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FOURPLAY (article first published : 2003-03-14)

Take the considerable talents of four of Durban’s top female vocalists, combine them with Evan Roberts innovative feel for a good arrangement, add the Royal’s elegant and upmarket ambience and good cuisine and you would be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable and comfortable night out.

Fourplay is the Royal Hotel’s first show of the year in its popular Backstage venue, conceived by Melanie Roberts – teased on stage by the rest of the cast as the veteran of the Backstage after her many shows there – and directed by Kate Bruce. The show also features Karen van Pletsen and Shelley McLean and is enjoyable entertainment from start to finish.

Running without an interval, the show boasts two pianos – a baby grand and an upright – which means that there’s not a whole lot of room to spare on the stage but the four singers manage to manoeuvre themelves into different positions to create varying visual images.

However, it’s the music that counts and with Shelley Mclean and Karen van Pletsen on piano, the four launch into a programme of song that is well suited to their vocal ranges. The opening is exquisite – an acapella number that dips and soars in the upper ranges until it comes back to be firmly grounded with Kiss from a Rose.

Individual highlights are Karen’s dramatic Out Here on my Own and Melanie’s beautifully subdued If You Go Away. Kate Bruce gave a touching and sensitive version of Both Sides Now while the impressively musical Shelley McLean presented a poignant It’s Impossible.

The show is a skilful matching of solos, duos, trios and the complete foursome and there is a strong sense of enjoyment and interaction between the singers. My only gripe is that the show stretches the limitations of the Backstage’s lighting system. With a cast forced to be fairly static due to space constraints, you need imaginative lighting to allow the production to be seen to best advantage. There were many times when cast members appearing stage right were completely in the dark.

The Royal Hotel’s new General Manager is Saul Basckin and he is a breath of energetic fresh air streaming into the complex. Forward thinking, efficient and believing in a firm hands-on attitude, he disarmed the audience by introducing himself from the stage and presenting the cast with the largest bouquets we’ve seen in a long time! Nothing to do with the show, but nevertheless a small touch in an overall package, it was a joy to find real towels and a neat toiletry presentation in the women’s toilets. Although, please lose the plastic flowers!

Fourplay runs until April 18 with performances Wednesdays to Saturdays. Tickets R120 include a three-course meal. Surprisingly, there is only one starter and that’s a mixed Seafood Cocktail, surely a contentious choice as many people, including my husband, are unable to eat shellfish. Main course choices are successful. The Chicken Breast Fillets stuffed with Spinach and Lychees were succulent and delicately flavoured. The Lamb Korma had a spicy tang and wasn’t too hot for wimpish curry palates like mine! Dessert is a totally decadent Fresh Fruit Pavlova.

Bookings on 031 333 6000. - Caroline Smart




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