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NUNSENSE (article first published : 2004-12-8)

While some may question the choice of a 20-year old musical for a Durban festive season, Very Very Big Productions have hit on a winner with Dan Goggin’s Nunsense, which is running at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. A former seminarian, Goggin is quoted as saying: "It all comes down to this: something funny is funnier when a nun does it". Goggin created this delicious off-Broadway show following the launch of his successful line of Nunsense greeting cards.

Very Very Big Productions have also pulled off a coup by acquiring respected actress, director and broadcaster Fiona Ramsay as director as well as the considerable talents of Amra-Faye Wright as the Mother Superior. Having appeared in the UK touring production of Chicago, Amra is to play one of the two female leads in the South African production next year.

A consummate director, Fiona Ramsay has pulled some of the finest performances I have seen from her cast which also includes Shelley McLean, Nothando Ngubane, Tarryn Page and Carol Trench. She has also skilfully set the production in Durban and brought it right up to date, within the bounds of credibility and without resorting to farce.

In terms of the regulation costume, nun roles are great because actresses don’t have to worry about hair, stockings, nail varnish, false eyelashes, etc. (I know - I’ve been there several times!) but there is a fairly scary and challenging flip side. To create the role all you have left at your disposal is your acting ability as well as your face, your hands and your feet – the rest is covered up. This means that there’s nowhere to hide – you crack it, or you don’t.

Every member of Nunsense cracks it - and more. Amra is a beautifully controlled Sister Mary Regina, only falling apart when she insists on experimenting with a mind-altering substance – a beautiful scene! Infusing hip Afro-lingo into her speech, Nothanda Ngubane is a warm and vigorous Sister Mary Hubert. We all know that Carol Trench has a great voice but Nunsense allows this glorious sound to soar. Shelley McLean gets to do some delightful comedy scenes as the ambitious understudy who is desperate to shine and Tarryn Page is endearing as Sister Mary Leo who dreams of being the first dancing nun!

Fiona is a woman after my own heart whose passion for properly presented speech prompted her to open her own vocal school. This passion shows itself in Nunsense where, including the already immaculately articulate Amra-Faye, the performers cannot be faulted in their diction. All credit to Megan Levy on the sound desk for keeping the balance correct.

The show is no way blasphemous but a wild madcap, delicious romp through a variety show as the Little Sisters of Hoboken (upgraded to the Happy Obedience Babes of KwaZulu Ethekwini Natal) find themselves in a parlous state when their well-meaning cook produces a vichyssoise that kills off many of their order. They have been able to bury most of them but there are a few left in the freezer and the variety show is intended to raise money to despatch them once and for all.

The final number Holier Than Thou virtually brought the house down and if the response from tonight’s audience is anything to go by, the show is set for a successful run.

Greg King’s pink set design places the band sensibly close to the actresses and includes a juke box, a movable counter which acts as a great table top for a hand/shoe tap sequence (go see the show!) and a fairly sturdy bed upon which Carol Trench bounces with great abandon as her Sister Mary Amnesia begins to remember her past!

Musical director Evan Roberts heads a good five piece band featuring Trish Bailey (guitar); Bruce Baker (drums); Tom Hare (brass and wind) and Tory Cassells (keyboards).

Nunsense runs from December 3 to 31 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre with performances from Tuesdays to Fridays at 19h30 with Saturdays at 17h00 and 20h00 and Sundays at 18h00. Tickets R75 (R60 concessions). Book at Computicket. Don’t miss it! – Caroline Smart




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