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THE LADY IS A VAMP (article first published : 2001-04-5)

Karen Campbell-Gillies has come a long way since she made her first appearance on the Durban supper theatre circuit scene in the Cellar’s adult pantomime Sinderella several years ago.

Backed by “backing singers” Georgie and Coo (two shop window mannequins), she launches into her first major solo show on the Durban supper theatre circuit with The Lady is a Vamp which is running at the Royal Hotel’s Backstage until April 14.

This is a perfect production for the Backstage venue as the small stage is well-suited to solo or duo shows. Alluring and decorative, Karen’s show is classy and frivolous, poking gentle fun at being “blonde” and at the vagaries of both sexes.

While undeniably flirtatious, kittenish and provocative, a vamp Karen is not. Or perhaps a featherweight “look-but-don’t-touch” vamp. If there is a darker side to this effervescent performer, it is not sufficiently developed to produce the kind of self-serving, unscrupulous sensuality and raw sexiness required of the title “vamp”.

My faithful standby, good old Collins English Thesaurus, doesn’t even try to find an alternative word. And I bow to the principle that, like politics and religion, sexuality and the perception of the word is a personal thing and too convoluted a subject to enter into here!

Karen has loads of charm. She is also one of the most musical singers on the Durban entertainment scene. A strange comment? Not necessarily. You don’t have to be “musical” to be able to sing and it’s always a joy to the ears and the senses when you discover someone in whom music flows in their veins and comes as naturally as breathing.

She performs a range of numbers by top female vocalists such as the not-altogether successful opening song We Don’t Need Another Hero (Tina Turner), to Madonna’s Material Girl, Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five and Still the One (Shania Twain). She’s at her best in songs like Am I Blue (Linda Ronstadt).

I would suggest that her linking dialogue could do with a bit of spicing up and she talks less about her home life. Vamps don’t have home lives as they tend to get in the way of the pursuit of their goals! Also, audiences need to escape from the mundane and everyday to the theatrically-induced sublime, if only for a short while!

Greg King has created an attractive and sophisticated set and Karen has produced her own costumes. These I found agreeable but somewhat disappointing, knowing Karen’s ability as a designer and a seamstress. Music backings and sound design is by Philipp Maier.

Tickets R120pp include a three-course meal. For starters, there’s a delicious Roulade of Chicken with Sundried Mango and Tomato or a delicately flavoured Baby Leek and Potato Soup. Main course is a choice of Grilled Cape Salmon with Cheese and Mushroom White Wine Sauce or a Mildly Spiced Lamb Thakaree. I chose the latter, albeit cautiously - having fallen prey to what is often termed a “mild” curry in Durban only to have to hold on to the roof of my mouth and avoid going into orbit! But the dish was pleasantly spiced and the meat tender and succulent. For dessert, there’s Pecan Nut Cheesecake.

The show runs from Wednesdays to Saturdays.To book phone Royal Hotel restaurant reservations on (031) 333-6000.




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