Technical hitches with computer and camera which can only be described in words best not printed have prevented me from being, as I usually am, the first to review a new KickstArt production – and have demoted mine to probably being the last. (My string of non-printed words may be imagined here.)
The Panto Puss in Boots opened last week at Durban’s Sneddon Theatre before an audience which has become rather too accustomed to excellence, and was bound to be disappointed. There are limits to how far one can continue with constant improvement, and at some time there has to be a levelling-out or a dropping-off.
From all other reviews I have seen, it is clear that they share my view that such stage hasn’t yet been reached – not even nearly. The show is described by one well-travelled reviewer as the best in the country, and though I am less travelled I would venture a guess that it is probably well up with the best in the world this season.
With the flair for unusual touches always displayed by this company, the setting has been made Caribbean (not Carribean, as the programme follows the common spelling error by stating), allowing for some extra flamboyant scenery, costumes and music. Add the usual genius for puppetry and the fact that they and instant costume-changes seem to rely on some sort of magic, and one can imagine the fun. An idea to introduce a naughty female kitty (Selina Swiftclaw, played by Caitlin Kilburn) as a foil for Puss was also a stroke of brilliance.
Everything is so elaborate that there were bound to be glitches on opening night. These were mercifully tiny, and I’m sure will be ruthlessly eliminated. One was the goblin/ogre in wheelchair bopping himself on the nose with a gesture of his stick during an exit. Then a dancer shed a flower from her hair which sat almost centre-stage for the remainder of the scene looking sorry for itself. Such things provide an unwanted distraction – one is wondering who is going to trip on it rather than appreciating the dancing. Also noted was that an ascent of stairs two-abreast caused brushing up against some flimsy scenery, spoiling its illusion for a second. Then there was a slight fumble during one of the ‘magic’ puppet events which tended to let the cat out of the bag (snigger) as to how it was done. Finally, the Dame (Mother Marzipan, played by Darren King) lost a false eyelash rather spectacularly and had to finish the scene at half-flutter. (She is a baker, by the way, and gets tarted up a lot in hilarious food-style clothing.)
I do find myself speculating whether cast should be encouraged to ad-lib their way through mishaps to leave an impression that they were planned, like an ostentatious recovery of the flower or a petulant reaction to the goblin striking itself on the nose, or whether it is safer to ignore them?
The fact that I ruthlessly pounce on these little events shows that there was nothing else to be critical about. For unadulterated amusement (although there is a good bit of adult innuendo also!) and rejuvenation (without becoming simply juvenile), this show is perfect. Audience and kid participation are there but not overdone, and follow the established and tested formula. The story is fun, the singing and choice of music well done, the dancing all fits in perfectly, and although it is quite a long show attention never flags. I thought Londiwe Dhlomo-Dlamini made a delightful Princess Miranda, and I particularly enjoyed the touch where Lyle Buxton as the show-off but cowardly brother of Tom (Bryan Hiles), Puss’s owner, gets predictably bonked by a counterweight and then really turns chicken most convincingly.
Glowing individual credits have been given to everyone else from producers and directors to the individual actors in other reviews – all I can do is endorse them and say is that in the next sets of annual awards this show is extremely likely to be well-represented on all these fronts.