Theatre Review: Storm In A B-Cup – Tunes And A Timeline, Or Composing A Career

April 29, 2022

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Storm In A B-Cup / Directed by Russel Savadier / Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg


Many South African theatre audiences are likely most aware of Kate Normington as an element of dozens of musicals and straight plays in which she – as a lead or in a supporting role – adds undeniable quality at the very least, and often the kind of sparkle or unexpected eccentric edginess that makes her the most memorable performer in an ensemble.

She’s built a formidable career out of such work, and the sobriquet “First Lady of South African musical theatre”, often applied to Normington, is well deserved. But it is when Normington gets a stage to herself, when all of the distilled facets of her skillset are on display all of the time, that it becomes clear just how extraordinary a talent she is.

Storm In A B-Cup originated as a festival piece with extra musicians backing Normington as she sings and a different take in terms of some of the presentation. Co-producer of that version, musical director Rowan Bakker, returns, alone, to the piano, helping to make this version a more intimate offering, and allowing the focus to sit squarely on the leading lady standing centre stage. Bakker’s arrangements are uniformly sublime, though special mentions must go to versions of Maybe This time (from Cabaret) and Wouldn’t It Be Lovely? (from My Fair Lady) and a hugely clever and magnificently bonkers Musicals Medley that involves Normington doing strange and mildly unspeakable things with a velvet boa. In the quieter numbers, Denis Hutchinson’s lighting adds an almost unbearably layer of pathos – if you were laughing during the song before, you might find a giggle catching in your throat in these moments…

The song choices are intelligent, repeatedly setting the platform for the patter that links them, which sees Normington relating episodes from her professional and personal past, as well as their intersection, such as when she tells of the heartbreaking moment her friend and colleague Gaynor Young, who was standing in as her understudy in a 1989 production of Camelot, fell into a huge hole in the stage at the State Theatre, suffering terrible injuries.

Such serious moments are the exception, though, with Normington’s wicked wit the staple ingredient of most of her stories, further underlined by her physical comedy.

As a singer, Normington excels, handling the multiple key changes and quirky phrasing in many of the songs aplomb – as certain of her pitch as Bakker is of his timing and dynamics on the keys. Even Sondheim seems simple in her hands, with an exquisite version of Children Will Listen (from Into The Woods) at the end of the show being profoundly beautiful.

This is a deceptively simple show, flowing easily and passing almost too quickly, but it is packed with craft and intelligence and humour and flair. This initial run has been short – it deserves and should receive longer residencies and, with any luck, the opportunity to tour.

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