Theatre review – Rainbow at Midnight: A magical freak show

2014-09-14 15:00

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It didn’t surprise me that the 1?000-seater theatre was packed to capacity for the new show by ­Nataniël  last weekend. He is a cult figure who has raised a battalion of ­followers over the years.

What did surprise me, however, was the number of straight men in the room.

I remember going to Nataniël shows in the early 90s and the audience comprised women (and gays). Many didn’t tell their husbands they were going.

The fiercely transgressive yet endearingly vulnerable singer was their guilty pleasure. The moffie with a voice of gold who’d wear a giant Voortrekker frock on stage and ­horrify the rugby supporters. Today he’s a certain kind of mainstream.

“He scared me as a kid and scandalised me as a teen,” said my companion. Now Nataniël is something of a hero to him. Not just for his musical skills, but for ­steadily insisting on a space for difference within a ­conservative community.

His new show, Rainbow at Midnight, is a kind of exquisitely sung sermon about accepting your inner freak and living to your full potential. It’s peopled with characters from small towns who don’t fit in yet follow their dreams. It is dressed up as a Victorian freakshow and it’s magical from beginning to end.

Huge vocal offerings from the support cast, insanely lavish costumes, impeccable lighting and endless flying ­scenery make this by far the most polished production in town right now?–?and the most epic I’ve seen from Nataniël.

He has used the magic of theatre to make giant frocks move across the stage on their own, bring a forest to life, thrown in an acrobat and created a uniquely idiomatic fantasy world rooted in reality.

At the core of the narrative, told in short stories, is a tale of an actor who ends up suspended from a rope riding a tiny wooden horse on stage, made to look like a fool thanks to cheapskate producers.

Nataniël tells his audience life is too short and the world too ugly not to live your best life. He encourages us not to accept mediocrity, and urges us to run away and join the circus. His proof is in the pudding – his own show.

A giant white horse appears on stage for the finale. “I wanna be huge,” sings Nataniël.

He is.

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