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Wednesday, May 18, 2011


(Pic by John Hogg: Mark Hawkins, Tony Bentel, Ebrahim Medell and Stephen van Niekerk)M

If watching men in drag turns you off, stop reading now. If watching men in drag presenting a show that dwells fairly explicitly on gay coupling, then definitely stop reading now. However, if none of the above deters you, you’re in for a great time with Doo Bee Boobies which opened this evening at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre.

Some 18 years on, Robert Whitehead, Mark Hawkins, Tony Bentel and Ebrahim Medell reprise their smash hit first seen at the Playhouse nearly a generation ago. Joined by Stephen van Niekerk and Stanimir Stoykov, they prove that they’ve still got what it takes with fancy footwork, arabesques, jetés and port de bras, if I remember the terms from my ballet training correctly!

The stage is pure glam with red drapes accentuated with gold organza and there are no less than nine mirror balls. Feather boas and spangled outfits hang on a dress rail and the keyboard is draped with beaded fringing. This gives a clue as to the cabaret/variety style of the programme to come. The atmosphere was electric in the audience prior to curtain-up – everyone filled with anticipation and nostalgia.

The opening scene is set with dressing room tables and mirrors and the moment Hawkins, Bentel, Medell and van Niekerk appeared, they received a tumultuous response. They then launched into a lip-synched version of A Little More Mascara as they put on their drag outfits. Later, this foursome appears in a hilarious send-up of the Pas de Quatre from Swan Lake.

Robert Whitehead is known to millions of viewers as Barker Haines, the bad guy in Isidingo. Further cheers of greeting – and astonishment - accompanied his appearance in a red leotard, fishnet stockings, red turban adorned with budgies and made up to the nines. He does his own singing (as opposed to lip-synching) and after his He’s My Mailman or his appearance in an outlandish Scottish outfit, no Doo Bee Boobies audience member will ever see Barker Haines in the same light again!

Obviously Mark Hawkins and Ebrahim Medell are most well-known to Durban theatre audiences through the Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company. Medell puts in his usual focused and deliciously ironic performance and impressed with a variety of numbers from a send-up of Edith Piaf songs to a hilarious take of The Dying Swan, complete with gas mask and sections en pointe. Mark Hawkins surprised us all. I mean, we haven’t seen him dance for – well, 18 years … and there were gasps when he executed a perfect développé to be followed later by the splits and a turn at pole dancing!

Tony Bentel is a delight. He provides most of the keyboard backing as the long-suffering female accompanist wearing a seemingly never-ending wardrobe of hats and wigs. However, when he does emerge from behind the instrument, he proves he can high-kick with the best of them!

Evincing an endearing vulnerability, Stephen van Niekerk (also in the cast of Isidingo) impresses with the quality and range of his singing voice – especially in Danny Boy (nice song but useless knitting!). Stanimir Stoykov is highly amusing in the role of the sympathetic nurse to the aged.

Each item is a delight but highlights for me were The Bulgarian Balloon Act, Bentel’s It’s Hard to be a Woman complete with sequined industrial hard hat, van Niekerk’s compelling Memory; Medell’s performance as an Irish elf, and Hawkins and Whitehead as the aged singing duo, The Lush Sisters.

My only complaint in a fun-filled evening was the behaviour of the people in the row in front of me. When will people learn that a theatre is not a night club or a sports stadium and you cannot go in and out of an auditorium when you feel like it while a show is in progress? It’s disrespectful – and disruptive - to both cast and fellow audience members. The Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre should enforce the ruling more strictly that if you leave in the middle of the show – for whatever reason – you may not return to your seat until after the interval, if there is one. As performing artists, we spend our lives encouraging audiences to follow us on the “journey” we have created and such behaviour, including the continued (grrrr!) use of cellphones, is both unacceptable and counter-productive.

Presented by Very Very Big Productions, Doo Bee Boobies is camp beyond camp, outrageously funny and will definitely shock purists and the naiive. It runs until May 29 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. The age restriction is 16. Booking is at Computicket – and you’d better book fast if you want to catch it! – Caroline Smart