You come in off the street, through the doors of the theater. You sit down. The lights go down and the curtain goes up. And you’re in another world. ~ Robert Caro
I believe in the magic of the theatre. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it is real, not like in a real-life story, but real, as in happening real time. There are no re-takes. Everything happens as you are watching, waiting, anticipating. At any moment someone can forget their words or make a mistake or trip over their own feet. This creates tension and suspense that can never be replicated in a movie or TV show.
My first real theatre experience (other than school concerts) was when I was 14 years old. At the time, we lived in Delmas, and a school friend invited me along on an outing to Johannesburg with her family, to go and see Romeo and Juliet, the ballet. Of course I have heard of Romeo and Juliet, but I did not know the full story. It was magical. I laughed, and I cried while I tried to read the story outline in the dark theatre. I was mesmerised by the costumes and the scene changes and the music and the orchestra. I will never forget that day for as long as I live.
This was in the midst of the Apartheid years in South Africa, and there was a cultural boycott against foreign arts, artists and theatre productions. Afrikaans theatre flourished, as government provided funding for performances, but there was little or no exposure to Broadway, musicals and the like.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I found myself in Pretoria, living in the city at the age of 16. One of the highlights of the year on the Pretoria calendar was the Jacaranda Festival and live acts and performances at Church Square in the city centre, as the jacarandas go into bloom. We did not live far from the main centre of attraction and one late afternoon we ventured off to Church Square, just in time for a show to start. We secured our little spot and started watching Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I thought it was the most fantastic thing I have ever seen in my life.
The narrator was none other than the Guernsey-born Richard Loring who, in later years, established the Sound Stage in Midrand, one of the first dinner/theatre venues in South Africa. In a super religious South Africa of the day; where the constant fear of the antichrist and communists were being drilled down our throats on a regular basis; the play, with the Elvis Pharoah and his lustful wife in her tiger print outfit, made a permanent imprint on my mind. Over the next few days I went back twice to go and see the same show again, and a few years later I saw it in the Pretoria State Theatre.
I finished high school in 1989, and on 2 February 1990, the then State President of South Africa gave his landmark speech in Parliament, releasing Nelson Mandela from prison and lifting the ban on the ANC and other political organisations. It was the beginning of the end of the Apartheid regime and the start of a new era for the dramatic arts in South Africa.
The post-apartheid period has been a rebirth for drama and arts in South Africa. In the earlier years, with funding cut, people feared the end of the theatre in South Africa. The State Theatre in Pretoria closed down in 2000 and reopened again in 2001. But corporates and theatre lovers came to the party and today we live in one of the most fantastic times for theatre in South Africa, ever. The last ten years have seen the opening of several new commercial theatres, like the Barnyard Theatres, the Lyric theatre at Gold Reef City and the 1 800-seater Teatro at Montecasino, which opened its doors in 2007
We have seen some magnificent shows coming to our shores, from The Lion King (with a full South African cast), Mamma Mia, Chicago – the Musical, Lord of the Dance, Cats and many others!
And we love it. My daughters are totally at home in the theatre. And this year I took them to go and see the ballet that started it all for me, at the Joburg Theatre. The conclusion…”It is a very sad story, Mom.”
Over the last two weekends I took my girls to see two shows on the current run, Dirty Dancing and Potted Potter. Dirty Dancing had me speechless. The acting did not quite live up to Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, but the music, the orchestra and the choreography and scene changes were magical. I could not help wiping a few tears from my eyes and remembering the very first time I cried in a theatre, way back in 1986.
This coming weekend we are off to see the Janice Honeyman’s pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk and Noel & Gertie on Sunday.
The theatre line-up next year includes the Broadway smash hit, Jersey Boys, which I saw two years ago in New York City. And Starlight Express later in the year. It’s like Christmas all year round!
Prepare to be blown away by a magical theatrical journey :-).