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Friday, August 22, 2008


Tonight saw the opening at Catalina Theatre of New Suburbiafeaturing Hamish Kyd, Dhaveshan Govender, Ashwin Singh and Shika Budhoo, all well-known and highly skilled performers, as I can attest from their stage appearances as well as their acting/writing work on the LotusFM radio drama productions that I have directed.

Ashwin Singh, Hamish Kyd and Dhaveshan Govender have created this amusing sketch-styled topical comedy from popular characters we’ve either heard or seen before in other shows or productions. There’s Ashwin’s Uncle Bobby from his Lotusfm radio drama series GrandAsia Lodge; Dhaveshan’s Ricky, the hapless Manchester United fan, from King of Old Traffordwhich recently played the 2008 Grahamstown Festival, and Hamish’s Prof Gopal from Dunz Senior Secondarywhich formed part of the double bill Charoues are the Manjaroesseen at Catalina a couple of months ago.

New Suburbiafocuses on the lives of Indian and Coloured people who have moved to formerly all-White suburbs. This is an innovative and clever approach to comedy as the performers are able to draw on the rich mix of colourful characters in these communities and look at how they would react in a different environment, particularly one devoid of the all-embracing community spirit they are accustomed to.

New Suburbiaflows easily, taking in different scenes and characters. Hamish offers an amusing send up of those living in “Umlungu” Rocks and gives us a insight into a workshop on “How not to get mugged”, sending the audience into hysterics as he gave varying examples of a defensive walk from areas such as Newlands and Sydenham.

Ashwin and Dhaveshan portray two opportunistic land developers representing Lahnees’ Lukker Land, eager to make monetary gain from people moving to so-called upmarket areas despite the fact that they blame their erectile dysfunction on racism. They later progress to Lahnees’ Lukker LandRovers but it is their amusing scene as Uncle Johnny and Uncle Bobby that raises the most laughs.

Shika is particularly delightful as the Indian domestic worker bemoaning the attitude of her (Indian) employers who now feel that they must act and talk differently - to such an extent that the newborn baby’s first words are directed to her! There’s also a hilarious scene with Shika as Miss Belle of the Busand Dhaveshan giving a workshop on how to be a successful condi (taxi lookout).

Drawing more laughs in the second half, Hamish enters as Prof Gopal with a cactus, claiming that it’s his auntie Saras reincarnated. He offers his stance on many subjects, particularly the Oxford Dictionary and how words should be pronounced as written – ie “ya-chitt” (yacht) and “ek se – no phobia” (xenophobia)!

The writing is clever, incisive and highly amusing. The setting is minimal – there’s a bench indicating a bus stop downstage right opposite a couch. Otherwise the stage is bare and there are a minimum amount of props involved. While looking a bit lost on the wide Catalina space, this is a production that can travel easily. It supports my encouragement to theatre practitioners to create shows that can be transported in a utility vehicle or station wagon to areas outside the city centre.

With the leisure rand taking such a battering at the moment, actors and producers need to take their work to the people, not expect people to come to the theatre. I firmly believe that this will change in the not too distant future but, for now – in order for actors to continue to work and for audiences to continue to enjoy the fruits of their efforts - we need to go back to the “troubadour” concept, that of taking shows on the road.

New Suburbiaruns until September 7. Bookings through Catalina on 031 305 6889. – Caroline Smart

NB: At the opening of the show, Catalina director Themi Venturas reminded the audience that the venue is still in operation thanks to financial support from Rainbow Chicken. The organisation has recognised the kind of work that Catalina supports in giving new actors and playwrights a platform on which to showcase their work. One of the spinoffs of Catalina’s continued existence is that an Australian company – the same one that took Marc Lottering to Australia – has informed Hamish Kyd that they are interested in looking at taking some of his shows. So, we all wait with bated breath for the next piece of information!