By BRUCE DENNILL
Forever Plaid / Directed by Elizma Badenhorst / Auto & General Theatre On The Square
As Caitlin Clerk pointed out in a review elsewhere on this site, audience perceptions that productions that feature either South African or student casts (God forbid of the actors are both) are below par for some reason put a kink in the attendance figures for such productions, even if – as is the case at leas as often as not – the shows are of a high quality.
The Oakfields College Faculty of Dance and Musical Theatre is establishing a formidable reputation for confirming that such notions are narrow-minded bilge, and their latest show, Forever Plaid is another step forward in this area of South African theatre.
Making this review all about it being a student production would be to ignore its merit in a purely artistic sense and this be arguably as condescending as the notion that inexperience guarantees mediocrity. But one observation that applies to the young cast of Forever Plaid is worth highlighting – their discipline. Exuberance is expected (and the four protagonists of the piece are nothing if not energetic, so it’s appropriate), but the focus and control exhibited by Jay Hlatshwayo, Kirk Harrower, Michael Hyams and Johan Nothling over 90 minutes of non-stop singing, dancing and acting is supremely impressive.
The production initially appears to be a daft bit of fluff. a silly conceit about a quartet of young singers wiped out in a road accident just as they were beginning to gain some traction on the path to stardom and who must perform their new show in full if they are ever to escape the odd kind of purgatory (the dress code includes dinner jackets and cummerbunds, curiously) they find themselves in.
This unconvincing idea proves to be rather inspired, however, thanks to some excellent music (30 songs’ worth!), creative choreography and a dense script that bulges at the seams with goodwill and humour. The songs are arranged to recreate the Fifties boy band style The Plaids (for such is the group’s name, and though the exact origin of the moniker is unclear, the theme suggested does mean the audience is treated to a wonderful version of Scotland The Brave) and Hlatshway, Harrower, Hyams and Nothling interweave their voices – wonderful instruments all – with precision and passion.
The four actors’ onstage chemistry is fantastic as well, mimicking the connectedness of a real band, which, for all intents and purposes, they are for the duration of the show’s run.Tough tight dance steps often open up opportunities for bumping a colleague, or sticking an elbow in his eye – hey, it’s part of the script – and the potential for physical anarchy seems to add an edge to the softer aspects of the production.
Behind The Plaids, going about their business without fanfare or frills are bassist Roger Hobbs and musical director Rowan Bakker on piano, making an intricate, layered score look effortlessly simple to play.
Forever Plaid points – again – to a bright future for musical theatre in South Africa, and to a continuation of the sort of high-level competition for roles that will help hone already sensational skills into world-class packages.
See the show today; savour what it suggests about tomorrow’s potential.