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JAMAICAN JAM (article first published : 1999-06-11)

Jamaican Jam Cast

Yo, mon! Jamaican Jam’s really jammin’! Directed by Peter Court and devised and produced by Themi Venturas (who wrote a short piece titled Durban Poison for the show) this latest production at the Glenwood Old Boys Club is scheduled to run to the end of July. But it’s my bet it should have several extensions as it’s quite one of the most breezy, enjoyable and entertaining supper theatre shows to come Durban’s way for a while.

Apart from stalwarts, the ever-smooth Arnie Field who always gives a controlled performance and the utterly delightful, bouncy Clinton Philander who is as chirpy as the cricket his character gets confused about, the show introduces some very welcome new faces to the cabaret circuit. Bringing a touch of glamour, beauty and charm to the show is Belinda Henwood. While she is no stranger to Durban audiences, we’ve usually seen her in straight parts before. She was last seen in the Creative Madness Puppet Company’s delightful Starchild which played Kwasuka Theatre in July last year.

Ben Voss is one of Durban’s most promising up-and-coming actors who appeared in The Final Cut, a successful joint production with John van de Ruit. He brings a freshness and engaging vagueness to the show and what he lacks in experience in this genre, he makes up for with sincerity and a clear singing voice. Gcnile Nkosi, standing in for Nothando Mbanda who is recovering from a sudden attack of appendicitis, performs with a cool and elegant confidence which belies the fact that she had to take over at less than five day’s notice. Last seen in Abasheli at the Playhouse, this is a performer to watch.

However, the undoubted star of Jamaican Jam is Rasta-locked Eric “Coolfire” Radebe of the million-dollar smile and impassioned voice. A former member of Themi Venturas’s Kwasa group (a Napac community theatre initiative), he is perhaps better known as a musician and singer. Loose-limbed (I had to ask him to show me his knees after the show to prove that he does HAVE joints!), casual, laid-back and consistently entertaining - whether he’s doing his own wonderful version of the set choreography or drumming up a storm - he slips into the dramatic style as if he’s been doing it for years.

The show begins with the taped voices of the pilot and co-pilot of SA601, a passenger airliner headed for Kingston, Jamaica. Next, we meet two Durbs jollers (Clinton Philander and Eric “Coolfire” Radebe) who have arrived on the island in search of the spiritual centre of reggae - this scene is memorable for the actors’ nifty manipulation of luggage and microphones! They meet Earl, a laid-back retired Jamaican (a greyed-up Arnie Field looking remarkably like a young Oliver Reed and sexily clad in a loose-fitting outfit which bares a strong chest), who takes it upon himself to prove to the newcomers that there’s more to Jamaica than reggae. Also in the storyline are his daughter Joanna (Belinda Henwood) as well as an off-the-wall professor (Ben Voss) and Earl’s long-suffering wife Ciddie (Gcnile Nkosii.

From the opening Hot, hot hot to Summertime to the final Reggae Nights, the singing is good, performed to top-notch backing tracks arranged and performed by Dawn Thompson with guitar by Barry Thompson and recorded at Strawberry Fields Studio by Brian McFall. For most media personnel, it was a joy to enjoy the well-controlled sound set-up by Thabani Ngubane having been assaulted by noise at another show several days earlier.

Having just suffered a robbery at our home and the attendant violation of one’s privacy, not to mention having to cope with getting rid of the Melissa virus on my computer system, I was hardly in the mood for entertainment. Jamaican Jam reminded me that we are all survivors and that creativity and talent continues to conquer and rise above all else - even the problems of living in a crime-ridden society!

Book through Computicket or TicketLine on 304-2753. Block bookings on 21-9242.


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