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

HOMETALK (article first published : 2002-06-23)

Exactly 21 years ago last night, the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre opened its doors on the University of Natal Durban’s campus. Named after the redoubtable Professor Elizabeth Sneddon, the doyenne of the performing arts in Durban and without whose singular determination the UND’s department of speech and drama would never have come into being, the theatre was designed by architect Bruce Powers.

A gala evening last night attended by the “who’s who” in Durban theatre circles marked the theatre’s 21st anniversary with a production titled Hometalk. Sponsored by the City of Durban, Pick ‘n Pay and P4 Radio, it was produced by Themi Venturas who was a member of the cast of Nicolai Erdman’s Suicide which opened the theatre in 1981. Now with a string of smash hits to his name, Themi went on to work as an EST theatre manager and spearheaded the genre of supper in theatre in Durban through productions in the popular Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre Bistro.

Since then, the theatre has hosted a wide variety of productions and this diversity was recognised with a dynamic instrumental piece written for the occasion and performed by Landscape Prayers stalwarts Nibs van der Spuy and Anton Cawthorn-Blazeby. Messages of congratulations were screened from Professor Elizabeth Sneddon and Professor Pieter Scholtz, head of the department of speech and drama for many years.

Originally premiered in Port Elizabeth in November 2001 to backing tracks, Hometalk sets out to pay homage to South Africa’s rich and diverse history of popular music. What a luxury to have a live band on stage. Musical director George Mari does justice to Dawn Selby’s musical arrangements and the cast – Themi Venturas, Arnie Field, Karen Campbell-Gillies and Nothando Mbanda – have their time cut out with a dizzying array of costumes, changes in musical style and mood.

The fast-moving production takes audiences on a roller coaster ride from early Springbok Hits to Mandosa, dropping in on the Pip Freedman Show and the first five minutes of SATV. It also pays tribute to such well-known performers as Sonja Herholdt, Juluka, Jonathan Butler, Vicky Sampson, Brenda Fassie, Johnny Clegg, Gene Rockwell, Coleske and Mango Groove along the way.

One of the most impressive numbers was Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Homeless with the cast accurately following the isicathamiya discipline and harmonies. Other highlights for me were Paradise Road, Big Panty Woman and Cry to Me.

One of the most musical people I know, it was good to see Themi back on stage and in good voice. His trademark laid-back style and attention to humour drives the show and comes to the fore in Des and Dawn Lindberg’s Seagull’s Name was Nelson and Man on the Moon.

Arnie Field, who conceived the show along with Themi, is a delightful mover on stage and was amusing in a sketch about an Indian fisherman battling with the shad bans. A powerful and compelling performer, Nothando Mbatha shone in the Miriam Makeba/Dolly Rathebe medley. Karen Campbell-Gillies always looks good and provides a strong element of mischievous charm. She was highly entertaining in a send up of Country and Western music with Themi.

The set is notable for its back-lit stretched “animal hide” panels, the lighting is flamboyant and exciting and the audiovisual component is skilfully edited and contains many fun touches of graphic humour.

At a time when South Africans can find much to be negative about – petrol prices, taxes, crime, political manoeuvrings, etc. - Hometalk reminds us that we are living in one of the most beautiful countries in the world with a wealth of musical talent that is astounding. It’s a “feel good”, joyous and vibrantly energetic show that should make audiences proud of the country they live in and feel positive for the future.

Hometalk runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until July 21. Performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 19h30 and Sundays at 18h00. Book through Computicket or on 011 340-8000 or visit www.computicket.com. – Caroline Smart




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