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

SEDUCTION – A CABARET (article first published : 2001-08-8)

Is this really the Royal? Bastion of conservative décor and tradition? Hosting a cabaret show that hints at gay decadence, swingers’ parties and strident feminism?

Normally, this would make the average audience member run a mile but it makes for fascinating entertainment in the skilful hands of director Greg King. The show is based on the ideas of Belinda Henwood, Catherine Mace and Michael Broderick which the latter as well as John Vlismas and Sue Monteregge have shaped into a cohesive written format. With, say the programme notes, “apologies to Christopher Dangerous Liaisions Hampton and Harold The Lover Pinter”.

The biggest triumph of Seduction – A Cabaret currently running in the Royal Hotel’s Backstage venue is Greg King’s set. The problem with Backstage’s acting area is that it is fairly small. Answer? Move the stage into the restaurant area and put some of the diners on what was the stage. Fine. Except that Greg King’s setting is a massive four poster bed festooned with cream drapes and flowers, covered with a floccati overthrow and featuring a massive satin clad bolster which has a choreography of its own.

Sounds horrendous. But this extravagant device works like a charm, bringing the action right into the heart of the audience who become more involved.

Catherine Mace, who scooped no less than three FNB Vita awards this year, and Belinda Henwood work well together in this series of short scenarios on the seduction theme. To begin with, you think you’re straight back in the scene of their last success, A Dame, A Dog and A Dead Guy at the Langoustine a month or so back. Catherine, in Mafia-type male gear and spouting a Bronx accent, tells the tale of how his nephew is fast becoming “a niece”. Rising from the bed and draped in an elegant sari, Belinda continues the story of the young man who is subject to gender confusion.

Sexily dressed in leathers – tight trousers and strapped tops - the two continue with a series of sketches which includes every kind of permutation from a couple who are both cheating on each other to two old biddies in an old age home or a delightful scene where two teenagers drool over their heroes. There’s even a large lady (a heavily-padded Belinda) who believes in letting “the fat wobble” and struts out I am a Vamp while Catherine laconically eats an apple. Belinda is also delightful in a sketch which involves a brothel keeper who has a penchant for German tourists.

The song list, which is stronger in the first half, includes fine renditions of Fire, Come on to my House, Bitch and Special Girlfriend. It draws from a wide range and styles of performers – from Rosemary Clooney or Billie Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald and Donna Summer on to Dire Straits, Ute Lemper and Meredith Brooks.

This venue is not kind to the acoustic (unamplified) human voice. There’s not enough wood to provide sounding boards and fabric is notorious for deadening the sound. Therefore Catherine and Belinda could benefit from a small amount of ambient amplification without compromising their performances. It also might be an idea to look at swopping the two halves around – the first is by far the strongest.

Musical direction and backing tracks by Tim Pullen with lighting by Michael Broderick.

For dinner, I had the Smoked Tomato Soup flavoured with mussel meat which was delicious but the Ulundi’s Traditional Lamb Curry was a bit hot for my palate. Mind you, I should have learnt by now not to ask Durban chefs whether a curry is hot or not. Their perceptions and mine don’t always coincide! The other starter and main choices are Midlands Mushroom Terrine or Grilled Fillet of Linefish. For dessert, there’s Backstage’s Black Cherry Biscuit Pudding (served in a glass).

Seduction - A Cabaret runs at the Royal Backstage until August 25. Book via Royal Reservations on (031) 333-6222.




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