Theatre Review: Raiders of the Lost Aardvark

Posted: October 26, 2010 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
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Directed by Chris Weare.  With Nicholas and Luke Ellenbogen.  At the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio until 6 November at 8.15pm 

These days, guaranteed giggles are as hard to find as a straight talking politician.  So, when the Ellenbogen father-and-son fun train rolls into town, with their annual Raiders production, make sure you’ve got a ticket.   

The Raiders series celebrates its 21st production this year and it’s the fifth play starring the father- and-son team. For theatre goers who have been living under a rock, and thus missed the Ellenbogen action, here follows the basic formula of the Raiders’ series.  The annual play is usually loosely, very loosely, based on a historic event.  Characters are borrowed from history, or sometimes newly created, inflated, and given most peculiar mannerisms and often ghastly ailments.  The stage design and props are created from everyday objects which have been harvested from the director and actors’ hyperactive imaginations.    Once the stage is set and the audience has been given a taste of the plot, the Ellenbogens do a quick casting for supporting roles from the stricken audience.  When chosen, you cannot refuse to participate. Nicholas Ellenbogen pins you down with steely eyes and proceeds to haul you up on stage by what can only be a combination of hypnoses and a clever manipulation of your public humiliation phobia.  The best defense is to be a good sport, get up there, act your heart out, and then stumble down the stairs shaking and half-blinded.  Some people actually enjoy it and must, at times forcefully, be evicted from the stage. 

Raiders of the Lost Aardvark is no exception to the usual ludicrous banter, clever wordplay and improvisations that has become the series’ trademark.  The fast-moving plot includes a flat-footed, short-sighted and dim-witted pilot, Salty Hepburn, skillfully played by Luke. It is set during World War II and includes a bit of belly dancing by the infamous Mata Hari, Nazis and a Tiger Moth plane suffering from an identity crises.  The geographic location is roughly a trip from Cape Town to Cairo on various modes of transportation. 

Nicholas performs a varie 

Nicholas and Luke Ellenbogen in the 'dog fight' scene of Raiders of the Lost Aardvark

Nicholas and Luke Ellenbogen in the 'dog fight' scene of Raiders of the Lost Aardvark

ty of eccentric characters, which includes a fine impersonation of a Congolese Gorilla, with thigh-thumping enthusiasm.  This veteran actor is an absolute treat to watch.  Nicholas immerses himself in every moment.  His eyes roll about in its sockets as he recreates an aerial confrontation between fighter planes.  Spit flies as he fires on all cylinders through the layers of dialogue and boisterous sound effects.  He is all over the place lighting crackers, spraying the audience with water, hauling people onto the stage, and always skillfully pushing the action forward.   

I was still laughing my head off at the unfortunate people being called up to do all sorts of ludicrous things – until I was commanded to get on stage.  Cold sweat poured down my contracting spine and my tongue started to swell like an inflated whoopee cushion. My partner gave me a nasty grin and comfortably sat back in his seat.  In a zombie-like trance I stumbled onto the stage, transfixed by the Ellenbogen gaze.  I tripped going up the stairs, blaming it on a spontaneous hyperopic attack.   On command I proceeded to beat up another member of the audience who’d been bound and gagged.  Somebody else was walking around me on his knees.  I vaguely noticed the gaping mouths of the hysterical audience as I blindly stumbled from the stage, going the wrong way, praying that my dress did not ride up beyond my waistline.

The Ellenbogens are having fat laugh and we are in on the act and enjoying it.   Nicholas says that every show makes him feel like a toddler.  “A style more dangerous than Shakespeare on ice, he explains. “Especially when you work with the audience and fellow players you take your life into your own hands.”


Too soon the night of a thousand giggles is all over. It’s well worth the ticket price and the temporary humiliation. 


To Book, call Computicket on 083 915 8000.  Or visit   Ticket prices range from R70 for the Baxter Monday special offer, which includes a light meal and show, R90 for the previews, R100 Tuesday to Thursday and R120 at weekends. 



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