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RAIDERS OF THE LAST STAND (article first published : 2002-07-5)

Nicholas Ellenbogen and his Theatre for Africa have been presenting the Raiders series in the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown for the last 12 years. A complete and utter spoof on the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie series, it is always memorable for its innovative and wacky use of a fair-sized number of props.

Raiders of the Last Stand playing the 2002 Grahamstown Festival once again delights sell-out audiences. As the sheer financial burden of performing at Grahamstown increases with petrol price hikes, increased airfares and accommodation costs, regular companies have had to cut down on the number of cast members and the size of their productions.

Theatre for Africa has also been affected – originally the “Raider” productions featured a fair-sized cast (for Grahamstown Fringe, that is!) but of late each show has been more of a duo piece. This year Nicholas Ellenbogen is working with the inimitable Jody Abrahams whose comedy timing and endearing stage personality is a good foil for the Ellenbogen mildly eccentric theatrical fun.

With a little help from members of the audience, the story is woven around characters such as the Earl of Suspensor, Patricia de Lily, Masala Din and the fierce Barbarian Hordes. Making his usual appearance is the pith-helmeted doyen of the series, the much-loved Salty Hepburn, played by Nicholas Ellenbogen.

All the regular fun and nonsense is there – the character of an elephant portrayed by a howdah umbrella; the washing powder packet placed in front of the hero’s feet when he has to step out of the boat onto the shore (“surf”, get it?) and a Magnum icecream packet which is raised when Salty Hepburn draws a pistol. Not to mention numerous firecrackers and steam bombs.

Nicholas Ellenbogen has a winning formula – he gives the audience what they expect and allows them to participate. The response on the faces of those called on to play characters on stage tells it all. Fun and wacky theatre is fun, alive and well in the hands of Theatre for Africa. – Caroline Smart




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