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SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW NATION (article first published : 2000-08-30)

When Archbishop Desmond Tutu coined the phrase “The Rainbow Nation”, I bet he didn’t know what he started! The phrase has been bandied about – with a varied range of conflicting emotions – ever since. While performing in The Wizard of Oz in Johannesburg at the end of last year, James van Helsdingen was doubly prompted to write his one-man show Somewhere Over the Rainbow Nation now running in the Playhouse Cellar.

This is the good-looking young man who impressed me in PACT Drama’s production of Love! Valour! Compassion! directed by Mark Graham which appeared on the main frame of the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in 1996. I remember feeling particularly sorry for the cast at the performance I saw. It was Grahamstown weather at its worst, freezing cold and winds galore, and half of the cast had to appear naked as they frolicked in and out of a lake!

James van Helsdingen keeps himself firmly clothed in his production although no doubt many members of the audience would like him to be more revealing in his costuming! Most of the show has been designed by couturier Paul Munro. Particularly impressive are his opening black tunic jacket, a silver coat with tassels and a fabulous full-length cloak with silver blue lining.

Having worked for Pact and Pacofs and a winner of both a Cobus Roussouw and an FNB Vita award for his performance in Equus, his talent lies strongly in the acting field. While he sings – and sings well, particularly in Laughing Matters, Delta Dawn and Melting Pot - he needs to improve his microphone technique. His backing tracks were good although I was disappointed in If You Could Read My Mind which didn’t come off as well as the other numbers.

For most of the show, James has taken well-known songs and set his own lyrics to them. He launches into his production clad in the black jacket and, donning a Hitler moustache, cleverly juxtaposes numbers from Cabaret. After carefully explaining the spelling of his name – and he gets some lulus! – he tells how his family were legendary figures in Afrikaans folklore although he grew up in an English speaking environment.

This is an actor meticulous about his craft who has something important to say about the world around him. While his humour is satirical, it’s refreshing and couth (as opposed to uncouth!). His accents are good and accurate and his characters delightful such as Poppie the flower seller; the kugel mother of Darryl, and motor mechanic Brian. The Romeo and Juliet sketch was clever but seemed inappropriate for the programme.

There are two new faces at the Playhouse Cellar. Radhika Pillay is now the manager and the chef is Siva Ganas who was formerly executive chef at the Mount Edgecombe Country Club and prior to that at the Edward for many years.

The Cellar is as much about the food as the show. Although this is Siva’s first foray into supper theatre, he’s loving every minute of it and plans his menus around the production, adding final touches after he has seen it in the last stages of rehearsal. The beautifully laid-out dessert of different coloured fresh fruit and ice-cream pays tribute to the title and last minute additions to one of the choices for main course, Grilled Chicken Breast Oregano included a more appropriately colourful tomato sauce. Starter is a South African Game Soup, although more of a consommé, and the other main course choice is Mignon of Beef Tenderloin served with Sauce Choron and baked celery. Siva doesn’t believe in pre-cooking his vegetables but grills them prior to serving. The full meal received a thumbs up from both of us.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow Nation is due to close on Saturday but it has a possible extension so keep your eyes on the daily press or phone (031) 369-9444. Book at Ticketweb.




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