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A CELLAR FULL OF NOISE (article first published : 2003-09-13)

The Playhouse Cellar has a long history of fine productions, having hosted the cream of South African musical theatre talent since 1985. So, hats off to Stuart Mey and Bob Humphreys for reviving the venue and trying to get it back on the supper theatre map.

The venue is festooned with Beatles posters for the first production of this new partnership, A Cellar Full of Noise. While enjoyable and featuring an exciting new crop of talent, the show has a long way to go if it is to match the performance excellence of those who have appeared on this stage before.

A Cellar Full of Noise is a tribute to the The Beatles – the Fab Four, the Lads from Liverpool – who burst onto the English music scene in the early 1960’s and generated a hysteria from the younger generation which grew to world-shattering proportions. The production relies heavily on video footage of The Beatles themselves and recorded interviews offer the genuine article. There is also extensive use of backing tracks as the performers are not guitarists although they had me fooled in the early part of the show!

Taking the part of the inimitable John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Star are Paul Cassells (John); Steve Peralta (Paul); Graeme Watson (George) and Andrew Jones (Ringo). It’s good to see new talent on the Cellar stage and I must say that their wigs were a jolly sight better than those used in the excessively hyped Rock Legends (reviewed in the Music pages)!

Angela Dodds brings her considerable experience and charm to the show, appearing as Cynthia Lennon, Dusty Springfield and Cilla Black, among others, but she battled with unforgiving backing tracks in Yesterday and Strawberry Fields.

Attempts have been made to make the costumes as accurate as possible but these are generally ill-fitting and unstylish. Whatever they wore, and they did wear some pretty outlandish outfits, the Beatles always managed to look stylish!

There was also a fairly illogical and unnecessary sidestep to a Royal Variety Show which saw the cast impersonating legendary artists such as Petula Clark, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Cliff Richard.

What marred the show was poor sound quality - imbalances, microphones screeching and general seeming-ineptitude. I had written some stinging notes until I discovered, after the show, that the regular sound engineer had handed over to a replacement and that neither cast nor the new sound engineer were given the opportunity of a dry technical run before tonight’s performance.

After actress Gaynor Young fell from the State Theatre stage in that fateful performance of Camelot when she had to step into the major role of Guinevere at extremely short notice, a positive step was taken by the performing arts councils. While Gaynor made a miraculous recovery, she suffered major bodily damage but at least she triggered off a ruling that whenever there was a change in cast mid-run, that cast member had to be shown all the technical set changes that affected his or her performance before the show. (I know. I’ve been there, done that – but that’s another story!)

Just as Gaynor nearly died as a result of a lack of immediate knowledge of the technicals, so any of tonight’s cast could have “died” a professional death from this lack of professionalism. It’s a solemn warning to production companies to ensure that everyone involved in a show is utterly and completely prepared before they face the public. If indeed he did run the show for the first time, my congratulations to the young sound engineer for doing the best he could do in a difficult situation.

I was at least able to glean the reason. Many members of the audience weren’t privileged to receive the same information. A simple announcement prior to the show, asking for the audience’s indulgence would have stilled many irritated mutterings.

As part of its revamp, the Cellar has been repainted – although the new colour has diminished the original Tudor style of wooden beams on white walls – but the menu is still good. Ticket prices include a choice meal with starters being Greek Salad, spiced peri peri Chicken Livers and Black Mushrooms grilled with garlic. Main courses include Grilled Asparagus Chicken, grilled or deep fried Calamari, Pepper Dew Fillet or Vegetable Lasagne. For dessert there’s Chocolate Mousse, Dom Pedro or Apple Crumble. Servings are generous and the meal was very enjoyable.

A Cellar Full of Noise runs until October 5. Book at Computicket. If you’re a Beatles fan, you’ll love it! – Caroline Smart




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