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Sunday, May 24, 2009


Hilarious, accomplished performances by two acting, singing, virtuoso pianists in an excellently scripted musical experience. (Review by Maurice Kort)

A Handful of Keys might be celebrating its 15th year but it has lost none of its appeal, enjoyment and freshness. With the talents of the two protagonists, who might have changed over the years, the show could run for many more years and entertain fresh audiences or past audiences back for more. Indeed, comments from audience members walking out the theatre affirmed that they could see the show again.

This hilarious two-man show, the brainchild of Ian von Memerty and Bryan Schimmel, began in 1994 and played for three years for over 300 performances, including at the Playhouse Drama in July 1995 starring these two, to vast public and critical acclaim and winning many awards. Subsequent incarnations of this very successful show starred Ian von Memerty and Roelof Colyn in 2001, Roelof Colyn and Jeremy Quickfall in 2005 and Roelof Colyn and Jonathan Roxmouth last year.

This last couple makes a very welcome return to the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre for a four week run as part of their countrywide tour which started in Cape Town in April and will end in Johannesburg in August. The show, and the two artists, have lost none of their freshness and appeal and Roelof Colyn had to plead with the audience to cut down on the applause on several occasions. I can well believe this was not a part of the act as the show ended twenty minutes after the scheduled time mentioned by the front of house manager. There was a spontaneous standing ovation by the capacity matinee audience and I predict standing ovations at every performance.

From the opening bars on the two grand pianos which dominate the stage in the "Ragtime" medley and the hilarious antics of Roelof Colyn and Jonathan Roxmouth, one knows one is in for a huge treat. The jokes and surprises just never stop with one unexpected move following another often with split second timing. One has to be constantly reminded of the virtuosity of these two pianists, brought to the fore in their rendition of Rhapsody in Blue which opens the second act. This is also clearly experienced in their hilarious acting with a very clever script of classical variations of how The Beatles hit Yesterday would be played by various composers.

Costume changes abound in this energetic, nay frenetic, experience of many female and male pianists. A standout highlight was Roelof Colyn's take on Stevie Wonder with his own parody on I Just Called to Say I Love You. A great deal of the charm and enjoyment of the show is that they do not take themselves too seriously and are not above taking the mickey out of each other, such as the play on their difference in ages, Jonathan Roxmouth being only 22 – a running gag in the show.

Young he might be, but he has packed so much into his young career, which started in his standout performances in the Johannesburg Northcliff School productions which Durban was fortunate to see when they toured to Durban. The subsequent stage appearances have been cameo roles in Grease, as well as the title role in The Buddy Holly Story, Lun Tha in The King and I and Naledi award nominations for Gaston in Beauty and the Beast.

When not involved in A Handful of Keys over the last eight years, Roelof Colyn has been seen in many shows including as a badly-wigged Mozart in Rock Me Amadeus and as co-conductor and second keys in Hairspray.

Another tour de force in the programme is their History of Broadway Musicals in which they cover 96 years in 12 minutes and which includes no less than 120 shows, mostly instantly recognisable even if only snatches of musical notes or words are played and sung. There is never a dull moment in the show, or indeed a quiet moment.

I reviewed this show on artSmart on June 13. 2008. and this second viewing was as enjoyable. I was amazed anew at the talent, accomplished piano playing and abilities of the two actors, as well as the clever, funny script and polished slick performances. Miss this show at your peril, or be impressed again, if you had seen it before.

A Handful of Keys is directed and rewritten by Ian von Memerty and produced by Award Theatre Productions. It runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until June 15, thanks to Roland Stansell of the Rhumbelow Theatre who has branched out as an impresario to bring this show to Durban. Booking is at Computicket. – Maurice Kort