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

MADAME ZINGARA’S THEATRE OF DREAMS (article first published : 2008-06-13)

Many Durbanites living on the higher ridges of the Berea must have been fascinated to watch the erection of what appears to be circus tent at the old Waterworld site next to Suncoast Casino.

However, this is no ordinary circus tent - neither does it offer any ordinary entertainment. This is Madame Zingara, as the venue is lovingly known, a glamorous “lady” named after visionary restaurant owner Richard Griffin’s Cape Town venue which was tragically burnt down in 2006. Madame Zingara is a spiegelpalais, an original 1920’s magnificent mirror tent of the kind first built in Belgium around 1900 when they were used as travelling dancehalls. One of the very few left in the world today, this one is hung with sumptuous fabric, festooned with gilded cherubs and surrounded by stained-glass panelling, all reflected in the elegant mirrored posts.

Instead of rebuilding his restaurant which would have meant a lengthy process, Richard Griffin latched onto the idea of placing it in a spiegeltent and, as luck would have it, he managed to acquire Madame Zingara from her owners in Belgium for the purpose. This meant that his faithful kitchen staff of 20 years got to keep their jobs and travel to hitherto unknown destinations into the bargain! One of the most endearing aspects of the show is that Richard parades his kitchen staff as well as the waiters and waitresses at the end - applause they richly deserve!

Madame Zingara has already had extremely successful seasons in Cape Town and Johannesburg and comes to Durban with Aphrodisia, a spectacular new show for the winter season. When they leave here, the full tent and all its accoutrements plus cast, crew and equipment pack up and go to the UK where, no doubt, the success story will be repeated.

How does one describe the Madame Zingara experience? It’s simply that – An Experience. An extraordinary experience of superb breathtaking performance, fine food and all-embracing hospitality. It’s also a chance to step from the humdrum everyday into a world that is stylish, gracious and flamboyant but right up to the minute in terms of efficient delivery. The evening is full of thrills – and surprises - from start to finish!

The performance is given in Cirque de Soleil style. Cirque du Soleil became the epitome of a modern circus where there is no ring and no animals - the performers are human and what they present to the public are breathtaking balancing acts of magnificent skill and control. During their three acts, Ivan Silva, Brian Mynhardt and Sam Kotze, Gabriel Heflin, Wendy Knol and Christine Chapman, Martin Alvez, Larissa Rocha, Justine Whyte and Jonathan Cavanagh kept me utterly enthralled.

Musical entertainment in mainly Motown style is provided by the larger than life Stella Magaba supported by The Original Tons: Marguerita Freeks, Dorothy Engelbrecht and Lilian Khumalo. One of the most outrageous characters of the evening is former Durbanite Andrew Delport who takes the role of host, appearing in one outrageous costume after the other.

The dress code is smart casual but you’re more than welcome to dress up to the nines, put on the glitz, add the bling and be part of the flamboyant surroundings. The night I went, the in-house store was doing a good trade in stetsons, false moustaches, tiaras and fancy wigs as people became drawn into the fun atmosphere.

Shows are Tuesdays to Saturdays with tickets ranging from R300 to R350 pp (depending on seating area) including welcome drinks, a four-course dinner and the show. We enjoyed an antipasto along with leek and potato soup followed by a delicious – and fair-sized – ravioli dish. For main course, I opted for Madame’s Chocolate Chilli Fillet. A fascinating taste experience but I would have preferred the dark Belgian chocolate sauce to have been served on the side. A member of our party had the Springbok Shanks and said it was most enjoyable. The other option (vegetarian choice) is Pasticcio di Polenta Prima Vera.

And if that wasn’t a sumptuous enough selection all beautifully presented, this was followed by Dolce, a delicious threesome of different desserts. There is a full cash bar, meals are Halaal friendly and those with special dietary requirements should alert the box office at least 72 hours before attending.

Doors open at 18h30 and guests must be seated by 19h30 as the doors close at 19h45 at the start of the show. The show usually finishes at 22h30. Final rounds will be served by 23h30 and the theatre closes by 00h00. To reach Madame Zingara, you go through Sun Coast Casino’s main parking entrance (R5 per vehicle) keep to your left and travel towards the tent. Car guards are in attendance. The venue is wheelchair friendly but you are requested to inform the box office prior to arrival so that you can be accommodated at a suitable table.

Bookings are made through the Box Office and a pre-payment of R175/person is required to confirm the booking. Once an available date is given, your deposit is taken and then confirmed. Your booking is released after 24 hours if no proof of payment is received. The balance of the ticket price plus drinks and gratuity is payable on the night. Believe me - the experience is well worth the ticket price!

For reservations, contact 021 426-2458 or 0861 MADAME (0861 623263) or 076 ZINGARA (076 946 4272). As Madame Zingara is experiencing a high volume of calls at present and does not wish to inconvenience patrons, email boxoffice@madamezingara.com and they will return your call.

(An article by Elena Beis in which she talks to Richard Griffin can be found at http://www.artsmart.co.za/supper/1318.html ) - Caroline Smart




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