Review: Big Sister at Gate69, Cape Town, October-November 2020

When: September 11 to November 28, 2020
Where: 87 Bree Street, Cape Town, 8001 Bookings: Info: 021 035 1627/071 589 2915 Corporate bookings:
Tickets: R390, R420, R450 Time: 8pm Arrival time: 7pm –Covid protocols – temp checks etc
Dress code: No sandals and shorts

Big Sister, hosted by Gate69’s resident troupe, The Trolley Dollies is an uplifting look at life under lockdown, interspersed with poignant moments and a wry reflection on a year which many of us, except for those who sold bootleg cigarettes, would soon be over. It is a wistful show, with laughs and song; laced with gratitude; of being alive and being able to commune together again in Gate69– masks, sanitiser and everything in place. The Trolley Dollies are SA’s favourite flight attendants: Cathy Specific (played by Brendan van Rhyn), Holly (Christopher Dudgeon) and Molly (Rudi Jansen) and they are back on the job, checking audiences in at the first show at Gate69, during lockdown.

I loved being back at Gate69 -which has always been a safe space for people to be themselves- irrespective of sexual or gender orientation. In the pandemic, “safe” has become charged with many meanings and “safe” takes on an added resonance.

As always Holly is the drollest of the bunch with lines which strike below the belt, slapping into the strange and unfathomable days of lockdown, South Africa. We had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world with regulations, which included bans on tobacco and liquor – well-intentioned but perplexing to many.  In our hard lockdown of the first three weeks- subsequently extended – we were not allowed to leave our homes -except to shop for essential food and meds. No take-out of food, no delivery of anything but food and meds. No recreational exercise. The only way to go for a walk was to take a shopping bag. We were locked in and there was a sense of paranoia that at any minute we would be hauled in for transgressing the regulations. There were stories of people who reported on their neighbors for walking the dog or for jogging. Meanwhile, people were without work, starving; gender based violence and corruption flared and there we were in our lockdown bubbles- those fortunate enough to be able to “stay home”- glued to our mobile phones.

Social media became central, with the ping of WhatsApp demarcating time. As the Trolley Dollies muse, it seemed that every person was starting a broadcasting channel. There was no end to banana bread bakeoffs. Every time one went on Facebook, someone was “live” with umpteen guests. In Big Sister, we get a dose of Cathy’s take on that one.

It was very strange in hard lockdown and that strangeness still pervades our landscape in lockdown level 1, October 2020. The strangeness is evident in Big Sister, where the Trolley Dollies are in their lockdown capsule – staying “safe” –kibitzing each other and entertaining us with their musings of this strange year. As they hunker down, there is a sense that they are being watched, by Big Sister. We were all watched. “Generation Zoom” is watching all of us.

Christopher Dudgeon as scribe has brilliantly nabbed the trajectory of lockdown in Big Sister. Week one is charted in detail; then week two and week three and then it all becomes a blur as we hit month one, two, three, four, five. In the background: Black Lives Matter in the USA, explosions in Beirut; the whole world in a mess; massive corruption in this country, with profiteers the winners.

Strange days and we are still in the fugue of Covid-19. It is difficult to find meaning in the haze of this year, with “the end of hope” and “offended sensibilities”, as Holly quips. Lockdown was populated with memes and pithy aphorisms -signifying everything and nothing.

The song list in Big Sister, reflects the somber, strange, dark days that we are in. There was stunned silence after a number of the songs and I am not going to spoil it and reveal the numbers. There was a speechless gasp of recognition – “oh that is our lives” – and then a burst of applause and appreciation.

The Trolley Dollies are the poster gals for being upbeat and resilient. As flight attendants in the grounded Gate69, they are grateful to have made it through hard lockdown; grateful be alive. They are urging us to sing along with them. However, it is too soon, to get into a rollicking party mode.  The virus is still very much with us. Big Sister with The Trolley Dollies is a show which mirrors the mixed feelings many of us struggle with; the cognition that we need to get on with work, get on with doing our jobs. We can have fun but we need to proceed with caution- not party time, yet.  It is great to be back at Gate69 – with live performance- and bask in the energy and warmth of The Trolley Dollies.

Big Sister at Gate 69, featuring The Trolley Dollies

When: September 11 to November 28, 2020
Where: 87 Bree Street (cnr Hout), Cape Town, 8001
Bookings: Info: 021 035 1627/071 589 2915 Corporate bookings:

Tickets: R390, R420, R450
Time: 8pm Arrival time: 7pm – Covid protocols – temp checks etc
Dress code: No sandals and shorts

❇ Image credit: The Trolley Dollies, photographed by Nardus Engelbrecht in 2017. Airport photo shopped into image. Photo supplied.