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Thursday, May 11, 2023


(Right: Mawande Mnqayi with a portrait of Nomvuyo Ngaelwane)

Take a bow Daisy Spencer with your whole cast and crew – “Kat and the Kings” is a joyous, life affirming, polished, high-energy, top-quality night at the theatre. I am so glad I drove up the hill! (Review by Charlotte Fairfax)

I’m a veteran of school musicals which, in my day, was always a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic performed by a cast of thousands – the seniors mainly getting the lead roles. No fancy lighting or sound systems and costumes were hired from then NAPAC wardrobe or raided from Mum’s wardrobes. You went mostly out of love and loyalty, not because you were expecting a great night at the theatre.

Fast forward “eons” to this era and things are hugely different – the fabulous touring production of Gauteng’s Northcliff High School and the annual offering from the Young Performer’s Project, for years directed by the late Themi Venturas, offer quality productions which can hold their own on a professional stage.

In recent years, learners have been working with some of our city’s best theatre practitioners including Daisy Spencer, Steven Stead, Peter Court, Marion Loudon, Liesl Coppin and Lisa and Aaron McIlroy and many others who have been sharing their skills and knowledge with the new generation, producing work that is entertaining and brimming with talent, and really, really good. How lucky these young learners are. Audiences now aren’t just Mums and Dads, but theatre lovers out to see a quality production.

(Left: Levi Willcox with a portrait of Isabelle Smith)

Kearsney College’s version of a South African international award-winning classic – David Kramer and Taliep Pietersen’s Kats and The Kings - is a case in point. It’s a slick, energetic, and deftly directed and choreographed production by director / choreographer Daisy Spencer with musical direction by Kearsney’s Bernard Kruger.

The musical first opened in Cape Town in 1995 and has since gone on to be performed professionally around the world.  It has never been licenced or performed by a school or amateur group and, after much discussion with David Kramer, he agreed to grant the school the rights to do so and has been working closely with Daisy Spencer and the team.  He certainly backed the right horse.

Get there early to catch the pre-show. From the moment you arrive at the school’s hall, you are taken back to life in the 50’s in District Six, a vibrant multi-cultural community of characters. Against period photographs projected onto the hall wall, a group of drama and music students perform street theatre style setting the scene. In the foyer, ten drama students stand silently, each holding a portrait of a resident of District Six, photographed holding one item they took away with them before their houses were demolished. As you approach each learner, a short monologue is recited telling you about the person in the photograph. It’s a brilliant idea – beautifully done; poignant and insightful and once more immerses you into the personal stories behind the history of District Six.

Scene and context set, the next two hours have you transfixed and thoroughly entertained by the cast of six as they croon, harmonise, dance and charm their way through the story of Kat and The Kings. It’s hard to believe that these performers are mainly Grade 10 and 11 school learners.

The piece is high-paced and energetic from start to finish, Spencer filling the simple yet effective set with slick choreographic moves. She works the cast hard, with complex choreography in the dance numbers, including some great tap routines, and a very physical approach to her direction.

Spencer is lucky to have six incredibly talented performers who offer such believable and endearing performances - from the moment the tap dancing “older” Kat (Sethu Magubane) shuffles onto the stage to take up his corner with his shoe-shine kit, under a lamp post with Nelson Mandela’s iconic election poster smiling down on him.

He introduces us to his younger self (played by Mohau Tladi) and his friends Bingo (Khwezi Msimang), Ballie (Tjama Keta) and Magoo (Mpande Luhlongwane). They tap, they jive, they harmonise, they’re brilliant. As is the only female cast member playing Magoo’s sister Lucy, the super talented Nkanyezi Kunene from Westville Girls High (who played the lead Ti Moune in the school’s production of Once on This Island last year). She’s charming in the role. The entire cast is.

There are dozens of stand-out highlights. Among them include the soulful “lonely Girl” reprised throughout the show, a great gag with dancing skeletons, and a fun routine with song lyrics on cue cards.

The live on-stage band, too, a mix of Kearsney College staff and school students, were brilliantly led by Bernard Kruger. Sean Stewart is responsible for the sound design and engineering.  Black Coffee’s Brandon Bunyan is responsible for the set and lighting.

Take a bow Daisy Spencer with your whole cast and crew – Kat and the Kings is a joyous, life-affirming, polished, high-energy, top-quality night at the theatre. I am so glad I drove up the hill!

There are two more performances left - Thursday May 11 and Friday May 12 – and it’s well worth the drive up the M13 to the Botha’s Hill campus to see this wonderful production

The pre-show content, including monologues’, video clips and art exhibition will be open from 18h00 with the show itself starting at 19h00.

The venue is the Henderson Hall at Kearsney College which is situated at 25 Old Main Road, Botha’s Hill. – Charlotte Fairfax