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Friday, April 3, 2009


Dawn Haynes reviews local school productions.

Oklahoma presented by Westville Boys’ High School: Directed by Leendert de Jager with musical direction by Luke Holder and conducted by Russell Guy Scott.

Musicals are definitely “in” as far as school productions are concerned and Westville Boys’ high chose the all-time favourite Oklahoma as their production this year. Directed by Leendert de Jager with a cast of 25 enthusiastic, talented young actors and a full orchestra, this production gave an excellent opportunity for local talent to be showcased. Strong performances from Leyla Muslim, Paul Coombe and Ashley van Heerden in the lead roles, prove that the musical and singing talent in Durban is tops! They were polished and well rehearsed in their singing although some of the direction was rather repetitive. The male ensemble was strongly cast with excellent team work and energy from the whole group.

How wonderful to have a full live orchestra! Conducted by Russell Guy Scott, the 30 musicians were a highlight and gave a professional tone to the production. Sitting in the second row, I found my attention often drawn to the musicians instead of the stage. This is a very long show (some careful editing would have made it easier on the audience, who became very restless) and the musicians kept up my interest level.

The emphasis was very much on the music and singing, as it should be in a musical. However, other aspects of the performance also need to be considered. While the set was simple, versatile and effective, the costumes were sadly lacking in imagination. It simply does not work to take contemporary clothing and try to “make do”. The visual impact is very important and this unfortunately was the weak link making what should have been an excellent production into just another school play.

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The House of Bernarda Alba produced by Crawford College La Lucia Drama Department and directed by John Coldbeck.

Abridged and adapted by John Coldbeck, this was an interesting production of the classic tragedy by Spanish playwright Frederic Lorca. Adapting this lengthy play into a one-hour episodic drama is no mean feat, and Coldbeck succeeded in keeping the intensity of the Drama and the main story line yet making it accessible to school students.

Set in the Spanish villa of the all-controlling Matriarch, Bernarda Alba, the story revolves around her total control of her five daughters during a time of mourning resulting from the death of her second husband. The frustrated daughters begin to rebel as the oldest one is pledged to marry Pepe El Romano, the secret lover of the youngest daughter, Adela. Tensions mount as the drama builds to the death of Pepe and subsequent suicide of Adela.

Using some of the Greek tragedy techniques of choral speaking and narration, this simplified version of the play was strongly presented by a cast of 30 young students. They were disciplined and focused throughout and built the tension convincingly to the tragic ending. Introducing a few boys as narrators worked well, as did the dance sequences. When teaching school drama, it is essential to draw on the available talent . Crawford has a thriving dance department and the duet presented by the young lovers (played by Kerri-Lee Howell and Ben Klein) was an interesting and effective interlude. The group of Spanish dancers created the mood of the village and this also worked well in this adaptation.

The daughter’s flowing black skirts, all the same, emphasised the control their mother had over them and her suppression of their individuality. Maddi Davis gave a strong performance as Bernarda. She captured the regal bearing of the mother as well as her total lack of any emotion, even when her youngest daughter dies. Jessica Immelman played Maria Josepha, Bernada’s mother, with great sensitivity and understanding.

Congratulations to Crawford Drama students, and to John Coldbeck, for an interesting and worthwhile performance. – Dawn Haynes