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

RUNNING RIOT (article first published : 2002-03-26)

TO ALL CONCERNED PRODUCTION COMPANIES

Running Riot, a laugh a minute comedy/farce, was written by Paul Slabolepszy and produced by Space Kids to specifically celebrate a great South African sporting event - the Comrades Marathon. An event hosted annually by the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Consequently, the play had its six week world premiere in Durban to co-incide with the running of the Comrades. A play written FOR Durban.

As with the play's predecessor Heel Against The Head - a sell out run at The Playhouse was very much on the cards. This was not to be. It ran to 50% houses. We believe this was, in part, due to the failure of a certain "new" booking agency to deliver what it had promised in terms of outlets - but even greater damage was done to audience attendances by extremely negative and nasty reviews from certain male Durban critics.

These gentlemen of the press (who shall remain nameless, but they know who they are...) were seen at the opening night party in the foyer - merrily drinking our drinks and eating our snacks. Various audience members reported to us that these same critics (who are presumed to have minds of their own) were seen and overheard, huddled in a conspiratorial circle of indecision actually discussing WHAT THEY WERE GOING TO SAY ABOUT THE PLAY...!!?? Did we confuse them THAT much...!!??

As their reviews later showed, they said very little that was good about the show. They were extremely negative and quite nasty, in fact. One reviewer said he heard an audience member using the word "pathetic" in the foyer at interval. He did not agree with the use of that PARTICULAR word but still found reason to mention it in his review. What he did NOT mention was the fact that the other 450 audience members raised the roof and thoroughly enjoyed the show. Another member of the "Huddled Threesome" went as far as saying in his review that the show was not very amusing - "there was not one belly laugh". He too, ignored the wonderful laughter coming from the other 450 theatre-goers surrounding him. Did he mention this in his review? We'll give you three guesses - two of them don't count.

We recorded the show in Durban and actually counted the laughs. All 801 of them. That's a laugh every 7.5 seconds. Dozens of them ranging from chuckles to MAJOR belly laughs. Obviously this critic was pre-determined NOT to laugh or he deliberately wore a blindfold and ear-plugs.

Yes, a critic is certainly entitled to his personal opinion, but is it not his civic duty to ALSO report on what the rest of the audience felt? We think it is. Specifically when it comes to comedy. We believe these reviewers were doing the Durban audiences a disservice by being so deliberately negative. They did not bear honest witness to the evening - thereby discouraging the public from coming to see the show. The 50% audiences that DID attend - absolutely loved the show. Many seeing it more than once. All the other critics also LOVED the show - artSMart, Kwana, The Natal Witness and East Coast Radio to name but four of them.

Running Riot has subsequently played sell out seasons in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town. Due to public demand it returns to Jhb for a 5 month season. In ALL of these towns the critics loved the show and reported on the gales of laughter coming from the audiences. Why is it that only Durban's "Huddled Snack Eating Threesome" critics saw fit to be so perversely negative? There is a distinct feeling amongst most visiting producers that certain Durban male critics seem to have an unfortunate hidden agenda - namely to DISCOURAGE non-Durban productions from performing their shows there.

Should their "platform" writing continue - this is precisely what will happen. Producers from other cities will stop touring their shows to KwaZulu-Natal. And thereby these dishonest and confused reviewers will REALLY have done the Durban public a disservice. We, the Producers, Writers, Directors and Actors pride ourselves on professional behaviour - we take no decision lightly. We demand the same from the abovementioned Durban male critics. If they have become bored with their jobs and are now writing purely from a perverse need to be sensational, controversial and negative - we suggest they retire.

The Producers RUNNING RIOT. (Bill Flynn and Paul Slabolepszy)




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