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BLACK MAMBA – DIRECTOR’S CUT (article first published : 2007-07-18)

Just opened at the Heritage Theatre supper venue in Hillcrest is Black Mamba – Director’s Cut.

Ben Voss and John van de Ruit blasted onto the comedy scene some years ago with their hilarious comedy review Green Mamba. This was followed shortly afterwards by Black Mamba, a tighter and more satirical series of sketches proving that the black mamba’s bite is more poisonous than that of the green!

Kept in tight control by former Durban director Murray McGibbon who is now based in Indiana, both Mamba productions pulled in numerous awards around South Africa with high accolades for direction, performance and scripting (co-written with Greig Coetzee). Black Mamba gained significant success when it premièred at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 2005 where it was the fastest-selling show on the fringe.

John van de Ruit, who went on to achieve considerable success with his novel Spud and its sequel, has since opted out of acting for a while. So, who to replace him in this clever and fast-moving no-holds-barred show? None better than James Cuningham, better known for his works in more delicate and whimsical plays such as the endearing Baobabs Don’t Grow Here, Black and Blue and Jutro, a beautifully crafted piece which played the 2007 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and is soon to be seen at the Witness Hilton Arts Festival.

James has slotted comfortably and easily into John’s shoes – a credit both to the actor and the writing – while bringing his own quirky style to the various characters. Ben takes the more outrageous parts such as the hilarious Minister of Health (all OK’s and “Eish”es) and the memorable lugubrious car guard, but James’s quick and underplayed comedy timing works as a perfect foil for Ben’s acute sense of the outrageous.

There are a couple of new sketches. A hilarious piece set in 2010 sees Arnold Schwarzenegger as President of the US with Oprah standing in the wings to take over and Cape Town is a republic - plus a lot more besides. The other sketch deals with the re-naming of streets, a situation too good not to satirise, the summing-up of which is brilliant!

Some of the ever-popular sketches still remain, including my all-time favourite Too Many Cooks, suitably updated to include more recent developments on the political front. Apart from the amusing DA (Dermatitis Albino) Soup and the BEE (Brownie, Enriched, Elite) dessert, the programme features a new dish called “Zuma Goat Goulash” with a shake (shaik) or two of extra condiments!

The highlight of the Mamba shows is still the illustrated history of South Africa. Launched with a series of San clicks and the inevitable coke bottle referring to a well-known movie, it deals with the passage of time in South Africa over 600 years.

It must have been difficult to decide which sketches to include in Black Mamba – Director’s Cut but I really missed one of my favourites which sees a computer “virgin” being completely befuddled by a smug salesman spouting computer-speak. This language has now become even more entrenched in mystifying initials and you almost need a university course to work out what the computer boffins are saying! An integral part of the show are the hilarious voice-overs by two of Durban’s most versatile performers - Lisa Bobbert and Tim Wells.

Meal choices were good, as usual. Starters include Roasted Veggie Salad, Peri-Peri Steak Fingers and Soup of the Day with main course options being Grilled Chicken Breast and Linguini Pasta; Calamari Casserole; Braised Lamb Shank and Vegetable Kebabs. Having just undergone fairly extensive dental work, I had to be careful with my choices and the delicious Butternut Soup and lightly flavoured chicken worked a treat! All in all, a highly enjoyable evening and not to be missed.

Black Mamba – Director’s Cut runs from July 17 to August 12 at the Heritage Theatre, Hillcrest from Wednesday to Saturdays at 19h00 (R175), Tuesdays at 19h00 and Sundays at 12h00 (R150). Ticket prices include a two-course meal with desserts at an option extra. Bookings on 031 765 4197. – Caroline Smart




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