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POPCORN - 2006 (article first published : 2006-05-5)

On May 18, 2000, I reviewed KickstArt’s virtually sell-out presentation of Ben Elton’s Popcorn at Kwasuka Theatre. Greg King chose the show as the launch production of his theatre company, which he now runs jointly with Steven Stead.

Almost exactly six years later, bar a couple of weeks; Greg and Steven have taken a quantum leap forward in placing a new season of Popcorn in the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre which offers about four times Kwasuka’s capacity. This is a challenging move but, judging from the response from tonight’s opening audience, they should be set for another successful run. The first production garnered a number of awards and (setting my judge’s hat aside for a moment) the 2006 version looks set to follow suit.

Internationally acclaimed playwright Ben Elton (TV’s Thin Blue Line, Black Adder and the Queen tribute We Will Rock You soon to be seen in South Africa) has created a brilliant, extremely funny and fast-moving diatribe on whether the violence in films transfers itself to certain viewers who are unable to distinguish movie fiction from reality.

Playing the role of two such impressionable viewers are Michael Gritten as the manic misfit Wayne and Belinda Henwood as his adoring sidekick, Scout. They appear in the same physically demanding roles they played in 2000 and both blaze through again with flying colours. Here are my 2000 comments which still stand: “His was a performance of consistently sustained energy and sexuality with lightning reflexes and blazing lunacy. … Belinda gives Michael a run for his money. This is not an easy part. … Scout is a highly complex female, alternating between a dim-witted collector of magazine trivia and a prissy miss flaunting pretensions of gentility while her kittenish charm hides a deadly sting.”

The trailer trash pair invades the home of a successful Tarantino-style director of violent movies, Bruce Delamitri, and turns his comfortable lifestyle into a savage nightmare. Good to see Graham Clarke back in Durban, lending his considerable theatre experience to this role. Lisa Bobbert is a delight as his estranged wife, appearing at one stage in a mind-blowing candyfloss pink outfit which must have given designer Terrence Bray much fun in creating it. His costume for centrefold model Brooke Daniels played by Clare Mortimer was just the opposite. This is a classy elegant black and white number which is covered in blood for most of the play! Clare Mortimer is highly amusing as the model who desperately tries to be recognised as an actress, even in her death-throes.

The rest of the strong cast is made up of Josette Eales as the daughter of Bruce Delamitri, Peter Court as his long-suffering producer and Kobus van Heerden and Ntando Cele as the hapless television crew dragged in to film Wayne’s impassioned message to America.

Popcorn, the play itself, won London’s Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and the script offers many levels – apart from being a fine piece of writing for the theatre with some wonderful lines. Another quote from the 2000 review: “The line-up before the final curtain provides Ben Elton’s satirical dig at a society generally out for gain. Each cast member tells of his or her fate, reeling off potential lawsuits as relations or associates look to find someone or something to blame for the tragedy and violence while making money in the process.”

The size of the Sneddon does take away some of the intimacy and immediacy of the Kwasuka experience but - if you’re like me and are not comfortable in too close a proximity to any gun, however fake - you’ll be much more comfortable with this season!

Greg King’s set is simply stunning with its spaciousness, elegant but sturdy (it needs to be!) furniture, splashes of vivid orange hues and clever use of the cartoon panels. Unfortunately, it cost him a broken leg in the making of it which meant that Steven had to take over the direction. However, between the two of them, they have produced an excellent and highly entertaining evening’s entertainment. Don’t miss it!

Popcorn runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre with performances Tuesday to Saturday at 19h30 (Sundays at 18h30). Tickets R85 (R65 pensioners and students). Book at Computicket by phoning 083 915 8000 or visit www.computicket.co.za – Caroline Smart




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