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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

DE COMPLEAT HSTRY OF DBN (article first published : 2007-12-5)

Amidst all the glitz and glamour of most of the shows on offer for the festive season, De Compleat Hstry of Dbn… Without the Boring Bits just opened at Catalina Theatre gets down to basics. The colour scheme is black and white – possibly referring to the former racial divides – but amusingly complemented by Ewok’s clever graphics on the screened images translated to the backdrop as well as Hugo le Roux and Jannie Engelbrecht’s over the top cartoon-like costumes. The cast members are dressed in basic black and character changes are created by cleverly designed stick-on aprons, jackets, dresses and traditional ethic outfits.

Directed and written by Themi Venturas with musical accompaniment by Tixi Nxumalo on the guitar (good to see him back on the theatre scene), the show is inspired by the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s hilarious The Compleat Wrks of Wlm Shkspr (Abridged). It takes audiences on a highly amusing rollercoaster ride through the history of the city of Durban.

This is definitely an ensemble piece with stage veterans Hamish Kyd, Frank Graham and Mpume Mthombeni coping with numerous character changes and working alongside comparative newcomers Mayuri Naidu and Daisy Spencer. Kajal Bagwandeen will replace Mayuri on December 10, Daisy will share the role with Holly Boulind and Themi will replace Frank after Christmas. So, if you go to see the show three times before December 30, you’ll see three different dynamics.

Having described it as an ensemble piece, Hamish Kyd generates the most laughs as the “bruin ou” using the forthright and distinctive jargon of this community to best advantage. His scene with Mayuri in the 1860 advent of the Indian settlers was most amusing. Frank Graham’s command of accents and comedy style lends much humour to the many characters he plays. Mpume stoutly supports the Zulu culture, while Mayrui and Daisy add to the fun.

While the production sets out to “look at watershed events and crucial personalities in the city’s history”, it veritably gallops through the last 100 odd years, too much focus being spent on the early years. As with any city in the world, mistakes or misjudgements of the past are often repeated centuries later but I felt that the parallels could have been drawn more clearly.

This is a show that definitely has strong growth material and I would welcome seeing an updated version next year. In fact, it could become a regular festive season feature – there’s certainly enough material in one year generating from this city! The furore surrounding the renaming of street names in this past year produced enough material for an entire production on its own!

If you need a break from the Christmas razzle and dazzle, this is the answer. As Themi Venturas says: “It is hugely entertaining to look at history in this way. Festive fun, laughter and a generous dollop of self-mockery will be the order of the day.” Just sit back, listen to a lot of fun and nonsense and along the way, you may learn something as well. Like - did you know that the Royal Hotel was originally McDonalds (not the hamburger franchise, of course!)

De Compleat Hstry of Dbn ….Without the Boring Bits is suitable for the whole family and runs until December 30. Performances Tuesday to Saturday at 20h00 (Sundays at 18h00). For more information or to book, contact the Catalina Theatre on 031 305 6889. – Caroline Smart




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