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

BUS STOP (article first published : 2002-07-18)

Bus Stop is the production chosen to re-launch the Playhouse Cellar which has been dark for a couple of months. It is directed by Stuart Mey, well-known larger-than-life member of Larry and the Lounge Lizards, whose previous show was The Legend of the Eagles. Using the fun concept of a bus driver taking a tour of rock music fans from the North of England down to London to attend a live BBC broadcast, he has put together a show that celebrates the best of British rock music.

The large frontage of the bus dominates centre stage. The steering wheel is placed mid-cab as “it’s built for the South African market where it doesn’t matter what side of the road you drive on!” quips Stuart Mey. On the way the bus “stops” at towns such as Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, etc where the “tourists” get a chance to see songs made famous by the cities’ various rock stars. Occasionally moving from behind the wheel – and later from the control room of the studio - Stuart Mey handles solo numbers in his inimitable style, the most successful being Tom Jones’ It’s Not Unusual and the song made famous by The Full Monty movie, You Can Leave Your Hat On.

Driving the show and providing some off the cuff humour is a hot band made up of highly experienced and versatile players: Gerald Knott, Bruce Boome and Dave Arnold with drummer Ian Webster.

The show introduces three exciting and talented newcomers: Yvette Barnard, Darren Whittle and Jonathan Didlick.

Yvette Barnard is slimness personified and her costumes are predominantly black but she has an astounding voice which only came into its own in the second act, particularly in Unchained Melody. Darren Whittle is suave, long-limbed and confident in voice and presentation. His Elton John number was a highlight for me. The son of John Didlick of the Gee Jays and his choreographer/dancer wife Linda, Jonathan has inherited the best of both his parents’ theatrical skills. He has an engaging manner on stage and moves well. Watch this young man!

The choice of music will appeal to all, featuring songs made famous by stars such as Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey, Lonnie Donegan, Cliff Richard, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to name a few.

What the show lacks is clearcut direction. The formula is good, the music is excellent, the performers are great, the bus is fun and the studio set effective. But Bus Stop doesn’t quite reach its potential. It probably will get much stronger a week or so into the run as the artistes find their feet and the band gets used to the fact that they’re just as much performers as the vocalists. But this could have been avoided by calling in a director to expand on presentation, make sure that the endings of songs aren’t rushed and introduce those final touches which give a show that polished edge. Also to ensure a balanced sound level which didn’t drown the vocalists.

However, any shortcomings the production might have are overturned by the fact that it’s such a joy to see The Cellar back up and running again. Long may the new management – Curt Fredericks, Sharon Legasick and Pat Loureiro - continue to keep alive this intimate supper theatre venue which has been part of the Durban scene for so long and hosted some of the finest shows we’ve seen in the city.

The Cellar’s chef Marc Waterworth has introduced a sensible menu with various options: a three-course meal (R55); individual starter or dessert (R15); individual main meal (R30) or Fresh Line Fish (R40). I’m not mad on gorgonzola so asked for this item to be dropped from the Escargots dish which were delicious served in phyllo. I then moved on to a tasty Chicken & Shrimp Curry followed by a delectable Ivory Chocolate Mousse. My husband opted for the Roast Cherry Tomato Soup, rich and sweet with a tangy olive tapenade and basil pesto. With the Peppered Fillet, he enjoyed the choice of sweet potato which formed part of the dish, and closed the meal with the Sesame Seed & Honey Shortbread. The other options are Mediterranean Salad, Fresh Line Fish or a Veggie Plate and country-style Bread & Butter Pudding.

Bus Stop runs from July 9 to 28. Booking is at Computicket or Dial-a-Seat on 031 369-9444. – Caroline Smart




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