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

GREASE (article first published : 2002-06-8)

The old Technikon Natal: Drama Studies Department now forms part of the newly-merged Durban Institute of Technology. This is a department that has consistently presented top quality student work of a wide-ranging nature for some time now. This year has seen productions such as the astounding The Conduct of Life and the impressive Sophiatown.

Once again under the direction of Debbie Lutge, the department now presents Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s Grease with musical direction by Juan Burgers backed by Sibusihle Zondi and Beki Khumalo. While notable for the cast’s energetic commitment and vitality, it doesn’t have the tight control and focus of Sophiatown and last year’s The King and I.

Individual performances, however, are good and capture the volatile environment of high school pupils flexing their muscles for the outside world to come. They have their loves, their jealousies, their hates and their fears – all jumbled together in those bittersweet years of the late teens.

Heading the cast as Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski are Andile Mngadi, recently seen in Garth Anderson’s Macbeth, and Natasha Hosken who gave a strong performance in The Conduct of Life. Seen here in very different roles, they are both pleasing to watch as actors who handle their work with sincerity and discipline.

Two good comedy talents emerged from the evening. They were Samantha Wright, complete with buck-teeth and bunches as Jan, and Sibusiso Mbatha as “Rump” Rodger. Both were a sustained delight throughout the evening, their movement was good and their diction clear. Sibusiso’s Southern American accent was authentic and he sang a pleasing duet with Siyabonga Radebe. Vocal honours went to Menzi Biyela for Teen Angel, which was performed with white ballet style costumes complete with transparent plastic capes and shower caps.

Other notable performances came from Zipporah Jali as Rizzo whose solo numbers were highly enjoyable; Denton Douglas as the brash and frenetic Kenickie who choreographed his own impressive Greased Lightning! number; Gulshan Mia as aspiring beauty consultant Frenchy; Sduduzo Majola as the freewheeling Sonny and Bongiwe Chiliza as Marty who handled the song Freddy, My Love well, despite upstaging choreography from the rest of the group.

Farla Simon and Maxine du Plessis also impressed as Miss Lynch and Patty Simcox while Wesley Woolf showed good comedy promise as Eugene. Dumisile Mqadi’s dance skills were well displayed in a dance section with Andile Mngadi.

Coral Chamberlain’s choreography is effective and the cast is well-disciplined in terms of movement. However, they must learn to “find” the light. The apron (front of stage that thrusts into the audience) is never well lit and anyone moving into this area is invariably in darkness. Watch any seasoned or natural actor – if they find they’re in an unsuitably lit area for whatever reason and they’re the featured performer at the time, they’ll move carefully and almost imperceptibly into a better lit area – to make sure they’re seen and avoid severely diminishing their performance!

I acknowledge that this would have been difficult at the hand jive party. Here the lighting was atmospheric but too low to identify the soloists as well as the smaller scenes being enacted from less prominent members of the cast in the background. I did, however, like the gentling dismantling of the props after this scene.

Josef van Schalkwyk’s scaffolding set offers various levels and it is used to good advantage.

Grease closes on June 8 but perhaps the department can be persuaded to revisit the production later in the year for a re-run? – Caroline Smart




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