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THE CUNNING LINGUISTS (article first published : 2000-05-14)

While they may be newly-married and highly committed to their work, Patrick Kenny and Shannon (formerly Simon) Kenny are completely mismatched in their first venture as a husband-and-wife team.

This is The Cunning Linguists, currently running at the Royal Hotel’s Backstage until May 27. While both performers are highly intelligent and undeniably talented in their individual performance styles, the vehicle they have chosen in which to work together doesn’t do either of them justice.

The performance genre of stand-up comics is a lonely road. They need to “work” the room first – feeling their way through various gags as they assess the mood of their audience. And strange as it may seem, each night an audience has a different characteristic and responds as an individual unit. One night the audience may be made up of quiet laughers, other nights they’ll fall about at things not particularly funny, the following night they may respond to other jokes. Or, worse, don’t find anything amusing at all.

So, it’s a genre that is highly flexible and, unless he or she forms part of an overall production like the Smirnoff Comedy Roadshow where each comic is given an allocated time, comics need their own time and space during a show to flex the muscles of their humour. To bring another performer however talented into this structure can upset the balance.

While they clearly stated before the show opened that they were trying to do something different, Patrick and Shannon have instead produced a show that appears contrived and veers dangerously close to a variety show – a selection of “turns” incongruously placed with no comfortable links with each other. Just as Patrick is getting into the swing of things, he pulls himself back in order to make way for a song or a sketch with Shannon and, with an odd choice of single songs interspersed throughout the show, she hardly has time to warm to her audience.

The two are backed by Ruben Thomas who certainly has his work cut out. Placed at the back of the room so as to be close to the equipment, he handles the sound which in most cases was far too loud for such a small venue. He also accompanies Shannon on guitar and keyboard.

What Cunning Linguists desperately needs is a director, a complete re-think of structure and definite pruning. One gets the feeling that the final sequence which deals with Patrick’s time in the SADF posted to the border is a personal catharsis. While thought-provoking and full of dark comedy, it is superfluous to the rest of the show.

Having said all this, there are many highly amusing moments and some very clever observations as Patrick takes his audience through his off-beat ideas and philosophies. There’s a hijack sequence in which the criminals are frightfully British and well-mannered, he poses the question whether car guards should present their CV’s before you commit your vehicle to their care and believes that the return of the Satin Leaf tobacco ads would deter macho teenagers from smoking. He is scathing about Michael Flatley (“Lord of the Prance”), the Playhouse Company and Anthony Sher and has his own ideas of casting for Shakespearean plays: Mandela as Othello, Rajbansi as the Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet should be set on the Cape Flats.

The backdrop of the New York skyline is a reference to the award-winning Castle Lager television advert which has brought him much success including a trip to New York where he was filmed crossing Times Square with a trolley-full of beer!

Tickets at R110 include the Royal Hotel’s usual fine fare and service. On the menu for this show are Tomato and Mussel Soup or Smoked Ostrich Fillet as starters, both delicious. The main course choices are Chicken and Prawns prepared in a Curried Coconut Cream Sauce highly enjoyable if you like a nutty flavour and Grilled Lamb Saddle Cutlets which I found tough and difficult to remove from the bone. Dessert is Chocolate Mousse with Strawberry Coulis.

Bookings through the Royal Hotel’s Restaurant Reservations on 304-0331.




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