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ABBAMANIACS (article first published : 2006-09-15)

From the moment blonde Lisa Bobbert and brunette Shelley McLean sashay onto the stage, glamorously clad in purple sequins and looking closely like the original female members of the Swedish super group, you know Abbamaniacs is going to offer a great evening of entertainment. It continues in a tumbling riot of gentle lunacy as Aaron McIlroy weaves the story – as those who recognise his extensive stable of popular characters will know – of one Nigel Bjorn van Rensburg who believes he is the love child of aliens. He hijacks East Coast Radio’s airwaves to ensure the music of his idols, the ABBA, reaches millions of listeners.

His sister Zoe (Shelley McLean) has inspanned the help of Mauritian psychologist Dr Martine Bardot (Lisa Bobbert) to try to make some sense of Nigel’s behaviour. The only problem is that the girls need two men to produce a true ABBA sound – Nigel obviously not qualifying in this regard! Pizza delivery man Christo (Jacobus van Heerden) gets roped in as does handyman Donovan (Clinton Philander) and the foursome is embellished as the added vocal skills of Nigel’s landlady (Pinkie Mtshali) are thrown into the melting pot.

There are some delightful moments in this helter-skelter of nonsense which respects and stays true to the ABBA sound with vocal arrangements by Shelley McLean and backing tracks by Tim Pullen. For the ecstatic audience, Aaron McIlroy can do no wrong as the snorting, wild-eyed, leaping Nigel as he manically explains that they are at risk from a number of aliens such as the dreaded Flokkau, the Atlantis and the evil One-Shoes.

All the performances are excellent as is to be expected from artistes of this calibre but it is Jacobus van Heerden who provides the surprise of the evening as we discover that he can hold his own as a song and dance man, particularly in a ridiculously high pair of boots. This young actor has consistently impressed in children’s productions, Shakespeare’s King Lear and his appearances with Liam Magner in their delightful Tokoloshe Come and Tokoloshe Go, seen recently at Catalina.

Sue Donaldson Selby’s effective set of white circular stage set against a backdrop of white draping forms a fine canvas for Michael Broderick’s lush lighting design which features much use of lilac. The main focal point is the suspended “ABBA” sign with the legendary group’s distinctive backward second “B” complementing the muddle of a home-made radio station downstage. In front of this is an opening in the stage where Nigel occasionally disappears into the bowels of the earth. Don’t ask why – it’s not important!

Fresh, innovative, at times elegant and at others deliciously eccentric and psychedelic, Terrence Bray’s costumes are a triumph. I particularly enjoyed the black and gold checked set and Pinkie’s black and gold brocaded costume was splendidly dramatic. Dina de Vine and Quinton Ribbonaar’s choreography is tight and well-designed, particularly the offbeat Charlie Chaplain styled sequence.

Last seen in Durban more than seven years ago, Abbamaniacs has a track record as one of MacBob's greatest runaway successes. So, if you want to see Aaron McIlroy, Lisa Bobbert, Shelley McLean, Pinkie Mtshali, Clinton Philander and Cobus van Heerden at their best; enjoy ABBA’s music; and like Terrence Bray’s designs, it’s a triple whammy. Don’t miss it!

Abbamaniacs is directed by Aaron McIlroy and presented by MacBob Productions. It runs until October 8 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. Tickets R95. Early booking at Computicket is advised. – Caroline Smart




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