The Durban theatre awards

2013-12-11 00:00

KICKSTART Theatre Company’s ongoing commitment to the Durban theatre scene was rewarded with the lion’s share of prizes at this year’s Durban Theatre Awards, which were held at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on Monday night.

The company, run by Steven Stead and Greg King, and its various cast and crew, picked up 18 awards in total for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Venus in Fur, The Ladykillers and Twitch.

King, who received the award for set design for his stunning creation for the Ealing comedy The Ladykillers, said: “The Ladykillers was such a treat to work on and it was a real treat to design a set that played a part in the show and that had to wobble on purpose.”

King’s wonky house was applauded by audiences when it showed off its amazing bells and whistles, which included rattling cupboards, objects that threatened to fall to the floor and flashing lights. Almost everything on the set was at an angle and one section revolved to reveal the outside of the building.

King and Stead were thrilled with the success of Beauty and the Beast, which was named best musical and garnered awards for acting, directing, choreography, sound design, lighting design and poster design.

Stead said that staging the classic Disney musical was an “extraordinary labour of love”, especially given that the company had limited finances and that he and King literally worked out of a garage and spare bedroom at their Durban home. “It was a terrifying experience which the cast and crew managed to pull off,” he added.

The company also triumphed with its complex drama Venus in Fur, which was named best drama and comedy production, and took directing and acting honours. David Ives’s Tony Award-winning play revolves around Vanda (Janna Ramos-Violante), a young actress who is determined to do whatever it takes to land a role in a new play based on the classic erotic novel Venus in Fur.

Vanda’s emotionally charged audition for the gifted but demanding playwright and director, Thomas (Neil Coppen), becomes an electrifying game of cat and mouse that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, seduction and power, love and sex. Ramos-Violante described the role as a “gift for any actress” and praised her co-star, Coppen, for teaching her the meaning of trust and bravery.

Stead said the play is his favourite work to-date. “Every now and then we get the chance to do something edgy and difficult, and it’s great that it is appreciated,” he said.

The play premiered at The Witness Hilton Arts Festival last year and later toured to acclaim in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

While KickStArt dominated this year’s event, there were other deserving winners.

Young actress and playwright Madelaine Davis was overwhelmed to win the prizes for new South African script and best new performer — female, for the two-hander Transition, which was staged at Seabrooke’s Theatre at Durban High School earlier this year.

In her acceptance speech she said: “I didn’t expect this at all. Transition was the result of one drunk 19-year-old girl’s beating on a computer keyboard ... [and] people listened, people came, people saw. Thank you,” she added.

Thabiso Radebe, the man behind the superb play High Heels ... With Balls, which tells the story of Adisa, who is trying to come to terms with being a homosexual in a homophobic society. He was thrilled to be named best new performer — male.

“I really don’t believe this. I’m overwhelmed,” Radebe said. “This award goes out to Prof Debbie Lutge [at Durban University of Technology]. She moulded me and made me what I am.”

Cobus van Heerden had the audience in stitches when he accepted his award for best performer in a music revue, music compilation or cabaret, for his scene-stealing turn as the Cowardly Lion in last year’s adult panto The Wizard of Oz.

“I had my reservations about doing the adult panto, but I don’t think anyone should feel they are above the adult panto, and I would like to thank my girlfriend for tolerating my gay side ... did I just say that?,” said the actor, who is now playing Tony Romeo in the adult panto Romeo and Juliet — An East Coast Story at Suncoast.

Van Heerden also teased Lyle Buxton, saying his clean-cut image would only take him so far and that he needed to consider doing the panto, and that he would pay good money to watch Stead appearing on stage in one of the naughty but nice festive productions.

Marc Kay, who is currently starring in West Side Story at the Playhouse, was a popular winner for best solo performance for his one-hander The Erl King, which was staged at Seabrooke’s and The Witness Hilton Arts Festival.

The actor and playwright paid tribute to his real-life and Durban theatre families for their support to make his dream of bringing Irish author John Connolly’s gothic horror story to the stage.

Last but not least, Clare Mortimer added another award to her collection after being named best supporting actress in a comedy or drama for her turn as Emilia in Think Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s Othello.

During the ceremony, two stalwarts of the KwaZulu-Natal performing arts were also honoured: Brendon Bunyon of Black Coffee Design received the judges’ award for his support of theatre in the province; and Hilton College Theatre manager, Doreen Stanley, received the Monica Fairall Memorial Award, which is presented to a member of the theatre community who goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Actors, singers and technicians paid tribute to Stanley, who is retiring from her post at the school and as administrator of The Witness Hilton Arts Festival.

The Durban Theatre Awards consider only productions originating in Durban and presented during October 1, 2012, to September 30, 2013. This year, 28 productions were vying for honours.

This year’s event, which was hosted by media personality Terence Pillay, featured performances by 10-year-old singer Lasandra Majola and the dance crew ShowDem, both of whom were winners at the Gateway to Fame competition.

MUSICAL THEATRE AND MUSIC REVUE

• Choreography: Janine Bennewith for Beauty and the Beast.

• Performer in a music revue, music compilation or cabaret: Jacobus van Heerden for The Wizard of Oz.

• Supporting actress in a musical: Liesl Coppin and Charon Williams-Ros for Beauty and The Beast.

• Supporting actor in a musical: Bryan Hiles for Beauty and The Beast.

• Lead actress in a musical: Georgina Mabbett for Beauty and The Beast.

• Lead actor in a musical: Sascha Hal­bhuba for Beauty and The Beast.

• Musical director for musical theatre or music revue: Shelley McLean, Justin Southey and Nik Sakellarides for Beauty and the Beast.

• Director of musical theatre or music revue: Steven Stead for Beauty and The Beast.

• Best production — music revue: Shaken Not Stirred, producer Gary McKenzie.

• Best production — musical theatre: Beauty and The Beast, producer KickStArt Theatre Company.

DRAMA AND COMEDY

• New South African script: Madelaine Davis for Transition.

• Supporting actress: Clare Mortimer for Othello.

• Supporting actor: Lyle Buxton and Peter Court for The Ladykillers.

• Comedic performance: Iain Robinson for Twitch.

• Solo performance: Marc Kay for The Erl King.

• Lead actress: Janna Ramos-Violante for Venus in Fur.

• Lead actor: Neil Coppen for Venus in Fur.

• Director in drama or comedy: Steven Stead for Venus in Fur.

• Best drama or comedy production: Venus in Fur, producer KickStArt Theatre Company.

OTHER AWARDS

• Poster design: Shirley Berko for Beauty and the Beast.

• Sound design: Megan Levy for Beauty and the Beast.

• Lighting design: Tina le Roux for Beauty and the Beast.

• Costume design: Neil Stuart Harris for The Ladykillers.

• Set design: Greg King for The Ladykillers.

• New performer — male: Thabiso Radebe for High Heels ... With Balls.

• New performer — female: Madelaine Davis for Transition.

• Theatre Personality of the Year: Babuyile Shabalala.

• Judges’ award: Brandon Bunyon.

• The Monica Fairall Memorial Award: Doreen Stanley

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