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Friday, September 23, 2011


(Fiona Ramsay)

Review of the production at the Hilton Arts Festival by Caroline Smart

One of the highlights on the 2011 Witness Hilton Arts Festival was the world premiere of Sailing Somewhere, a one-woman play written by Matthew Hurt (who is originally from Durban). Produced by Daphne Kuhn by arrangement with Mark Hawkins, it is directed by Vanessa Cooke and stars actress par excellence, Fiona Ramsay. Supporting her on piano and being a character himself, the inimitable Tony Bentel gives a beautifully underplayed performance.

However appropriate it may have been to place this production in the Grindrod Bank Theatre, the production wasn’t seen to best advantage on this stage. With its need for intimacy, it will work far better at the Old Mutual Theatre on the Square in Sandton, Johannesburg, where runs throughout October. Here, audiences will get full benefit of what is a retrospective journey of her life in the mind of a cruise ship entertainer (Fiona Ramsay).

The highly effective grey and white set by Andrew Botha divides the stage into three sections. The lounge/saloon stage is offset by an image of the roof with its subdued lighting. This is the domain of the piano player (Tony Bentel) and is linked by a deck area to the entertainer’s dressing room where several bottles of booze allow her to survive the mindless monotony of egotistical passengers, temperamental colleagues and complex shipboard liaisons until the ship reaches the end of the cruise. In this small area, the audience sees her actions from the mirror’s perspective.

Downstage is a simple wicker chair which gives another space for her moods and memories and it is here that she shares one of the main reasons behind her ill-at-ease state. Irritated by the endless Norwegian sunshine, her dressing-room is her refuge where she has the privacy to reflect a looming challenge. She has to make a decision as to whether or not she contacts her estranged daughter and the closer land approaches, the more difficult the decision becomes.

I had a major problem with the looped soundtrack which had very few dynamics or variation, eventually sounding mechanical.

The play gives Fiona Ramsay good scope for her considerable emotional skills. She has an excellent command of ironic wit and there is plenty of that in Sailing Somewhere as the character reflects on past relationships both on and off the ship. A discarded doll lying on deck sparks off the action and she recalls how its owner, a little girl, nearly went overboard when she was allowed to climb the railings unchecked.

Sailing Somewhere includes songs by Conor Mitchell which Fiona Ramsay delivers in a husky Dietrich style. The production shouldn’t be considered a musical as some festival goers seemed to think it was, but rather “a one-woman play with songs” which is how Matthew Hurt describes it himself.

Don’t miss it at The Old Mutual Theatre on the Square. – Caroline Smart