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Saturday, August 29, 2009


(Pic: Chantal Snyman, Jonathan Tifflin and Gail Snyman)

Little gem of a dramatic piece running at Catalina Theatre. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Running at Catalina Theatre is a little gem of a dramatic piece written by Chantal, Gail and Megan Snyman. Originally titled Conversations with your Ex), it debuted at the 2009 Musho Arts Festival performed by Chantal and Gail with Megan in the director’s chair (see review on artSMart). It received such a positive response that Chantal and Gail were inspired to write a second act which has since taken the play in a new direction.

Now titled Frank, with Jonathan Tifflin joining Chantal Snyman and Gail Snyman, the production is set in Durban at the beginning of 2009. South Africa is in the grip of the controversial Zuma trial by media - coupled with election fever and a recession - and the play deals with family relationships. It also focuses on the power of secrets to impact and sometimes destroy lives.

The play opens with Dorothy and her daughter Delia (Gail and Chantal are mother and daughter in real life) relaxing after the wedding of Dorothy’s other daughter, Donna. Lloyd, brother to Delia and Donna, now lives in the UK and wasn’t able to make it to the wedding. However, he arrives in the second act (the extra part of the original production) and in conversations with his sister, we get to realise that all is not as cosy as it seems in the colder climes of the north.

As their reminiscences progress, the cast re-enact the personalities and situations that have made up their lives – a process which offers a wider dimension to the storyline. As we progress through some very funny impersonations, there are also secrets of a darker sort which have remained hidden for many years.

The “Frank” of the title refers to Dorothy’s late husband and we get to know him through the eyes of his widow and two of his children, all with differing viewpoints. The revelation of the result of her father’s actions presents Delia with a life-altering situation.

This is a well-written script with some refreshing humour and there are some delightful scenes. Particularly those featuring the irrepressible Chantal Snyman, either as a come-hither relation dancing at a wedding, an earlier boyfriend in Bruce Lee wannabee mode or a hairdresser in a seriously vengeful mood! There are also many moments of poignancy, emotion or sadness, all skilfully handled. All three performers present credible and sincere performances.

At first, I was pleased to see hanging microphones above the Catalina stage and I anticipated that this would help with the venue’s notorious sound problems. Unfortunately, rather than enhancing the actors’ performances, they inhibited them because they picked up – and amplified – the racket from the dreaded extractor fan. In order to rise above it, the cast needs to focus seriously on voice projection as the dialogue in some of the most poignant scenes was completely lost.

Now to the downside which has more to do with the hospitality – and therefore higher profit-making – aspects of Catalina. On several occasions, I have encountered situations where either spirits, dry white wine or the range of sweets has run out. Having heard grumblings from other sources and experiencing the same problem myself last night, it’s time to talk about this. Much as we hate to admit this in the theatre world, the bar and refreshment areas are the profit-making sectors that keep a performing arts venue alive. If there is a stock-replenishment problem at Catalina, this needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Frank runs at the Catalina Theatre until September 6 with an age restriction of 16, although I didn’t find anything offensive in either language or content more than what can be seen in the average movie on television.

Tickets R90 (R45 pensioners, students and matinees). Contact Thandeka at the Catalina on 031 305 6889 or Chantal on 073 653 0067 or Gail on 083 643 1923 or Jonathan on 082 22 33 504. Charities or organisations wanting to fundraise are particularly encouraged to get hold of Chantal/or Gail. A special offer for corporates includes a dinner and harbour cruise with the cast. More information from Thandeka on 031 305 6889/ 305 7612 or email

The Catalina Theatre is still functioning thanks to support from Rainbow Chicken, National Arts Council and Ethekwini Municipality. – Caroline Smart