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FRANK ‘N STEIN (article first published : 2004-03-16)

British writer Ken Campbell gave the rights to his Frank ‘n Stein, a hilarious spoof of the 1932 Universal Pictures movie Frankenstein, to Murray McGibbon when Murray was based in Durban as the artistic director of the then Natal Performing Arts Council (now the Playhouse Company).

Murray’s production starred the inimitable and irrepressible team of David Dennis and Ellis Pearson with Anthony Stonier at the piano. The show premiered in Grahamstown in 1988, moving to Durban to become the longest-runnning show in the Playhouse Cellar. It continued to play to packed houses in a further season in The Playhouse Loft in 1993 and again in Grahamstown in 1996 with a short season in The Courtyard. Its success includes performances in Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Botswana and Edinburgh. Frank ‘n Stein also appeared on the programme of the first Hilton Arts Festival. Who will ever forget Ellis’s puff-cheeked monster?!

With this production serving as a benchmark, it was a courageous step for Kearsney College drama lecturer Athol Henderson to undertake the script with young Grade 12 Drama pupils who are comparatively inexperienced in this highly demanding genre of mime and physical theatre.

However, the Kearsney team can be justifably proud of their efforts. Scott Canny and Stuart Baillie (Peter Simeoni appears on alternate nights) put in excellent, professional and mature performances and keep up the gruelling pace to the whacky end. They remained focused and believable – a tough call, as between them they play about ten characters plus a rabble of villagers! I was also particularly impressed with Scott Canny’s versatility.

Further mention must be made of Greg Tonkin at the keyboard who was bang-on cue with suitable effects and music. Murray McGibbon added this non-speaking character to Ken Campbell’s two-hander to portray the old-style of pianist who accompanied silent films.

I do, however, think that the clapper-boy could have been a little more prominent – just to remind us that we are supposed to be watching a rendition of the classic movie.

The clever use props such as ladders, toothbrushes as moustaches, combs as beetle brows and wild wigs mixed with use of fingers to represent people as in a film “long shot” are all part of the genre made so popular by Ellis Pearson who trained at the renowned École Jacques Lecoq mime school in Paris. This spread to Nicholas Ellenbogen’s Theatre for Africa when Ellis joined them and was pursued still further by Aldo Brincat, another actor who studied at École Jacques Lecoq.

Frank ‘n Stein is presented as a supper theatre production from March 16 to 19 in the Kearsney Auditorium – keep a lookout for the Auditorium sign if you’re unfamiliar with the layout of the school. Audiences are invited to take their own picnic plus whatever they want to drink. The doors open for supper at 19h00 with the show starting at 19h45. Tea and coffee will be served in the Auditorium Foyer after the show. Ticket prices R20 booked through Kearsney College on 031 765 9600. - Caroline Smart




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