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Friday, December 5, 2008


Pic: Michael Gritten, Daisy Spencer, Marc Kay and Clare Mortimer with (front) Loyiso McDonald and Dhaveshan Govender. Pic by Christos Spetsiotis

Delicious and very cleverly constructed romp at the Catalina is sure to draw audiences. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Theatre producers Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan acquired rights to Swiss playwright Paul Portner’s murder mystery Scherenschnitt and went on to adapt it into the improv masterpiece, Shear Madness.

It opened in Boston, USA, in January 1980 and this production is acknowledged as the second longest-running non-musical play in the world (after The Mousetrap). The production at the John F. Kennedy Center which opened in August 1987 in Washington DC is the second longest running play ever.

Shear Madness opened tonight at the Catalina Theatre and this cleverly-constructed and delicious romp played on a good set is sure to draw audiences. Producer / director Themi Venturas was required to travel to the States to be briefed by the international team about the production process and trained in the necessary improv skills to ensure that the Durban production and its cast meet the international standards.

A murder takes place when a famed veteran concert pianist is stabbed with a pair of hairdressing scissors a couple of floors above a unisex hair salon. The audience first gets to see the build-up to the murder and the events which happen shortly afterwards. They are then invited to comment on whether the characters’ version of their involvement is true or false. Apart from the stage action, it’s just as fascinating to observe the reaction of the audience and see how their memories work. Tonight’s audience member who was asked to go on stage to make the all-important phone call turned out to be a policeman himself – this required much spontaneous improvisation from the cast!

With the audience being asked to vote on who they believe is the guilty party, this means that a different suspect could be chosen every night. So if you want to see the full process, then grab a bunch of friends and make sure you vote a different character guilty each night and watch how the cast resolve the situation. As the departing detective quips in his final line: “Whichever way you vote, that’s the way we’ll play it!”

This means that the cast needs to be on their toes throughout – no locking into a safe and steady production process from curtain up to curtain down here. They need to improvise their responses to the audience’s comments while staying in character.

The well-chosen cast is firmly on top of the action from Marc Kay as the outrageously camp hairdresser Tom Whitcomb and Daisy Spencer as his spunky assistant Barbara De Marco as well as their clients Michael Gritten as the antique dealer Eddie Lawrence (who only deals in “used antiques”) and Clare Mortimer as the elegant Mrs Schubert. Valiantly trying to unravel the mystery are Loyiso MacDonald as Nick Hlatshwayo and Dhaveshan Govender as his side-kick Mikey Naidoo.

While this is an ensemble piece with excellent characterisations, animated dialogue and spot-on comedy timing all round, Marc Kay and Daisy Spencer waltz off with the honours for their energetic and bubbly performances.

Maurice Kort – whose review will also feature on artSMart shortly – has seen the play several times and I understand that the productions he has seen have been played fairly straight. This Shear Madness plays unashamedly for laughs and certainly gets them - particularly as the show involves a strong involvement of humour based on current affairs.

Presented by TheatreBIZ by arrangement with the Marton Agency, Shear Madness runs at Catalina Theatre, Wilson’s Wharf, until December 31. Tickets R80 (R40 concessions) booked through Strictly Tickets. For corporate block bookings, charity fundraisers and show / meal deals contact Thandeka on 031 305 6889 or 031 305 7612 or e-mail - Caroline Smart

The Catalina Theatre is still functioning thanks to support from Rainbow Chicken