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SERENDIPITY IN THE CELLAR (article first published : 1999-07-29)

As humans, we are able to control our lives to a certain extent. While it’s not always easy to channel our emotions, we do have the power to take command of our thinking processes and refuse to allow negativity and depression to dominate.

Considering that it takes about four times the muscle power to smile than it does to frown, it doesn’t need a rocket scientist to work out that it’s much easier to let one’s life drift towards that which is negative rather than to that which is positive. While this philosophy is so blindingly simple you wonder why most people aren’t following it, it is a state of mind that is all too often only achieved via a tortuous route of soul-searching, insecurity or personal loss.

This is the personal process that Drummond Marais examines in Serendipity, his new cabaret show running in the Playhouse Cellar. It’s been a roller coaster ride but he now finds himself a couple of years off 50, gay, comfortable with who he is, controlling his own life and actually liking himself in the process. This may sound like the ingredients for maudlin, charismatic self-indulgence but it’s not. This piece of musical theatre, well-directed by Lizinda Schrapler, is one of the most sophisticated, intelligent and well-performed productions to be seen on the supper theatre circuit for a long time.

What makes it work is a simple formula. A consummate actor, dancer and singer doing what he does best, putting in a strong, well-controlled and generous performance. Cleverly placing songs within an ironic and often very funny script, Drummond works closely with his musical director Trevor Harper who provides harmonies and a strong and sympathetic piano accompaniment.

I originally reviewed Serendipity in Grahamstown (see this website under “festivals”) when it was performed at the Settlers’ Inn Motel. Usual festival fringe story: box wine, hard chairs crammed into a room temporarily masquerading as a theatre venue, limited lighting and sound equipment and a tiny stage with the performers strapped to a performance schedule. If something works under those conditions, you know it’s going to be good when it appears in a proper theatre venue and the show is allowed to “breathe”.

I was looking forward to seeing Serendipity in the well-equipped Playhouse Cellar and I wasn’t disappointed. The menu’s good, with bean sprout and mushroom soup or blue cheese and prawn cocktail for starters with main course options being spicy sweet Asian chicken or line fish baked with lime and ginger. For dessert there’s marshmallow and pecan nut ice cream or fudge gateau.

The show now has an interval although I would have liked to have seen this placed a little earlier because, by virtue of the storyline, a fair chunk of the second half is fairly down tempo. The lighting is well-designed and provides different moods but on opening night, it was sometimes set too dark. Of all his skills, Drummond is an actor first and foremost and it’s important to see the emotions reflected on his face.

From his opening What’s it all about? to the irresistible That’s Life, Drummond does fine justice to every musical number, whatever the vintage or style. It’s a wide ranging selection, too – from Somewhere Over the Rainbow to I am What I Am/!

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word “Serendipity” means “the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.” Drummond’s self-discovery didn’t happen by accident and neither did Serendipity! Durban audiences should make the discovery of this “feel good” production for themselves. It is due to run until August 15.

Shows are Tuesday to Sunday (diners only) with an extra cocktail performance on Friday. Book at Computicket or credit card bookings on 369-9444.


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