39 short steps from Broadway to hilarity

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TO NDR 39 Review2.jpg The cast of The 39 Steps. Pictured are Michael Gritten, Clare Mortimer, Clinton Small and Loyiso McDonald. Picture: Val Adamson

The 39 steps

DIRECTOR: Themi Venturas

CAST: Michael Gritten, Clare Mortimer, Clinton Small and Loyiso McDonald.

VENUE: The Catalina Theatre

UNTIL: 30 December

RATING: *****

DURBAN has been spoilt for choice when it comes to theatre offerings this festive season and with The 39 Steps it seems we have one more goodie in our the bag of treats.

The Catalina Theatre has brought the production to their stage partly to celebrate their 10th anniversary.

The highly entertaining whodunit is adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan, from the movie by Alfred Hitchcock.

Now in it’s sixth year on the West End and its fifth year on Broadway, the production is a huge hit and its not hard to see why. The melodramatic comedy sees the entire cast of the 1935 film performed by a cast of four, with actors playing many roles at the drop of a hat.

Directed by Themi Venturas, The 39 Steps features Clare Mortimer, Loyiso McDonald and Michael Gritten, and Clinton Small as the title character, Richard Hannay.

In a previous interview Venturas mentioned that, as part of the agreement, he had to go overseas to learn the ins and outs of this production. I would say it was a trip well worth the effort as the production is first-rate.When I heard who was cast for the show, I was quite confident that this would be a performance to remember. It was that and more!

Small plays Hannay with aplomb. Mortimer plays Annabella Schmidt, Margaret, Mrs Jordan and Pamela Edwards – pulling off each with the hilarity.

Gritten and McDonald deserve special mention for their hysterically funny performances of 134 characters. From secret agents and spies, to a milkman, domestic workers, a Scottish farmer and more – they duo will have you rolling in the aisles.

Cleverly constructed shadow puppetry (created by Mortimer) add to the fun of this piece. A cleverly constructed set design (Jimmy Alberts) aids the fast-paced nature of this play and attention to period detail for costumes (Margie Alberts) makes for excellent presen- tation of this piece. The soundtrack (Venturas) and lighting (Dhaveshan Govender) ensures a well-packaged production.But personally, the beauty of this play lay in the acting – hilarious, entertaining, but highly skilled.

Definitely one you should not miss!

• Shows: Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2.30pm and 8pm and Sundays at 2.30pm and 6pm. Bookings: 031 305 6889 or at www.strictlytickets.com

THE Catalina Theatre will commemorate its 10th anniversary in style this week when it stages The 39 Steps.

In an interview with Tonight theatre founder and director Themi Venturas said they’ve been trying to bring the play to Durban for three years.

“Because of a funding crisis over the years we never managed to pay for the royalties. This year we’ve been privileged to get funding from the provincial Department of Arts and Culture.

It was exciting to have this happen during our 10th year. I had to go to London, as per agreement, to learn how to do the play, it is quite complex,” he explained.

Asked about their choice of staging The 39 Steps, Venturas said: “It is a challenge for any actor or director. Being involved in a piece like this is exciting. I love doing a show that is without any huge sceneries, but still has the same effect.”

Commenting on his choice of cast Venturas said: “This play requires a very special breed of actor and I think we have achieved this in Michael and Loyiso, who, between them, will play more than 100 roles. Clinton Small has that Clark Gable look and Clare is an established actress who will be playing four women in the play.”

Having survived in the entertainment industry for a decade, and being an important catalyst for development in theatre, we asked Venturas what was the biggest challenge in keeping The Catalina Theatre afloat: “First it’s to bring an audience in.

“Frankly the Durban audience is largely not brave and adventurous. They won’t come out and see something they don’t know.

“Some people say: ‘Well, we don’t market enough’, but marketing takes money, so what do you do when you just don’t have it?”

Venturas says the second biggest challenge has been funding: “We have been very lucky in that four years ago when the theatre almost closed down, Rainbow Chickens came on board and saved the theatre.

And more recently the provincial Department of Arts and Culture and eThekwini Municipality have also come on board with funding. So funding is now on track, but it’s been 10 years in the making.

“It’s been a long, difficult 10 years and while we are excited for making it in this time, we are aware that we may not survive another five or 10 years if funding doesn’t continue,” said Venturas.

The biggest tip Venturas can offer anyone in the industry is: “Learn to juggle many balls. To play with just one ball is inviting heartache because very often that ball goes up and doesn’t come back down. Be versatile enough to do straight theatre, musical theatre, conferences and corporate work. The idea of just being an actor is very naïve. Be as versatile as is possible.”

• Shows: Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2.30pm and 8pm, Sundays at 2.30pm and 6pm. Bookings: 031 305 6889 or at www.strictlytickets.com


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