SOUNDS OF SOUTH END, directed by Herbie Clayton (Savoy Theatre, until June 13)
Reviewed by Brett Adkins
THE story of Port Elizabeth’s iconically colourful but ultimately woebegone South End of yesteryear is one that begs to be told in a manner that can best convey its laughter and tears against a backdrop of the racial tensions that existed at the height of apartheid.
The format of a musical that centres on one close-knit family facing forced removal, and the satellite stories of the people in their lives, is one such terrific vehicle to do this.
The large troupe has enthusiastically embraced this Herbie Clayton-scripted production – and while it may falter here and there on the grounds of inexperience and lack of crisper writing, when it hits the mark it does so with bull’s eye precision.
The essence of what was the multicultural South End is vividly resurrected by the delightful assortment of characters.
From the carefree children playing in a whites-only park (hardly perturbed at being chased away by police) and the rib-tickling exchanges of a trio of gossips, to the weightier issues of cross-colour romantic liaisons and the eventual sorrowful fate of a vibrant neighbourhood – all these ingredients authentically encapsulate the era.
While the script is at times laboured and some of the nuances and humour lost on occasion due to actors speaking over one another, the singing quality is often of a soaring standard.
It feels as though two extra weeks of rehearsal and some judicious editing would have ironed out many gremlins.
Having said that, many aspects come together successfully. Desmond Marks and Jessica Sutton, as the Dietrich family parents, lay the foundation with their solid stage presence.
Marks has a wonderful singing voice and a highlight of the evening is his rendition of The Way We Were – the words of which are perfectly fitting for his predicament as a family man who has lost control of his destiny. Of course, this 1973 number, like others, is not quite in sync with the period – the mid ’60s – but while licence has been taken with the songbook to match the storyline, hits by the Bee Gees and the Beatles provide the requisite reminiscence factor.
Joylene Groener as daughter Patty and Jody Butler as her forbidden love interest, James, have terrific vocal reach while Valencia Stone, Annelize Abdoll and Christina Fortuin display wonderful comedic talent.
There’s no doubt that this entertaining show will find even better rhythm as its two-week run progresses.