Review: Man Band at the vNAF- on at the vFringe at the virtual edition of The National Arts Festival, South Africa- until July 31, 2020.

Performers: Ash and Brad Searle, Alex Topps, Liam McDermott and Gareth Christie

Direct booking link:

Duration: 55 minutes

Tickets: R75

I saw Man Band – a tribute to boy bands of the 90s- live at The Kalk Bay Theatre – in August 2019. The Kalk Bay Theatre was run by Ash Searle and Vanessa Harris. I say ‘was’ as the theatre no longer exits. It was a casualty of the pandemic and lockdown. Searle and Harris are currently looking for a new venue to stage their shows, under the platform of their production company, FollowSpot. 

I feel very emotional watching the Man Band edition for the vNAF. In my review of the live show, that I posted on TheCapeRobyn on Facebook- TheCapeRobyn website was under development- I wrote: “… KBT is more than a theatre. It’s a destination and a theatre.” I added:With 77 seats, the venue intimacy adds to the thrill of being close to the artists on the stage floor. Added to that is the fact the theatre is a family run business – headed up by husband and wife team Vanessa Harris and Ash Searle. Brad – brother of Ash – is invariably part of the lineup. Their dad, Alan Searle, works front of house. They do everything – production, the whole shebang. On Saturday night, when the keyboards went on the blink, Harris whipped out of her technical box at the back and plonked herself down on the stool and got the keyboard working. While at it, she seized the moment to sing along to These Boots Are Made for Walkin. She treated the audience to a couple of excellent leg hoists and received hooting and catcalls of appreciation. Fabulous. I think that they should make that part of the act: Vanessa scampering onto the floor during These Boots – and adding in woman into Man Band. I love going to the KBT. It is a tonic – not only the actual performance but the setting, the restaurant and drinks upstairs; the interaction with the Searle/Harris contingent and getting to jive on the dance floor.”

That was August 2019. I had no idea that Covid-19 was coming our way and that the KBT would be shut down.

Man Band has been rebirthed for the vNAF. The virtual edition includes references to the fact that we are in lockdown. Ash Searle says that lockdown is all very strange but it has its benefits. He quips that he has had his family close – maybe too close. Within the closeness, it is hard to read one’s partner’s body language. In recognition of this, they present their version of The Book of Mormon Song, Turn if Off: “It is an educational song”, he quips. how to read your partner’s song during lockdown.” During lockdown, there is the constant noise of everything and you just want to turn it off. Yeah, can relate.

Harris filmed and edited the vNAF show – with her signature fun approach. She uses close up shots which capture moments beautifully. Watch out for Stairway to Heaven segment.  The vNAF Man Band is the same as the live show – but very different – with witty and emotional riffs off the lockdown milieu. Rather than filming it as a stage show, Harris has included props and graphics. There is an outdoor interlude and a fun clip in the shower – which was put out on social media, by FollowSpot.

Man Band was filmed at the Harris/Searle home, over four days. “I turned my office into a theatre with all our stuff. Smallest theatre in the world,” Harris tells me.

Harris has been busy during lockdown – home-schooling two young children, looking for a new theatre space –and she has developed a website. It will showcase recorded theatre shows like Man Band and will be the base for the shows that they will stage at their new theatre – when that is possible to operate. Check it out:

Image credit: Supplied.