Can the audience cut it?

2008-12-09 00:00

SHEAR Madness is the longest running play, apart from musicals, in American theatre history, and Themi Venturas, who directs the Catalina production, went to the United States to get input on how to set about staging it here. That’s because it is not a straightforward script that runs from start to finish in exactly the same way at each performance. It is improvisational theatre, and it is up to the audience to dictate how it is going to end.

The play is set in a hair salon — an excellent set which can make the most of the usually awkward shape of the Catalina. Actors and audience have an intimacy that would be lacking in a conventionally deeper stage. As the audience enters, actors are already on stage, and in the salon, one having a haircut. At this point, there is no dialogue, but characters are already being established. There is Tony, an über-camp hairdresser — a superb Marc Kay who does his best to steal the show; his assistant Barbara (Daisy Spencer); customers socialite Mrs Schubert (Clare

Mortimer) and sleazy antiques dealer Eddie Lawrence (Michael Gritten). Then there are two others who are not getting the kind of treatment you normally pay happily for — Loyiso McDonald and Dhaveshan Govender.

Upstairs lives the landlady, the never seen Isabel Czerny who is an elderly retired concert pianist and soon-to-be-corpse. One of the customers obviously does her in — but which one? Once she is dead, and known to be dead, the house lights come up, and Inspector Nick Hlatshwayo asks the audience for their input as the witnesses/suspects give their version of events. And a bigger bunch of liars and omitters you will never find outside a police station. It’s up to you to catch them out.

The audience can question, and in the interval they can suggest questions to the police, while the suspects are confined on stage. Once those questions have been dealt with, the audience votes for who they think the killer is. And then the play goes on.

Don’t think you are taking part in a foregone conclusion. On Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon, different murderers were unmasked. It’s all up to you, and the actors have to be on their toes, prepared to be asked anything and to come up with an answer. All the performances are excellent — no weak links — and there are plenty of topical references and humour. For some festive season fun and escape from the mean streets, head down to the Catalina to catch a murderer.

Margaret von Klemperer

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