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

LOVE ACTUALLY (article first published : 2005-04-7)

After a successful appearance at the Rhumbelow Theatre in Umbilo, Love Actually has now moved to the Royal Hotel Grill Room, with Karen Van Pletsen replacing Carol Trench alongside Anthony Stonier and Darren King.

The show is described as a humorous musical gaze at love, romance and life and the trio amiably move through a laid back, easy-going compilation of songs about love such as Something Stupid, Slow Boat, Cry Me a River, Freda & Barry (Victoria Wood’s send-up of Let’s Do It), Things and Hanky Panky.

This is the first time all three performers have worked together and it makes for an interesting combination of styles and vocal ranges. They have all walked off with major Durban Theatre Awards, with Anthony having won the Fools Award (public vote for most popular choice) for Male Singer for the third year running by a vast majority of votes. He again impresses with an increasing command over his voice with Ring Them Bells and She.

Darren’s New York State of Mind was an enchantment as was Mandy and he has a good way of holding a musical interlude within a song. During a particularly lengthy section, he went “walkabout” throughout the audience, much to everyone’s amusement. Karen gave her considerable verve to Fever and One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.

I can’t say I was happy with the Men Medley which linked numbers fairly illogically both musically and in terms of lyrics but Karen and Darren’s send-up of You Don’t Bring Me Flowers (“You Don’t Smell Like Flowers”) was highly amusing. I did, however, think that Blow was somewhat out of place in this programme which I found followed a seemingly illogical sequence of numbers – some linking well, others coming out of the blue, as it were.

The set is simple – a couple of fold-up chairs, some cabin trunks and a table or a couple of bar stools, with the venue’s palm trees either sporting a string of coloured flags or fairy lights. A succession of hats and minor props create quick and easy changes of character.

Lack of rehearsal time in the venue meant that the production was not as polished to the normal standard of these three highly competent performers but this will improve with each performance. The Royal Hotel needs to find a happy medium between booked events such as conferences or weddings and rehearsal/performance times for the in-house show.

Tickets R150 include a four-course meal and shows take place from Wednesdays to Saturdays. The Royal has produced an excellent meal for this production starting with “an interactive preparation” of Wild Mushroom Terrine & Peppercorn Flavoured Chicken Liver Parfait, followed by a Duo of Butternut and Oven-Roasted Tomato Soup. For main course, there’s a choice of Spinach, Feta & Red Onion rolled Chicken Breast; Roasted Fillet of Beef crusted with Biltong Spices, or a Baked Tower of Grilled Vegetables. As with the tomato element in the soup, I found the gravy for the beef was too strongly flavoured and overshadowed the rest of an otherwise enjoyable dish. Desserts are completely decadent and delicious – a choice of Orange Tinged Cheesecake or a Vanilla Ice-Cream Tower.

Bookings on 031 333 6000 or Computicket. Love Actually runs until April 30. – Caroline Smart




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