CAPE TOWN, Adult Panto/Cabaret Theatre, The Three Blind Mice, Gate69 Cape Town, 87 Bree Street, until December, 21 2019
? The Three Blind Mice: review
? ? ? ? ?
Director/writer: Christopher Dudgeon
Performers: Brendan Van Rhyn, Rudi Jansen and Christopher Dudgeon as the Three Blind Mice; Tessa Denton (the Farmer’s Wife), Kyle Jardine and Luke Jansen
Musical direction: Melissa van der Spuy
Choreography: Marc Goldberg
Set: Tessa Denton
Costumes: Tessa Denton and Organic Canvas (a company based in Salt River which creates costumes, body casts, prosthetics and props, used extensively in the film industry).
Headpieces and wigs: Tessa Denton
Eyewear (bespoke ? – fabulous): The Oculus (opticians). Oculus is giving a prize away in a raffle at Gate69. Proceeds go to the Athlone School for the Blind.
Lighting ? and sound design by Eastern Acoustics.
The Three Blind Mice ? is the 3rd adult panto staged at Gate69 and it is a cooker of a show. I laughed so much that I almost had a stitch in my side. Gate69’s resident troupe, The Trolley Dollies (Brendan Van Rhyn, Christopher Dudgeon and Rudi Jansen) share the stage with Tessa Denton (the Farmer’s Wife), Kyle Jardine and Luke Jansen. That adds up to six bodies on the small stage- hot and steamy.
Under Christopher Dudgeon’s clever direction, multiple scenes, costume changes and songs are stitched together; tightly within the framework of a zooty monochrome kitchen – accessorised with fridge and kitchen appliances. It could be a kitchen in Benoni, Bapsfontein, on a Tarantino film set, behind a picket fence in American suburban land, with the homeless parked in the roads in their mobile homes. Marc Goldberg as choreographer makes use of every spot on the stage – from the narrator, Ballas (love that name!) standing on the side of the stage, to the kitchen table which becomes platform and arena as the tale unfurls.
A big nod to Dudgeon’s direction and script, Goldberg’s choreography, Tessa Denton’s set design (the kitchen), wacky head pieces and costumes (in collaboration Organic Canvas) and musical direction by Melissa van der Spuy. They have taken the ditty of the three blind mice and fleshed it into a story of transformation and self-actualization.
As we know, the three blind mice ran after the farmer’s wife. She cut off their tails with a carving knife. In Gate69’s version, the farmer’s wife chops off more than their tails. But, within the gags and kicker of a playlist (such as that awful/fantastic Dolly Parton 1972 song Jolene), at the heart of the story is the farmer’s wife who was always an object. She was farmer’s daughter, farmer’s wife. She has no name until she duels with the three blind mice. They give her hope, Jo’anna (yes the Eddy Grant 1988 anti-Apartheid song, Gimme hope, Jo’anna is there). They help her carve out her identity.
Van Rhyn, Dudgeon and Jansen riff off their alter-egos as The Trolley Dollies and mash that up as the three mice, who may be blind but have the vision to turn their story around. Beyond the zany costumes, repartee, song and dance is a deeply considered narrative which I found profoundly uplifting.
With, The Three Blind Mice Gate69 has positioned the concept of an adult panto – well, where it should be. I loved Macbeth and The Three Little Pigs (the first two pantos) but I felt it was a situation of FHB – family hold back- not going too far, over the picket fence into adult mirth. In The Three Blind Mice, they don’t hold back. This is adult panto and that is what you get. I have been asked: “Is it [the show] dirty?”. Well, how do you define dirty? I think what they are asking –“will I be offended”. As Joan Rivers used to say: “oh grow up”. If you cannot take it, don’t go. The company is the butt of its own shtick. This is not insult comedy with the audience being hit on as easy pickings. We were sitting in the front row and no jibes came our way. It is important to mention.
Van Rhyn, Dudgeon and Jansen are yum-yum, as always but the revelation for me in this production is Tessa Denton. She played Lady Macbeth in the first Gate69 Panto. As the Farmer’s wife, in her Lycra leggings, she delivers a knockout performance. She is like a Benoni housewife who is doing porn films on the side –wholesome – until she is not. Sitting close up, we could see the range of facial expressions that she brings to the trashy Farmer’s Wife who is hooked on watching re-runs of Dallas (the 70s TV mini-series, in case you don’t know, millennials). Her comic timing is inspired. She is flummoxed, angry, and passionate and ultimately she just wants affirmation. Denton also designed the set, head pieces and collaborated on the costumes.
As with all Gate69 pantos, the characters in The Three Blind Mice live happily after. From the scanty lines of the fairy tale, springs out this heart-warming and hysterically funny story, nuanced with detail and the very deliberate use of songs like Gimme hope, Jo’ana. By the way that song was banned by the South African government, as it tried to desperately clutch onto white supremacy.
I write this on the day that the Springboks have won the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan. The gees (spirit) today in Cape Town is palpable. The city is in party mode. Yesterday (November 1, 2019), we expected Moody’s Investors Service to assign “junk status” to our investment-grade rating. We dodged the junk status bullet and got downgraded from “stable” to “negative”. That was a win – like getting detention, instead of being expelled. That gave us hope. Today, the Bokke played a beautiful game. We have been given hope. As a country we need that. We all need hope.
Walking into Gate69 – any night – one feels a sheer sense of hope and affirmation. There are hugs on the red carpet from The Trolley Dollies. It is a tonic to walk into this safe, creative, joyous space which is all about positivity.
In the past, I have used the word “incomparable” to describe Gate69 and I use it again. This is destination-theatre – an experience – not just a show. Despair is all around us. Recently we were in San Francisco, tripping across homeless people in the streets of San Francisco (shooting up on the streets, I might add). It was disheartening to see the hopelessness around us. People ask me all the time–“is it safe to visit Cape Town?” Well, I have to rebut that with: where is safe? Gate69 is safe. It is also a thrilling and exciting live theatre space with first class entertainment. With each show, the creative bar is raised higher.
Gate69 was established in September 2016. It is headed up by Brendan Van Rhyn and partners, Christopher Dudgeon and Luanna Shonfeld. Gate69 is the home base for van Rhyn’s alter ego, flight attendant, Cathy Specific and her crew-The Trolley Dollies (Van Rhyn, Dudgeon and Jansen).
The genesis of Gate69 goes like this: In 2000, after completing his musical theatre training in Pretoria, van Rhyn decided to become a flight attendant on SAA (South African Airways). He took to the air partly because he loved flying and also because the job market for actors was not looking promising. The Apartheid era arts councils had been disbanded and as a new graduate the prospect of medical aid and benefits lured him to the skies. While working as a flight attendant, the character of Cathy Specific emerged. He donned items from amenity packs in first class and entertained his colleagues. That led to him flighting a solo show with Cathy. He subsequently ditched his flight attendant job and went full-time into theatre. He picked up a 2013 Fleur du Cap Theatre Award (that’s the South African equivalent of Tony Awards) for his role as Dr Frank ‘n Furter in the Fugard Theatre’s production of musical, The Rocky Horror Show.
Van Rhyn’s journey culminated in Gate69 – which is themed around travel, although everyone flies business or first class. There is no Coach (economy as South African call it). The idea was to transport theatre goers into luxury- old school- with plush interior, cladded in gold, purple, velvet, glossy wood. In an interview in 2017 with me, he reflected: “I was most certainly NO dancer – at 6ft4 I was also an entire head (if not more) taller than the rest of the guys in my chosen field. Leaving subsidized employment was daunting enough, I didn’t still need to face the reality of being unemployed so I decided to do my own thing! Hence, the birth of SA’s favourite flight attendant and a darling to all whom she serves. Renown for my fabulous safety demonstration and rather unorthodox brace position, I knew there was more to me than handing out special meals or explaining why your personalized television screen was not working! It was a HUGE leap of faith but I wanted to marry both my loves in life – my love for flying and my love for performing…and as they say, ‘the rest is history’.”
Gate69’s maiden production Hedgwig and The Angry Inch was anointed with two Fleur du Cap Theatre awards. Other acts have graced the stage but the Trolley Dollies is the resident crew at the Gate69 lounge. It is a pleasure in every way to check in to Gate69. You step out, with the lingering taste of tequila flavoured, purple ice-cream, served at the end of the show. Yup, tequila flavoured soft serve. Utterly sublime.
The Three Blind Mice ? at Gate69
✔ Show dates: The Three Blind Mice is on for the festive season until December, 21 2019.
✔ Performance times: Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm.Recommended arrival time -6.30pm to schmooze with Cathy Specific and crew on the red carpet.
✔ R520-R599: includes show ticket, tapas served on a Gate69 Lazy Susan; soup (it was vegan this time), hot breads and the signature Gate69 soft serve ice cream- tequila flavoured, coloured purple and served in a wafer cone.
✔ Venue: Gate69, 87 Bree Street
✔ Address: Corner Bree And 79 Hout Street, Cape Town
✔ Bookings: https://gate69.co.za/ or call 021 0351627.
✔ Age alert: No under 18s.