Taking theatre to the edge

2011-08-13 00:00

THEATRE in Durban is often better than elsewhere in South Africa because its practioners aren’t driven by a need to make money, says multi-award-winning actor Bryan Hiles.

“We simply want to do shows and do them well. There is a lot of passion because we don’t always get the audiences that the big musicals and shows in Johannesburg and Cape Town get. It also means we’re willing to take a risk,” he adds.

Hiles comments were in response to the view expressed by some in South Africa’s two main arts centres that Durban is a bit of a cultural backwater.

It’s a view that Ismail Mahomed, the director of the National Arts Festival, has tried to change by showcasing quality KwaZulu-Natal productions like KickStArt Theatre Company’s Wit and Neil Coppen’s Abnormal Loads on the main programme.

Hiles is full of praise for Mahomed’s decision, saying it was a risk that has paid off handsomely for local productions.

Three KZN works won ovation awards in Grahamstown this year — Mandisa Haarhof’s Crush Hopper, Grant Jacobs’s Paperboy and Flatfoot Dance Company’s Bhakti — and most of the local productions that travelled to the Eastern Cape festival enjoyed good houses.

Hiles, who was born in Howick and then moved with his family to Botswana, the Free State and eventually to East London, plays the lead role of Clifford Bradshaw in KickStart Theatre Company’s production of Cabaret.

Bradshaw is an American novelist who comes to Berlin for inspiration just as the Nazis begin their rise to power.

During a visit to the Kit Kat Club he meets and falls in love with an English singer Sally Bowles (Lisa Bobbert).

Meanwhile, Bradshaw’s elderly landlord, Fraulein Schneider, gets engaged to a Jewish greengrocer, Herr Schultz — not an easy decision given the increasing influence of the Nazis.

It’s the first time Hiles has performed in the musical — which is one of the must-see theatrical productions of this or any other year in Durban — but he admits that before being cast he had only seen the Oscar-winning film version, which starred Liza Minnelli.

“I have this span of vinyl at home and just before rehearsals started I was sifting through my collection when I came across an original recording of the stage musical of Cabaret.

“Then I decided to watch the film again — but it’s very different from the musical version,” he said.

In the film, which was directed by Bob Fosse, Sally is American and there is no Clifford Bradshaw.

Instead Sally’s love interest is Brian Roberts (Michael York), a reserved English academic and writer.

Hiles says he is loving the role of Bradshaw, “My scenes are really gritty. It’s really a straight drama piece, I only have one verse of song and a couple of dance steps.”

Cabaret is directed by Steven Stead and boasts set designs by Greg King.

Hiles has worked on many of their productions over the years including Peter Pan, Little Shop of Horrors, Cinderella, Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood and Noises Off, to name a few.

He will also be treading the boards again in KickStArt’s Christmas pantomime Snow White in December and January, playing Tom Trueshot, the huntsman.

Hiles is also hard at work on a new production which he and his Creative Madness partner, Peter Court, will be staging at The Witness Hilton Arts Festival.

A Froggie Fairytale is, he says, “a silly and side-splitting re-telling of The Frog Prince with masks and puppets”.

The show, which stars Hiles, Liesl Coppin and Daisy Spencer, is one of three Creative Madness projects headed to the festival at Hilton College in September.

The others are The Great Big Enormous Turnip and Rumplestiltskin.

 

NEED TO KNOW

KICKSTART Theatre Company’s Cabaret is at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on the Durban campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal until August 28.

The production stars Lisa Bobbert, Bryan Hiles, Charon Williams-Ros, Peter Court, Clare Mortimer, Lyle Buxton and German musical theatre star Sascha Halbhuber as the sinister, sexy Master of Ceremonies, Emcee.

Janna Ramos-Violante, Liesl Coppin, Belinda Henwood, Marion Loudon and Jessica Sole are the Kit Kat girls, while Darren King, Sean de Klerk and Marc Kay play a variety of dancers, sailors, thugs and a gorilla.

Showtimes are Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30 pm, Saturday at 2.30 pm and Sunday at 6 pm. Tickets R130 to R150 at Computicket. Please note, Cabaret contains adult material and has an age restriction of no under 14s.

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