.

Jo Watson co-wrote the script with Owen Swanson and it’s a fun, whacky and refreshing new play dealing with the Mecca of the Gauteng kugel – Sandton City! While we have La Lucia Mall and Gateway as our upmarket venues, Sandton City still takes a lot of beating. With tongues firmly in cheek, Jo and Owen have explored the designer label culture and come up with a two-hander that has a dramatic and highly humorous storyline incorporating much physical theatre as well as a range of emotions. There are some glorious lines that produced much laughter from tonight’s audiences and I am sure will continue to do so from audiences to come.

Things did start off a little shakily and I was immediately put off by the Lavalier microphones (body mikes). After all, this is a theatre! I appreciate that when it rains, you’d need the vocal power of a Laurence Olivier to overcome the competition from the drumming on the Catalina roof but I think the use of mikes should be a last minute decision dictated by the weather. Apart from anything else, the battery pack seriously disturbs the line of Siobhan’s designer dress – horrors for a true kugel!

However, after confidence was boosted by a deservedly responsive audience, Lulu and Owen settled down to present finely-tuned and consistently good performances for the rest of the evening. Their comedy timing is good; they work well together and - with Owen’s strong stature and Lulu’s ultra-slim build - complement each other physically.

Jo Watson’s set is simple yet effective. There are two large screens depicting logos which provide the only visual input to the production but they are used as various entrances or exits. Two chairs are used as restaurant seats, car interiors, toilets (only the imagery!) or office chairs. The only props are two wigs. Siobhan wears a blonde wig when she drives her ancient brown Ford Estcourt thus taking on a different persona – well, she wouldn’t be seen dead driving it under normal circumstances! The black Rasta wig is used by Sheldon as they go about their wild dining frolics where they eat at the best restaurants and duck out before paying.

Eventually, Sheldon feels the time has come to make a grand gesture- but it’s not the one that Siobhan is waiting for and the relationship takes a major nosedive. However, the show ends on a happy note as they are now legitimately able to afford the lifestyle they formerly craved and we are led to the happy conclusion that they may get back together again, older and wiser … not to mention, more financially secure!

La Coco Roche runs until May 8. Bookings through Thandeka at Catalina Theatre on 031 305 6889. Try to catch it if you can, it’s a delight! – Caroline Smart




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