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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

BRUTAL TUNES REVISITED (article first published : 2008-04-26)

The recently revived hit show Brutal Tunes had a short season this month at the Rhumbelow Theatre. Devised, directed and performed by a brilliant quartet of talents in Durban, it could hold its own on stages round the world.

The satirical, sardonic, going on outrageous songs by Noel Coward and Tom Lehrer form the main focus of this staging. Its particular strength is that is has taken classics of the genre and adapted them to more in-your-face modern taste without losing any of their pedigree. The songwriters are pretty strange bedfellows – the urbane British Coward homing in on the aristocracy letting its hair down and the abrasive American Lehrer making cheerful music about masochism - and murder, in particular - and mankind's destructive inclinations in general. But they have a strong link in their sparkling command of the English language, not to mention their witty lyrics and jolly, hey ho presentation that allows the audience to wallow in the toe tapping disasters without feeling in the least involved.

It doesn't harm that the two performers are the bouncy charismatic Lisa Bobbert and super suave Anthony Stonier, who sing with as much vitality as they act - together with skilled classical pianist Andrew Warburton who reveals a hilarious alter ego when it comes to hamming it up in drag. Seasoned director Caroline Smart keeps a firm rein on this outburst of creative talent.

Going back to the origins, Tom Lehrer made his name in the '60s as a Harvard University professor who started composing and performing sick songs about poisoning pigeons and murdering loved ones. These developed a cult following, though they also raised a lot of indignant eyebrows in their time. What helped the professor get away with it was his jaunty presentation – tuneful songs backed by his percussive piano and lyrical tenor to soften the raw edge of lyrics like: “She cut her baby brother in two and served him up as an Irish stew.”

Noel Coward, who plied his craft several decades earlier, specialised in convention-defying morality. Celebrated numbers like I went to a Marvellous Party have their roots in a stinging send up of the British upper class, as his characters throw over the traces and get inebriated (in this show totally sloshed) on the French Riviera .

Powerful performances and intimate asides between the cast members add to the appeal of this scintillating show, which includes a gloriously eccentric ditty about the only gay Eskimo in Iceland.

The finale on Downtown, with lyrics adapted to the dangers of life in the new SA, is rather too close to the bone for comfort. But its presentation maintains the scintillating ferocity that makes Brutal Tunes such a delight. - Lynne Goodman

”Brutal Tunes" is set to perform at The Witness Hilton Arts Festival in September this year




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