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

DECADENCE (article first published : 2003-02-26)

When Themi Venturas first broached the idea of his new Catalina Theatre, at Wilson’s Wharf, he vowed that he would use it to preserve and showcase good drama. With his current production, Steven Berkoff’s Decadence, he’s certainly got two of the finest performers in South Africa – Fiona Ramsay and Michael Richard. Fiona’s been doing this piece for nigh on 20 years and Michael joined it about 10 years ago.

Their combined experience, versatility, superb command of voice and accent and abiity to play two different couples is a pure delight to watch and appreciate. Not one word goes unheard, not one pause unspoilt and not one nuance of mood missed.

Everything is implied – the audience’s imagination can run riot at the blackout at the end of every scene but that’s as far as it goes. Elegantly dressed, the actors keep their clothes on throughout. There are no props and yet they mime their way beautifully through several packets of cigarettes and a whole caseload of booze!

Steven Berkoff is a daunting talent. Explosive and reactionary, he takes his characters and settings and dissects them with an all-revealing razor-sharp scalpel to shocking impact. He’s restless, brooding and impatient of society’s platitudes.

He has produced four fascinatingly drawn characters in this highly dramatic two-hander. There’s the snobbish society pair who visit the opera, gorge themselves on haute cuisine and drink themselves silly. At the other end of the scale is a coarse, gum-chewing and beer-swilling Cockney couple bent on vengeance but intimidated by class structures.

This is the fourth time I have seen Decadence and still marvel at the power it has to compel me with its incisive content. There is much humour and particular scenes are memorable such as Fiona’s early morning exploration with a handsome waiter in a hotel room and her behaviour in a box at the opera. Michael extracts every ounce of humour wrapped round a tequila glass and portrays the gargantuan dinner superbly. Their horse and hounds scene is undeniably brilliant.

The recent survey sponsored by the Bartel Arts Trust regarding the state of the performing arts in Durban came up with the finding that, besides musicals, drama was the preferred genre choice of those canvassed. So, if drama – and particularly good drama presented by two of the best in the business – is your bag, then head for Catalina.

Be warned. It’s raunchy, there is explicit sexual language, uncomfortable racist remarks and a couple of really gross moments. But that’s Berkoff. As the saying goes: if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen … in this case, The Catalina.

But if you’re broadminded enough to accept it all in the spirit of superb drama and excellent performances, you shouldn’t miss it.

Decadence is suggested for adult audiences only and is being staged from February 25 to March 9. Performances Tuesday to Saturday at 20h00 and Sundays at 18h00. Book on 031 305 6889. – Caroline Smart




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