Theatre Review: Fantastic 50 – Fifty-Fifty Chance, Or Mid-Life Priceless

May 29, 2015



Fantastic 50 / Starring Ian and Viv Von Memerty / Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre, Johannesburg


One of the most memorable lines from the 1995 comedy Bad Boys has to be “Don’t be alarmed, we’re negros!”, which saw Martin Lawrence and Will Smith playing on stereotypes when playing detectives entering a suspect’s home. Fantastic 50 stars Ian and Viv von Memerty both turned 50 last year, and if you like to embrace stereotypes, you will be alarmed by the amount of energy displayed on stage and how incredibly young this production makes you feel, no matter your age.

There are countless reasons why this is one of the most entertaining shows being staged anywhere in the country right now, but the most obvious one is how simple the concept is. Ian and Viv get on stage and they tell their life story. That’s it. The trick is how they tell it.

Ian has been part of South Africans’ lives for a number of years now – including wearing way too much make-up as host of So You Think You Can Dance and gently encouraging even the talentless on SA’s Got Talent.

He is splendidly supported by his wife, Viv, who candidly opens up about being a stay-at-home mom, being married to a travelling performer and feeling like she has not stimulated her brain for decades. (She is now learning how to fly helicopters.)

In the performing arts being older than 30 is considered as being over the hill, so for two 50-year-olds to host their own show is unthinkable. They have svelte moves and turn the charm on and off as they please, and they make their “she says, he says” confrontations look inviting. It’s surprising no one asked to come on stage to make it a threesome…

Fantastic 50 has absolutely every single factor needed to make it engaging from the very beginning, where the pair takes the audience back to a past that involved vinyl records and cassette tapes that required pencils to be rolled back into place to a  modern era of all things digital, from tablets, Mp3s and Mp4s to downloads and SoundCloud.

Wit is dished out in abundance. Laughs are always around the corner, nostalgia is part of the formula and Ian and Viv break into song more regularly than black people in KFC television adverts, all while making some of the octogenarian audience members jive in their seats.

The experienced Von Memertys could teach a thing or two to some of the much younger performers currently on circuit. They both know their strengths (Ian is a whizz on the piano – he “writes” a new song for each show using an audience member’s details; and Viv simply dazzles as she sets the stage alight with her dance moves) and their hard work is evident as they feed off each other.

More often than not, successful marriages are the ones that allow each partner to be an individual, but at the same time use that individuality to form a cohesive team. This is what has kept Ian and Viv married for so long and this is also what makes their show fantastic.

You can tell that the Von Memertys have been doing this – and doing it extremely well – for a while, as they pay attention to every bit of detail. The lighting is designed with pinpoint accuracy (if it was not,  the audience might be privy to more of Ian’s anatomy than they’d anticipated, as he changes his outfit on stage, behind the piano). The costumes tell a story on their own, and the performers read each audience and adjust accordingly. The music selection is expertly chosen to induce certain emotions  at certain times and Ian and Viv even “tsipa” (a township dance that involves rhythmically tightening and relaxing the gluteus maximus).

The Von Memertys extend their generosity to pouring their hearts out in the programme notes, telling the tale of their kids, one of whom succumbed to a debilitating disease. Most performers would have simply used the programme as just that: a programme; a list of what to expect.

As there is no such thing as a perfect performance or marriage, the two reasons why Fantastic 50 does not get full marks is Viv’s solo of R Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly, where she inadvertently conjures up images of Ras Dumisani “singing” our national anthem back in 2009. The half-point is dropped as a result of Ian enjoying the tsipa a little too much…