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A HANDFUL OF KEYS (article first published : 2003-09-11)

What a delightful evening spent at the Barnyard tonight in the company of two piano marvels – Ian von Memerty and Roelof Colyn. Added to this was Denis Hutchinson’s elegant set and beautiful lighting design. Also the best sound I have yet experienced at the Barnyard – well-controlled, balanced, properly placed and “real”. What a pleasure!

From the opening arrangements of the Beatles’ Yesterday, performed in the style of history’s top classical composers plus occasional nonsensical information about their love-lifes, to their highly amusing curtain-upon-curtain-upon-curtain-call, A Handful of Keys is a winner.

Originally conceived, devised and arranged by Ian and the extraordinarily gifted Bryan Schimmel, the piano revue was first performed in 1994 in a 160-seat theatre in Johannesburg. It was directed by Alan Swerdlow with special material written by Malcolm Terrey and no-one expected it to run more than five weeks. Within ten days, the first season sold out. Three years later, it closed to full houses in a 1,000 seat-theatre having played to more than 120,000 people in over 350 performances. Along the way it won nine theatre awards.

The show was revived again in 2001 and its third and current revival, quips Ian, was strongly influenced when he saw Roelof Colyn appear in Return to the Forbidden Planet.

Now brought bang up to date, A Handful of Keys includes showstopping tributes to Liberace and Elton John as well as blind pianists Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. You don’t have to appreciate the finer points of music to enjoy this show although those with a musical bent or who are pianists themselves will be excited by the skilful arrangements. The clevely-executed “fooling around” is carried out with much gusto by these two fine performers as they dazzle audiences with a programme of well-loved numbers, sending up both male and female piano players.

They do take occasional pause to play a few lyrical pieces although the bubbling sense of fun is not far away – one such piece performed by Ian is totally upstaged by Roelof’s use of his cell phone. Ian responds fairly smartly by proving that you need the barest minimum of accompaniment to do any upstaging, particularly if it’s aided by a really slick striptease!

The second half opens with a beautiful rendition of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue brilliantly arranged for two hands, three hands and four hands – and there was probably a section where just one hand was playing but I might have missed it! Using a hilarious collection of props, they travel at breakneck speed through 114 musicals – 91 years in 11 minutes - and Roelof gives a muscled and powerful rendition of David Foster’s Winter Games.

Tickets R70 per person with Buy One Get One Free promotions running on Tuesday night and Sunday matinee shows. Our meal was provided by Picnic Fanatics who offer a well-presented hamper meal with a delicious selection of starter, main course and sweets. More details on 031 701 0036.

Booking and enquiries for A Handful of Keys through The Barnyard Theatre on 031 566 3045, e-mail: barngate@mweb.co.za or visit www.barnyardtheatre.co.za - Caroline Smart




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