16th January 19
Saturday was the fiftieth showing of David Kramer's new show, LANGARM, produced by Eric Abraham and The Fugard Theatre. Accordingly, we were treated to a rare address by the writer and director himself. The show was a complete sell-out up to Christmas, with overwhelming demand resulting in an extension of the run.
Photo credit Jesse Kramer
As those who read my reviews regularly will know, I’m not usually a fan of musicals. Nevertheless, having seen the high standard of both King Kong and Kanala at the Fugard, I was curious about this new production. Set in 1965, apartheid laws were increasingly encroaching on the human rights of the non-white population. The title refers to the Afrikaans dance of the same name, but it’s also a pun on the ‘long arm of the law’ in a world where interrelationships were banned and individuals favoured on the basis of arbitrary ethnicity tests.
Dinah Levin (played winningly by Kim Louis) has recently lost her husband. She must try to breathe new life into the slightly downtrodden Canterbury Hotel in District Six. In strides chirpy dance teacher Angelina (beautifully played by Rushney Ferguson, who manages to portray both her sassy and fragile sides). She’s been allowed to provide lessons and use the hotel space to practice. Jeff, Dinah’s nephew (played a little awkwardly by Cameron Botha), comes to stay to provide support in the early months after his aunt’s bereavement. He’s newly heartbroken by his broken engagement from his fiancé Cheryl, and we discover that he was previously a junior champion in ballroom dancing. Angelina introduces him to the Moonlight Serenaders langarm band, who begin to reinvigorate the hotel with their lively dance tunes. They’re centre stage in many scenes, and perfectly complement the singing and dancing – kudos to resident Musical Director Charl-Johan Lingenfelder here. Elton Landrew is absolutely superb as the band’s manager, Dinah’s old flame, Eddie Jephta, adding delightful and regular comic touches spliced with wisdom and insight.
Whilst the dancing and music are uplifting, we’re never far from the vile shadow of apartheid. Vintage film reels are interwoven, reminding us that the human rights abuses described were very real. The laws force Angelina’s dance partner Lulu (a solid Julio Jantjies) to move far from District Six, making rehearsal impossible due to distance, transport costs, and an inability to travel after dark. Her dreams of winning the Swaziland Ballroom Dancing Championships seem dashed. However, despite his initial hesitation she manages to persuade Jeff to take over; neither discrimination nor segregation on the basis of skin colour exist in Swaziland.
Whilst the story of LANGARM is compelling and enjoyable, there were a few weak links. Jeff’s complete turnaround from heartbreak within a mere two weeks seems unlikely, particularly as the chemistry between himself and Angelina is rather unconvincing. Indeed, the relationship between Dinah and Eddie has a touching tenderness which is much more believable. I won’t spoil the finalé for you, but although the intrigue holds one’s interest, the twist at the end doesn’t quite ring true or make sense.
The ingenious set design by Saul Radomsky utilising a revolving central stage panel ensures snappy scene changes, and the lighting design by Gerda Kruger changes the mood with a click. Wonderful choreography by Grant van Ster infuses the dancing with an exuberant energy which is a joy to watch (although we don’t see much of the supposed former champion’s dance skills). The singing is pitch perfect (Ferguson and Louis both deserve particular recognition here), and there is plenty of humour, with the occasional lewd and slightly slapstick touch thrown in. Although the entire cast is strong, worthy of additional mention is Pierre Nelson who is excellent as the creepy money-grabbing Van der Byl. This new production is great fun, and at the very end expect to be treated to up-beat jazz solos by each band member. LANGARM is a vibrant show and just what you need to see off the January blues. Given the speed at which the tickets are selling out, though, you’d better buy yours fast.
Performances: Until 3 March 2019
Venue: The Fugard
Time: Wed-Sat, 8pm, -Sun 3pm
Price: R150 - R235
Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes with an interval
Wednesday to Saturdays at 8pm with matinees on Saturday and Sundays at 3pm. Bookings can be made through The Fugard Theatre box office on 021 461 4554 or through The Fugard Theatre’s website at www.thefugard.com