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ROMEO & JULIET (article first published : 2006-04-29)

Award-winning Durban playwright and director Jerry Pooe has adapted Shakespeare’s time-honoured love story, Romeo & Juliet, into a musical. Currently running at the BAT Centre it will eventually move on to three other regions of KwaZulu-Natal. The play is aimed at KZN grade 12 learners in the English second language schools and features stalwarts of his globe-trotting seven-member Eager Artists company plus an additional intake of 15 extra performers increasing the line-up to a cast of 22.

Seated under a well-worded banner saying “Fight Aids – Not Each Other”, the narrator in this production is a newsreader on a radio station – a device that could have been further explored to more optimum use.

There are good consistent performances all round and Jerry has extracted as much humour as possible where appropriate. Victor Ndawo is a suitably romantic, gentle and sincere Romeo – and he’s also a good dancer! As his Juliet, the slender and feather-light Bongiwe Nsindane presents a charming and lively young girl experiencing love for the first time. S’nenhlanhla Mkhize was an elegant fashion plate Lady Capulet suffering the tribulations of a constantly-inebriated and volatile husband, a nice performance by Miekie Ndimande as Capulet.

This production of the Bard’s tale sees Friar Lawrence as an enthusiastic visionary choir leader – well portrayed by S’thembiso Blose while Xolani Henema can always be relied on to produce a robust dramatic or comedy performance as the needs dictate. Sphindile Hlongwa was consistent as a forthright and spunky nurse, while Nhlakanipo Zikhali’s flamboyant and camp Mercutio was an audience favourite! Dumisani Dlamini also impressed as Benvolio. The most interesting performance of the evening for me came from Xolani Simelani as Tybalt. While obviously a fine dancer, he has strong acting skills. Watch him!

Congratulations are due to the cast – particularly the lead roles - for maintaining their focus this evening in what must have been a difficult performance, with music blasting through from the bar area. The BAT Hall is not a user-friendly area in the evening for dramatic theatre. Hopefully, the schools audiences will have a quieter background and are able to enjoy the production uninterrupted.

One of Eager Artists’ – aptly named – strong points is the company’s energy and the dance sequences choreographed by Mdu Mtshali prove this in the brawling hip-hop street scenes as well as a highly entertaining party scene. Well-schooled as always in their music, the company’s harmonised singing was highly enjoyable and much of this formed a live backing track, as it were, for certain scenes. Soloists who made an impression were Nonhlanhla Mkhize, Ngcina Vilakazi and Nokubonga Lushaba.

Set designer Irek Karamon has made good use of the space but the production suffers from a lack of adequate lighting.

Romeo and Juliet runs at the BAT Centre Tuesday to Friday (May 5). There will be two performances daily at 10h00 and 13h00. Tickets R15 per learner.

The production will also have performances in Pietermaritzburg at the Winston Churchill Theatre and in Zululand at the University of Zululand’s Centre for Arts and Culture with a season in Newcastle. More information and bookings through Andile on 031 305 1624 or contact 083 511 1407. - Caroline Smart




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