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HERITAGE THEATRE (article first published : 2005-04-16)

When I took a quick trip up to Hillcrest yesterday, it was all systems go at the new Heritage Theatre which is due to open at the Hillcrest Village Heritage Market on April 21.

Forming part of the extension to this picturesque Victorian-themed complex and situated at the lower end near the river, it is a custom-built 240-seater supper theatre venue.

The Heritage Theatre will operate under the management of experienced theatre entrepreneur Gary McKenzie. Perhaps better known to theatregoers as one of the three members of the popular male singing group, The GeeJays, he has also co-produced many adult pantomimes with Sue Clarence Promotions such as Sinderella, Puss in Boots and Aladdin. He also started and successfully ran the Langoustine Theatre by the Sea for five years until its closure and has wisely teamed up with Gary Camps who was involved in the early days at Lango’s to handle the food and service aspects.

Created and specifically designed by theatre people and not some existing building or area adapted for the purpose, The Heritage Theatre should have everything in terms of technology and the maximum use of space that makes up a proper theatre.

I approached the venue through the basement parking area which allowed me to walk right onto the stage via the loading bay which is wide enough to drive in at least three vehicles for a car launch! If one did a production of Cinderella, there’d be no problem in getting a carriage and a brace of ponies – maybe even four! - onto the stage!

The theatre’s internal decor has been described at a fusion of “old time music hall” and “Moulin Rouge” and the predominant impact is that of dark polished wood. Seating is tiered with basic but comfortable and attractively-upholstered chairs placed at wooden tables which can variously seat four, six or eight. It reminds me of the Playhouse Cellar, a great venue which has hosted some of Durban’s top entertainment but which has now been inexcusably “dark” for over a year.

The bar area opens onto a wide deck with a view of the surrounding gardens and the river.

The Heritage Theatre will operate six nights a week and can be used for corporate functions during the day. On select Monday evenings there will be a wide-ranging programme of special one-off events from recitals to comedy put together by Sue Clarence who runs the Hilton and Kearsney art festivals.

Some of the artists already secured to perform in the venue include Ian Von Memerty, Evan Roberts, Karen Van Pletsen, David Dennis, Carol Trench, Anthony Stonier, The Gee Jays, Melvin Peters and Nothando Ngubane. (See separate story)

A most appropriate production launches the theatre. This is Aaron McIlroy’s The Stand Up (see review on Drama pages) which can only inject a megaton of energy into the venue. The show ran successfully at Catalina Theatre a month back and it will be interesting to see how it transfers to this new and untried space. Aaron himself is very upbeat about it and he’s been around the theatre scene long enough to know what he’s doing, so stand by (pun intended!) for blast off!

With many people north of Pinetown being reluctant to come into town at night to see shows, I believe the Heritage Theatre will offer a highly attractive option and we will see these audiences returning to the theatre scene. I wish the venue all the very best and offer blessings on all who perform there!

Tickets R140 includes a two-course meal and show ticket. Please note there is a special pudding a la carte menu. There is one low price preview on April 20 (R120). Times are Tuesday to Saturday at 19h00 for supper with the show at 20h30. (Sunday 12h30 lunch for 14h00 show.) Bookings on 031 765 4197. – Caroline Smart




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