Theatre review: Noir at Kalk Bay Theatre, April-May 2021

What: Noir – cabaret/burlesque/variety Where:  Followspot Kalk Bay Theatre at Brass Bell Restaurants & Pubs, Main Rd, Kalk Bay When: Until May 15, 2021– Thursday, Friday and Saturday and nights Time: 8pm but there is 7.45 pre-show set by Hannah Hishin Featuring: Ash Searle, Vanessa Harris, Bradley Searle, Hannah Hishin, Emily Isted, Jessica Köhler, Liam Gillespie Director: Ash Searle and Vanessa Harris Tickets: R250 at via Quicket WhatsApp line: 066 205 5063 E-mail enquiries: Duration: 75 minutes Age Restriction:  No under 18s  

I loved Noir: The wow of major lifts, comic interludes, showbiz glam; allure of burlesque and staying balanced and on top; always. Vanessa Harris as director has drawn from burlesque, vaudeville and cabaret to put together 22 sets –packed into one hour and twenty minutes. It is fabulous. Noir features signature Followspot Kalk Bay strength and athletic dance – with the amazing Brad and Ash Searle (brothers) and Liam Gillespie. Two of the vaudeville type acts have been seen in previous Followspot Kalk Bay shows. Watch out for Bradley Searle and his mannequin. Alexander Tops performed this famous variety show routine in a previous Followspot show, Bon Soir, “a long time ago”. There is a contortionist masked being set that was also performed “a long time ago”. Everything feels like a “long time ago” at the moment, in the 2nd year of the pandemic. Besides from reviving these fave sets, the rest is new. Emily Isted is dazzling, as she mashes up the precision from her ballet training with burlesque. Harris says that in choreographing this set, she was inspired by Imogen Kelly’s performance in the 23rd Annual Miss Exotic World Competition [2013- on YouTube]. Imogen Kelly wore sandals and conjures up Marilyn Monroe. Emily Isted is an acclaimed ballerina and here she is saucing it up with burlesque – revealing and concealing – teasing between the flickers of light and shadow. Hannah Hishin and Jessica Köhler are great. Arrive early to enjoy Hishin’s pre-show cabaret set. It is like encountering a Marlene Dietrich like chanteuse in Cape Town. Be seated by 7.45pm to catch Hishin.

 A revelation for me is watching Ash Searle and Vanessa Harris doing a full throttled rendition of Whitney Houston’s I will always love you– the Kenny G sax version. They fling each other in the air – trusting each other – to be there to catch and elevate. Their self-deprecating humour and shtick counters the balancing and stacking of limbs. They are always seeing the lighter side of things. For me this set is emblematic of what they have been through in this this pandemic, as husband and wife and as operators of an independent theatre. They lost their theatre home. They found another space in what was formerly known as the Bikini Bar at the Brass Bell. They kept their balance in check at all times. They kept at their practice. They painted, decorated, furnished and transformed the space into an intimate venue which evokes speakeasy. It could be a cabaret venue in Berlin, London or New York. You walk in and you go – “wow”. There are hard and low chairs, bar stools, plump cushiony couches. Each seating configuration has a table (even a teensy one) or ledge to hold a glass or two. There is a sense of walking into a lounge- smoky (from the lighting and fog machine– no smoking allowed indoors, South Africa).

Traditionally Followspot stages a festive season cirque/cabaret which usually sells out. For obvious reasons, due to Rona, Noir was put on hold. The Noir season was launched, with two shows a week – Friday and Saturday. Bookings flooded in and more shows were added- such as the Easter Sunday performance- which I attended. Now, a Thursday performance has been added. The season has been extended and will run until May 15. There are also comedy and music nights (see website- Nick Rabinowitz is on April 14). If there is demand, extra shows may be added. If you want to book the venue for a corporate or birthday or milestone celebration, let them know. There are 60 seats on offer for each performance. Yes, you can pitch up at venue door and buy tickets – if there are any left.

Attending Noir, on Easter Sunday, we watched with some amusement as front-of-house, Alan Searle (father of Ash and Brad) had to act as a bouncer to stop people from entering the venue. These peeps were determined to step inside. “It is sold out? Oh no, it looks so inviting.” Yes, Noir has sold out and yes the Followspot Kalk Bay Theatre looks utterly inviting – perched on the edge of the rocks- overlooking the ocean at The Brass Bell. The peeps who were desperately trying to get into Noir had been dining at the Brass Bell. They saw the twinkling theatre lights and reckoned that theatre would be a great way to extend the evening. They were flummoxed. They thought that The Kalk Bay Theatre was “over the road”. It used to be “over the road”. In lockdown, Followspot had to vacate the “old premises”. The Brass Bell offered them a new home for their theatre. They opened in November with Man Band II– the follow up to Man Band I in the “old venue”. Things were going well and then came the spike with the new Covid variant and the curtain came down and Noir was put on pause.

Plot spoiler alert: You may get wet (as in water, okay) if you sit in the front seats, flanking the stage. Huge fun!

*Covid advisory: Windows are left open at The Followspot Kalk Bay Theatre. Drinks are sold by the Brass Bell and obviously one cannot keep a mask on, while drinking. We chose not to drink and kept our masks on. We sat in a lounge seat capsule and scuttled out as soon as the show finished. Others lingered. The seats (60) are spaced out. You can request an extra socially distanced perch. You don’t have to order a drink. You can keep your mask on at all times.

Noir at Followspot Kalk Bay Theatre: Emily Isted- mashes up the precision from her ballet training with burlesque. © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen, April 4, 2021.
Tower of strength: Ash Searle and Vanessa Harris doing a full throttled rendition of Whitney Houston’s I will always love you- the Kenny G sax version- in Noir at The Followspot Kalk Bay Theatre.
© TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen, April 4, 2021.