Theatre review: Godfrey Johnson Uncut

Posted: December 7, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
Tags: ,

The little theatre that can.

First published in the Cape Times, November ’09

A laundry masquerading as a theatre? This is Cape Town and anything is possible.  Cabaret artist extraordinaire, Godfrey Johnson, inaugurated a new quaint little theatre named Tabula Rasa with his Uncut show.  

Set in Upper Canterbury Street in Gardens, Tabula Rasa is a fully functioning Laundromat during the day.  As you enter the slightly industrial loft style building, the smell of fresh laundry drifts by, and the gentle hum of a dry cleaner provides background music.  The theatre area is an improvised space where the ironing usually takes place. Slightly tatty old couches and casually scattered chairs resting on a whitewashed, and somewhat dented wooden floor, create a bohemian ambience and an air of expectation.  A black sheet provides the background.  The bathrooms are set behind the vibrating dry cleaners and are lit only by candles.  As expected, there are fistfuls of fresh hand towels to use.  On the night of the little theatre’s baptism, Johnson introduced Uncut to appreciative audiences. During the evening Johnson performs a diverse range of popular numbers by artists such as Depeche Mode, Jacques Brel, Supertramp and the Barenaked Ladies. Sanjin Muftić, who also directed Johnson in Behind Every Man and Flirting With Coward, again collaborates with Johnson in Uncut.  Johnson’s incredibly swift fingers simply fly across the piano’s keys as he puts his own satirical twists and turns to well-loved songs; giving them new quirky personalities.  However, he is not afraid to go dark and deep when needs be.  Johnson’s performance of Jacques Brel’s, If you go away, brought huge lumps to my throat.  Singing, I love Paris in the springtime, he gently slips the knife into a jolly song by lamenting that he’s only actually been to Parys; the one in the Free State. 

He also presents a number of his own songs throughout the first half of the evening.  And this is where he really let’s gives it gas.  Hugh Grant is a sexy, slightly seedy, tongue-in-cheek ode to the handsome actor, who makes Johnson’s ‘lipstick melt’.  Wet Dream Blues and Nude are two more of Johnson’s creations that are filled with unusual piano arrangements, and lyrics that are laced with irony, social commentary and witticisms; giving a feel of resistance cabaret.

At most the theatre will be able to seat around 50 people, but at the moment it is catering for a much smaller audience.  Sitting in the soft, low couch right in front of Johnson, and sipping on a delicious red wine, it feels as if you are in your living room listening to your own private entertainer. It’s very intimate, immediate and a rather unusual experience. 

Tabula Rasa came about as Johnson, frustrated by the process of finding venues suited to his schedule, was approached by his friend and businessman Marcus Hoelper.  As owner of the Laundromat, Hoelper, was feeling the pinch of running such a large operation and he saw a business opportunity in the making.  Johnson had a look at the building and he spotted its potential as a performance venue.  He then roped in director, Sanjin Muftić, and Jon Keevy of Yawazzi Theatre Productions and so Tabula Rasa was born.   Muftić says Yawazzi will offer monthly performances at the theatre but that the idea is also to invite other theatre makers to use Tabula Rasa as a performance space.  He admits the theatre needs a bit of work, such as creating a proper backstage area and more seating arrangements, but the foundations are there.  Muftić says the space is ideal for edgy, avant-garde shows, and as a trial space for new productions.   In 2010 Johnson, together with Yawazzi, will stage a performance featuring the music of the enigmatic Jacques Brel.  Yawazzi has been invited to perform in Kigali, Rwanda, as part of its first children and youth theatre festival, where they will show their multimedia production, Under The Stars, Above The Tree.  In 2010 Yawazzi will also stage a production at the Out the Box Festival’s main programme.  This production Muftić calls, “An energetic comic-book in homage of West African pop literature.” It tells the story of three aspiring authors who are competes for the woman who makes their blood flow in the opposite direction; interesting.  Tabula Rasa, meaning ‘clean table’ or ‘blank slate’ offers a quirky, economical solution to the often cash strapped theatre makers with big imaginations and tiny pockets. With so many spaces unused at night it makes good sense to start these kind of collaborations that will hopefully give birth to really edgy and visionary productions that may otherwise not see the light of day.  These kind of eccentric spaces can also incorporate art of photographic exhibitions to give young artists a platform from which to launch their own careers.

Godfrey Johnson Uncut runs at Tabula Rasa until 19 December.

Bookings may be made by calling 072 112 1566 or by e-mail:  bookings@yawazzi.com

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