Exploring the Khayelitsha Township near Cape Town with Maurice Podbrey (Part II)


For the past 8 years or so, Maurice Podbrey has made it his mission to help a Youth Football Club in the Khayelitsha Township flourish – and an uphill battle it has been. But to attempt to explain what he’s been doing – and why it is so interesting, I think I have to start with a quick description of South Africa today, at least as far as I could see.

Officially – Apartheid ended 22 years ago – but undoing it has been much harder than I think most of us in North American can begin to appreciate.

I was lucky enough to find a wonderfully well written article on Apartheid (written in 2014). I highly recommend you read it – but I will summarize it below.

If you’d like to see the original piece – here’s the Link. Please read it – it’s quite interesting.

Here is my quick summary – The author makes several important points – He starts with a quote from Edgar Pieterse, director of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. Edgar says: “The social engineering of apartheid came down to a very successful model of spatial engineering,” The author continues: “Tracing his fingers over a map of the city in his office, he explains how both natural landscape features and manmade infrastructure were employed as physical barriers to keep the different racial communities as isolated as possible.”

“Cape Town was conceived with a white-only centre, surrounded by contained settlements for the black and coloured labour forces to the east, each hemmed in by highways and rail lines, rivers and valleys, and separated from the affluent white suburbs by protective buffer zones of scrubland,”

Driving around Cape Town today – in fact driving anywhere in the area – one can see exactly what Edgar is talking about. It’s easy to spot the shanty towns (no electricity) and the black townships (bit nicer but still shanty houses – have electricity). And if one looks carefully – one sees how the highways, huge zones of scrubland, and other natural features hem in these areas. Folks who live in these areas have a very strong sense of community – but they can’t easily move away. It’s a giant move, or stay put. That’s the only choice.

And it’s a hard one even for us to make in Canada – if you chat up new grand-parents – they are torn between living their lives where they are, or moving closer to the grand kids. Hard choice. Now make that choice harder by not having enough money for a car – and putting the pieces of your life an hour away by bus (if the bus comes), or 2 hours away by foot. Keeping your family close, if unemployed is somehow more appealing.

In any case – life in the townships is tough. There are few jobs – well, I’m being generous – there are no jobs for young adults. No A&Ws, no Dad’s factory, no where to work. If you want to earn some money, you can try to start your own ‘business’ – selling stuff you pickup to passing cars, gathering wood from the near by scrubland, maybe helping people park their cars, but the pickings are slim. And you are miles and miles away from the places where any kind of normal job could be found. To visit the township where Maurice’s football club is located was a 45 minute drive from Cape Town. And there are 1.5 million people living in just that one ‘Township’ If even just 10% are young men from 16-22, that’s 150,000 of them. The numbers are simply staggering.

Back to Maurice. His football club isn’t trying to address all the problems – but it does specifically target some issues in one tiny area of the ‘Khayelitsha Township’. Kids who belong to the Pauline Podbrey Club get a hot meal after school – and are encouraged to do their homework either before or after practice. The teams (and there are at least 8 – organized by type of game, girls or boys, and age) have team colours and team outfits – paid for by Maurice’s fundraising. In fact Maurice’s fund raising has basically paid for everything – from the white board to the plastic chairs, to the kitchen set-up used to cook the hot meals.

When we went to visit – we were introduced to several of the ladies who work in the Club – the bookkeeper, a lady who works with handicapped kids of all ages, and one of the team managers. Some of the kids also came to talk to us – they told us about their ambitions – one wants to play professional soccer, or if he can’t do that – something with Math. The other young man isn’t on any team – he’s new to this township, having just moved here from the Eastern Cape, but he’s good friends with kids in the club, and is thinking about joining. Two young ladies, about 10 years old, were also there. They play Net Ball – a version of Basket Ball that is popular here. They demonstrated their techniques, as well as told us a bit about their lives. If you’d like to make a donation – and trust me – even a dollar would be well spent there – click here for the link to the Pauline Podbrey Foundation.

After we said goodbye to the Club space, we visited the new park that has been built near by the Club. It is a year old, and a lovely space indeed. There is a garden area with plants and flowers (the only growing things besides kids we’ve seen here in the Township), a playground, a soccer pitch, and a net ball court. Quite a remarkable difference from the rest of the township. We also drive by the shopping area – you can buy almost anything you’d want there – although it’s likely to be displayed on the ground, or hanging from the fence that surrounds the space. There are traditional looking, albeit poorly stocked, shops, but most of the shopping is done from individual sellers who spread their wears on the ground around the shopping space.

South Africa is a glorious country – magnificent beaches, towering mountains, wide open spaces. Surely there is enough room and enough resources to go around. There must be a solution – although it is of course not one a casual visitor can easily imagine.

I did dream up one idea – although I am willing to describe it, I can’t see how it could happen. There is a lot of undeveloped land in the District 6 area, hard by several of Cape Town’s now integrated Universities and Colleges. My idea is to build dormitories and Apartment houses on this land. The dormitories would be occupied by students – roughly 1/3 white, 1/3 black, 1/3 coloured. The idea being that living together would help them understand their similarities. Then here’s the interesting part. The Apartments would be rented only to graduating students who had lived in the dormitories – roughly on the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 basis. And the rent received from the students would be kept on account for them. After 5 years – they would have to leave the Apartments to leave room for new students, but they would get back the rent they had paid in, perhaps matched by the government. This would give them seed money to get better jobs, a better home, to start a business.

Anyway – on to our travels.

After leaving the Township, we head back along the water to catch a lovely light lunch at one of the small towns on the beach. After lunch, Maurice drives us up to the base of the cable car that goes up Table Mountain. We’d hope to catch the thing – but it wasn’t running – too much wind. But never mind, even from the base the view is amazing.

Tonight Victor and I have decided to do something really really different – we’re going to a show at Gate 69.

The Cape Heritage Hotel where we are now staying is in a busy bustling part of Cape Town – very different from the deserted landscape just past the Water Front. And right across the street is the Gate 69 Club. I saw a brochure for the place – and it is obviously a Drag Queen Supper Club. And I figure – why not?

Getting reservations is actually part of the fun. They are officially sold out for tonight, but I decide to visit the box office for myself. I run into all three of the owners – all busy getting ready for the night – but very willing to find a space to squeeze in two guests from Canada. ‘Cathy’, the main hostess runs out quickly – only partly dressed – to welcome me – and tells me that she’s (he’s) only been here in Cape Town for 2 years – but loves every minute. I’m guessing that foreign visitors haven’t quite figured out how much fun this kind of thing can be – and we are being treated as honoured guests!

There is only room for about 80 guests – all seated at tables in front of a stage. The theatre space is all red velvet and gold curtains, the welcoming bar area is done in purple plush – and they have camped it to the max! Cathy Pacific – our 6’4″ hostess for the evening is decked out on the red carpet – greeting guests as they arrive with big hugs and a smile. She’s lovely – if a bit muscular for my taste! We are escorted in to the bar area, and share a glass of wine before climbing the stairs to the theatre proper.

Dinner is a complete surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting – but not a fabulous multi-tiered platter – somewhat reminiscent of a British High Tea service. There are two kinds of olives, several different types of toasted breads, a liver spread, a hummus spread, two different kinds of ‘sandwiches’, chicken Satay, a tiny plate of cold vegetables, fresh bread served while we eat – and a wonderful hot soup with decidedly unique citrus notes. It’s yummy – and more than we can eat! We save the cheese plate and the fresh strawberries for later – and admire our ‘waitress’. Like Cathy – she’s enormous – and dressed to fly in a tight fitting airline hostess outfit. These ‘girls’ would never make it onto a plane – with their headdresses we’re talking over 7 feet – easy.

The show starts with the three owners welcoming us to their ‘place’. I had met ‘Cathy’ earlier in the day – and she has consistently refered to my husband and I as our ‘Canadian’ guests – too funny that. And then the show is on the road.

The premise is that the three airline hostesses have recently been demoted – something about using the toggle to eject the door and inflate the slide so they could make it on time to a performance in Cape Town. So they are doomed to ‘domestic’ and begin by mourning their loss of ‘duty-free’ benefits. The show is a brilliant combination of patter – and songs often set to recognizable tunes with words re-written to suit the venue. My three top favourites were a send off of ‘Be Our Guest’ that included the line – we’re not French you know.., a version of Rolling Down the River (Proud Mary) that laid them in the aisles – and of course the absolutely perfect ending song – Mein Herr. Yes – done sitting (sometimes) in chairs.

We laughed, we groaned, and we admired! After the show they served Tequila ice cream as a good-bye treat, and while other’s stayed to continue to soak up the bar, we headed across the street and to bed. Tomorrow will be a Big, Big, Day!

Signing off to get her beauty rest – The Soup Lady

Well – about time I posted again, eh?


Yeah – I know – been gone for months.

It’s not that I wasn’t busy – not busy isn’t in my vocabulary, it’s more that reporting on trips to places like Maine (I love the sea – but is a family holiday worth a blog post) or Toronto (to play bridge – at the National ABCL conference – can you say boring) worth blogging. I say no.

So – what am I doing that is worth Blogging? Ah – that’s a very good question.

I just spent 4 wonderful days doing Theatre in London – which besides being unbelievably expensive – is also a top ranked city for theatre.

We caught two current offerings – Woman in Black (Ghost story that’s been running for 28 years or so) and a brand new play – The Play that Goes Wrong. We also opted for pre-fix meals before the theatre – one of which was a huge bargain, the other of which was terribly over priced. So even the best of planners can go astray.

First review – The Woman in Black with dinner at the Homage Grand Salon – in the Waldorf Hilton. First question – What happened to “Waldorf Astoria” – did Astoria lose out to a bidding war with Hilton. I suspect yes, but the signs were very consistent. But I digress, as I so often do. On to the review. The meal started off nicely – my daughter opted to join us – and the very kind Matre D’ allowed that he could seat 3 as easily as 2. Given that the place was sold out (he turned away folks while we were waiting to be seated), I was pleased. But I was much less pleased with the meal. I don’t mind small portions, in fact I prefer them. But these portions had been downsized to non-existence. And it wasn’t that much of a price bargain either. 23 pounds per person, plus extra for dessert, extra for drinks, extra for coffee – extra for tip – and some of the meals on the menu had surcharges that ran 50% of the price of the meal. Very very pricy dinner for a lovely restaurant, kinda icky service – we had to go find people to get water, butter, a knife – and to order dessert. Which by the way was the highlight of the meal. A decided high note in a meal that didn’t rate 2 stars – let alone 5.

But on to the Show.

The theatre is one of the smaller theatres in the West End – and it was packed with young women – looking for a good scare. And they obliged the actors by screaming pretty consistently at almost everything. Which is a good thing – Ghost Stories are much more fun if people scream.

The story of the play is pretty scary – although it takes some time to get to the scary parts. And the acting, as would be expected in London, was top notch. I won’t give anything away by saying that it did succeed in scaring me. I’d rate the play 4 stars, dinner 2.

The next night we picked much, much, much better!

Dinner was at a very casual place called Boulevard Brasserie – a ‘French’ restaurant within 150 feet of our theatre. The meal actually started off better – the waiter was much less pretentious, and while our table was smaller – the restaurant itself was cute and fun. Decidedly brasserie. Again we had pre-ordered the theatre meal – and were extremely impressed with both the quality of the cooking and the size of the portions. At least here they don’t think smaller is better! Bread was extra – and I needed to order the bread. My smoked salmon appetizer simply begged for it. And good bread it was too – served with both butter and an olive paste. Yum. My dinner was a lovely cooked trout, at least twice the size as the fish I’d starved on the night before – perfectly cooked and delicious.

Dessert was the only course where the Homage Grand Salon trumped the lowly Brasserie. Their potted chocolate was far superior to my too large and too dense Valrohna Chocolate Tart. But hey – at 1/2 price – the Brasserie was by far and away the better bet.

Again on to the Show..

We’d picked “The Play that Goes Wrong” because Victor felt strongly that we wanted something light and funny – enough seriousness in our lives. So the reviews made this one sound perfect.

Curiously – we had to subject ourselves to a bag and personal pat-down before we could enter the theatre. This hadn’t happened the night before, but we were assured that it wasn’t that unusual for London. Our seats – purchased at a substantial discount thru Time Out, were on the front row. But in these tiny theatres, it’s rather hard to get a bad seat. And we were center front at least.

The play started with a bang – the mantle of the fireplace falls off, and the stage hands madly attempt to fix it with duct tape while trying to tell the audience to ignore them.

And the play goes up, or perhaps down, from there. It is absolutely historically funny. So funny that I actually had issues stopping laughing – not helped at all by one of the actors breaking character to chastise me from the stage – “This isn’t funny – stop laughing!” You try to stop after that – I dare you!

The idea is that a group of rather amateur actors are finally getting to put on a play in a ‘real’ theatre – and the play in question is a murder mystery. There’s all the requisite components – house with hidden doors (including one in a grandfather clock), folks with too many secrets (including romances between several of the characters), and a section of the stage that serves as a study raised above the rest of the stage and reached by an elevator on stage. But of course – things go wrong, the mantle falling off is just the first of many gags that combine physical comedy with exquisite timing. When the study threatens to fall off the walls into the audience – with two actors continuing to speak their lines while game-fully trying not to slide off – well – the audience is torn between laughter and concern for their safety. I still don’t know exactly how they managed not to slide down – the angle of tilt was at least 35 degrees! It was steep!

Through all the mishaps – only one actor manages to stay serious – and I truly have no idea how he manages that feat. There are actors who overact their parts – there are stage hands that try desperately to fix things (doors that won’t open, props that go missing, and sound effects that either happen late, don’t happen at all, or happen incorrectly. A door slam to the face takes out one of the lead characters, and a stage hand with a script is quickly drafted to take her place. When the lead actress recovers and tries to get back her role a bit later – a fight ensues between the stage hand who is enjoying the applause and the over-acting lead actress not pleased at being replaced.

If you have ever been involved in amateur theatrics – or if you just want to laugh until your sides hurt – this play is completely irresistible.

5 stars for dinner, 5 stars for the Theatre – a prefect evening is a lovely town.

On Tuesday our trip changes pace – we’re heading to South Africa! So stay tuned.

Signing off to play with her newest grand-daughter – the Soup Lady.

Why do we go to the Theatre? or The National Theatre in London Rocks!


Why do we go to live theatre? It’s expensive, it’s awkward, it’s sometimes uncomfortable – and it can be risky. What if we don’t like the play? What if the main actor gets sick and we are stuck watching a 2nd rate understudy? What if the guy sitting directly in front of us is 6′ tall and has bushy hair? Honestly – Live theatre is such a challenging concept if you think about it.

And it’s not just a challenge to the audience member. Depending on the play – anywhere from 1 to a hundred performers have to get ready to entertain us – ushers have to be preped to find us our seats, concessionaires have to get their goods ready – ticket takers and ticket seller have to be on their toes. Musicians have to tune their instruments, conductors study the score, tech guys get their acts together. And then there are the behind the stage crews – lighting, costumes, stage managers, props – the list goes on and on.

So again – why bother. Why not do as a friend of mine suggested recently – stay home and watch You Tube – it’s just as good.

But actually – it isn’t. Not to me anyway.

There’s a special thrill you get when you hand in your ticket and take your seat. There’s the sharing with the other members of the audience – what have you heard about this play – will it be good? Will it thrill me? Will it challange me? Will I understand the dialogue? (Not a trivial question here in London – I’ve now been to 2 plays I didn’t totally understand – and I’m sure they were in English.) Will there be something amazing happening, or will this presentation be ho-hum? Will the tall person in front of me slump down in their seat when the curtain goes up?

I love that moment of anticipation just before the curtain goes up. And I admit to loving live theatre in general.

I’ll put up with a lot of discomfort to get in as much live theatre as I can – and that’s a lot of discomfort. I have issues getting to the theatre – here in London that has meant using the “Underground” and then walking. And in more cases than I care to think – getting lost. I spent 2 hours wandering the dark streets of downtown London after a recent performance (which wasn’t that great to start with) because I couldn’t find the sign for the Underground. I ask you – why do they love to hide those things! You can walk right by them – and never know it.

But I digress from my topic – which is really about the play I saw two nights ago. It has a terrible title really – “The Pacifists Guide to the War on Cancer”. Doesn’t sound like it’s going to be upbeat, eh? But I found cheap tickets (in London – that’s under $20 a seat) – and it was being performed on one of the stages the National Theatre – which I know how to find! Cheap seats, easy to find stage – I’m so on top of this!

So ticket scored – I take my weary body to the theatre, hoping that the performance will keep me awake – unlike my last outing to a disaster called “The Dresser”. Ugg.

First – food. One of the things I love about the National Theatre complex is the bookstore and restaurant selection. There’s a coffee shop, and at least 2 restaurants – a ‘lower’ cost option called “The Kitchen”, and a slightly higher cost option called “House”. Ok – I scored a cheap seat – I’ll splurge on dinner. And “House” has a 22 pound Table D’hote. That’s about $30 US – so the cost of the evening is under $50. If the play is good – I’ve done well!

Dinner is amazingly good – guided by the bar waitress – I go with her selection of Hake. That’s a rarely served fish in North America – but I’m not sure why. It was divine. And it came with some vegetables – and not just potatoes either. And they were warm and properly cooked. For dessert (2 course meal – I opted for Main and Dessert – spank me now) I had what was described as Coffee Brule – a take on a Creme Brule but made with coffee – and served as a stand-up custard with two thin slices of Pastasho Biscotti. Oh Man – Score! Great food – awesome bread – delicious butter – and all within a price range I could afford. Best of all – I could hang in my comfy seat until the last minute – I was already at the theatre!

On to the Show. The Dorfman Stage is reserved for new productions at the National Theatre – an off the ‘end’ beginners stage if you will. It’s a flexible stage – offering the designers options like thrust, modified-thrust, standard Procenium, etc. This play was in a modified-thrust format – so my ‘restricted’ view cheap seat wasn’t horrid. Most of the action was far forward – and I could see very well.

The designer starts the show off by explaining that talking about death and Cancer is never easy – even if all of us will die – and 1 of every 3 of us will die from Cancer. So they opted to make it a musical – in hopes of getting some kind of an audience to attend.

Apparently it has worked – the reviews were quite good, and the main ‘stalls’ on the ground floor were full. The upper ‘restricted’ view seats were quite empty – which worked in my favor – I paid for a 15 pound seat – but ended up in a 20 pound seat. I’m ok with that upgrade.

The story line is interesting. A woman and her young baby – carried in a chest pack like the one my daughter wears – starts the show by explaining that she’s not sure why, but the hospital has called her baby back in for tests. She sure that she’ll wake up tomorrow and this will be a bad dream – but meanwhile – she’s doing as she’s been told – bringing her baby in to the hospital.

The baby is taken away – for those undisclosed, undescribed tests – and she is left waiting for something, anything to happen. What happens is that she runs into a variety of other folks in the oncology section – a pregnant woman having her in-vitro baby tested for cancer, a chain smoking older man with lung cancer, a son and his mother facing the likelihood that he will never father a child, a woman in the final stages of cervical cancer, and the like.

Thru music, thru props, thru great acting, and thru a believable – if horrid – story line, the cast explores the war on Cancer – from the perspective of the unwilling victims. Memorable songs include a Western Stomp done with the ‘hospital staff’ wearing cardboard bedpans on their heads like cowboy hats, and a couple of stunningly beautiful ‘blues’ songs sung by the glorious lovely gal with ‘cervical’ cancer.

I was particularly taken aback by a piece about friendship – which poignantly points out that for many of the patients – their best friends are now their fellow patients – because they understand what is happening emotionally and physically to each other.

The piece dramatically and emotionally ends with the cast coming on stage – no longer in ‘costume’. They sit on stage and talk about what it is like to die (in most cases – quite peaceful apparently) and then they invite folks in the audience to say the name of a loved one who is ill or has died of Cancer.

It took me 20 minute to get back enough strength to start walking back to the tube. The security guard found me in the ladies room during his closing routine – good thing too – otherwise I’d have spent the night locked in the theatre.

This is why I go to the theatre – to remember why we go to the theatre.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

The London Theatre Scene – So many options it’s amazing…


I can’t help being impressed with the London Theatre Scene. It feels a bit like NYC – so many options at so many different price ranges it’s almost too confusing for words. And it’s all in English – sort of.

Which is one of our first problems. We’re here for 5 nights, so 4 nights of theatre seems reasonable – but there are some issues.

1. Figuring out what to see.
2. Figuring out how to get tickets
3. Figuring out where the Theatre is
4. Figuring out how to eat dinner before a 7:30 show

Trust me on this – #4 on the list is pretty important. You can’t enjoy a play if your stomach is growling, and for some reason we’ve been getting a late start – aka late breakfast – every day. So lunch is delayed – we’re not hungry at 6:00 – and finding something quick to tide us over is a challenge. In the end, we decided to eat after the Theatre – which worked successfully twice. Hurrah for small sucesses.

But – ignoring our stomachs – lets just stay calm and carry on shall we?

Picking a show is a huge part of the fun, and there are dozens and doznes of options. There are the big shows – long running American Shows like “The Book of Mormon”, “Wicked”, “Mamma Mia”, and the like. There are popular NYC transplants like “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night” and there are chestnuts – “King Lear” or “Amadaus”. There are ‘big’ plays I’ve never heard of – “The Libertine”, “The Woman in Black”, “The Ghost or Who is Sylvia?”.

And then there’s the National Theatre who has three stages – and we found out – discount ‘day of’ tickets. Playing there was “Amadaus”, “The Red Barn”, and “A Pacifist’s Guide to the war on Cancer”. But the season constantly changes so you must check when you arrive in London. Coming up there’s Hedda Gabler, Peter Pan, Romeo and Juliet, and Love. They also have several ‘West End’ theatres which keep their longer running productions – like “The Curious Incident of the Dog” – which is on it’s 4th staff change!

In the tube and on the buses – you just see ads for the ‘big’ guys – and that spoke strongly of which shows are money makers, vs which shows are more about theatre.

Plus there are smaller theatres – ones harder to find out what is going on at because of the number of hits you get for the bigger shows. Time Out in London is an excellent fast resource (and it you sign up – they sometimes email you interesting discount offers). There’s also a great “off the West End” site to check out – http://www.offwestend.com – which bills itself as the ‘all em-bracing site for independant Theatre’. They cover an amazing 124 different theatres – none of them in the “West End”. Included on their list is the Old and New Vic, and the Globe. Again – sign up to be kept in the loop by email.

Getting tickets – ah ha – there’s the rub. The worst place in the world to get tickets is thru an on-line reseller. They are often priced much higher than the theatre originally asked – and the ‘time is running out’ pressure can lead to bad decisions. The best place to get tickets – in my opinion – is from the theatre box office – or at worst the Theatre’s website. Those are priced as the Theatre thought they should be – and represent a bargain over the re-sellers. Some theatres even release a block of inexpensive tickets on the day of the show to clear up any empty chairs. We ended up having to use wholesalers for 2 of our 4 choices – only for the National Theatre Performance of “Amadeus” and “The Curious … Dog” could I buy tickes from the theatre itself.

Now – back to our 4 actual choices.

Unlike the Intrepid Traveler, my husband wants to go to theatre that has been pre-approved to be worth his time. And that means either a story he knows, or a story that appeals to him on some inate level, or something that has won numberous awards.

This explains our picks:

The Libertine – a “West End” production in elaborate period costumes that tells the story of a morally questionable young gentleman and his ‘reward’. Given that the play is quite old, we expected that the moral judgement would be quite harsh. But our issue with this play was one of accents. Our British isn’t that good apparently.

The Book of Morman – another “West End” production – winner of countless awards – which after have seen the show makes me wonder about who exactly hands out these things. Maybe it was a bad year for competition. My advice, ignore the marketing – avoid the Musical.

Amadeus – an absolute stunner of a production with a live orchestra that wanders the stage – ‘acting’ as well as playing glorious music. But the killer part belonged to the young man (Luciani Msamati) in the role of the vicious Salieri. Words simply can’t describe how outstanding his performance was. Breath-takingly glorious production with an outstanding cast in a fabulous theatre. What’s not to love.

The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night – I’d seen this in NYC with my sisters – and loved it. The computer and light effects are stunners – and I found the story wormed its way into my heart. At first the plight of the young man seems outside of our experience – but he gradually becomes more clear, more open, more worthy of our regard. It’s a strong play that can work that magic on an audience – and while not the stunner of Amadeus – this was a good runner up for best night out in London.

It turns out finding the Theatres was super easy – The Map option on my iphone even shows me the fastest transit option – including locating the bus stops! We only got confused when we arrived at Piccadilly Circus – which has become a Circus of epic proportions. Thank goodness for Ripley’s Believe it or Not – it’s such an obvious landmark you can easily use it to rotate your body and map to find the Theatres.

So there you have it – what we saw – and how we found out was was playing – and what we thought of the plays we saw.

My advice – try the OffWestEnd.com website for listings, and call the theatre directly. And stay away from those mega shows. They are on their 3rd and 4th castings – the original performers are long gone – and even the crew is getting a bit tired. Do new I say!

Signing off to check on more theatre options here in London – The Soup Lady

Zastrozzi, Bar Karpra and Bus Stops


3 Plays in 3 nights – color me Crazy! And color me lucky that I live in a city with so much relatively inexpensive live theatre! What fun it is to be able to pay under $15 to see great theatre.

And I’m not even a professional reviewer.

A statement that some of my readers might find disingenuous at the least. But marching on as always – I will attempt to both tease and torture my readers into keeping their eyes peeled for any of these to show up at a theatre near you!

First stop – Bar Karpra the Squirrel Hunter – which is a fringe winner trying way to hard to be a real piece of theatre. Cute for fringe, and not badly acted, and certainly well produced and staged – it’s a play in search of a strong story line. Unfortunately for the audience – it doesn’t find it. I read a review of this play that tried to defend this lack of point by describing it as a poem – well – it’s a badly written one then.

The staging however was quite cool – and I loved how the flowing side screens filled the darkened space with just the hit of forest green and white as the seasons changed. I also found some of the physical tricks appealing – not realizing until the very end that two of the ‘flat’ surfaces in fact were padded. Neatly done. But good staging does not a great play make.

Fast forward 2 nights to Bus Stops. Put on by one of our professional theatre groups – and costing the viewer significantly more than Bar Karpra – it suffered from many of the same ills. And given that the same set designer created both productions – I suppose it makes sense that both should be more about glorious set design than about story.

Too bad I care more about story.

Bus Stops – being far more polished and professional – is perhaps the bigger disappointment. If we pay more – we expect more. And Yes – Bus Stop delivered more – more tumbling, more special effects, more surprising bits and pieces – but still the lack of directed story line was so distracting that it took away from the whole.

Too often I was left wondering – why did that actor just do that? Why does that one seem so angry, that one so bored. We know from the start that there has been a tragedy – but we don’t know until the end exactly what happened – altough there is plenty of opportunity to guess.

And then there were the cute bits of switching clothing. Neatly done and very interesting – but how does dancing with shirts contribute to the story line? Are we to understand that each person is representing several other people? Ok – I get that. But did they have to dance with the shirts to prove it? Weird.

The set of course is another story. It’s a bus that has been bombed – and the frame work provides the actors with places to swing, hang, fold, fall, and pose. As time goes by – parts of the bus are dismantled – I’m guessing to show how the story is unfolding. Neat stuff – but just not quite enough to make up for the lack of a clearly developed and fully realized story.

Ah – but then we have Zastrozzi. Stunning, fabulous, intriguing, stimulating, challenging, exciting, fun, entralling, exciting, and well worth paying to see. As you probably guessed – I loved Zastrozzi.

It is primarly a fight fest – the 5 actors (3 men, 2 women) fight with everything on stage – bottles, fists, palms, whips, rapiers, and knives. There’s sexual tension – including a ‘rape’ scene where the two participants are sitting near each other – but never touch. There are several extended sword duels – with plenty of dramatic flourishes to keep the result of the duels in questions.

The set itself is almost completely empty – a trunk is dragged from side to side to represent various pieces of furniture – but that is all the set there is. And yet the lack of a set is not a problem. It doesn’t distract from the play – it actually contributes to the feeling of emptiness that all the actors suffer from.

And yes – there is a story. It’s not an easy simple story, and I’m not going to even attempt to summarize it. Enough to say that all the fights make sense within the larger pictures. And isn’t that what we want – things to make sense when seen as a whole.

Zastrozzi is not a new play – it was first performed in 1977 – so I suspect that it is likely to end up being staged elsewhere. But for now it’s on at the Mainline until March 20th, 2016. If you miss it – you will be missing something grand.

Signing off to see even more theatre – The Soup Lady.

Frighteningly Awesome Theatre Experience


Why do we go to live theatre – seriously – you ever asked yourself that  question? I mean it’s expensive, you have to buy tickets in advance, arrive early, wait in line, and risk disappointment since most live theatre, at least in Montreal, doesn’t stay around long enough to get much of a reputation.

Well, I can share why I go. It’s the thrill of the chase. The anticipation when you are sitting in the lobby – will this be a winner – or a loser? The tension between audience and actors – can they make me believe it’s real – do they want to?

All of which leads up to my review of “Butcher” – the current offering from Centaur Theatre. This is a 10 out of 10. Top rating – must go – Loved it review. But go prepared for heart wrenching, stomach turning, reality check level experience.

This play is not easy to experience, well worth it, but not easy. How hard is it? During our performance, close to the climax – suddenly the lights went on in the Theatre. An older woman had apparently fainted and fallen to the floor near the back stairs. The ushers and her husband were attempting to revive her – and the action on the set froze as the people helping her got her to her feet and out of the theatre. Close on their heels were another couple – much younger – clearly taking this opportunity to make a fast exit.

Questioning the staff after revealed that this had happened several times already during the run of this play. Okay – seriously brutal topic – so well acted that you totally buy into the story.

I’m not going to reveal plot – or plot twists – but I will tell you to go. This is a tale ripped from today’s headlines – complete relevant to what we’ve been reading in the newspapers – and yet a story as old as time itself. When is enough, enough? When do we agree it’s time to stop hating people for what they have done to you?

What is an appropriate punishment for crimes against humanity – and why does it happen? When do these things start, where and when do they end?

The author has crafted a wonderful piece of theatre, the talented actors and directors at Centaur have brought it to life, and the sold out audience stood to appaud their efforts.

Get tickets – Go.

Not to backtrack – But Montreal is home to some amazingly fun Festivals!


Ok – I know – I am part way thru a trip in Business Class to Bali – and I’m writing this while sitting in the Air France Executive Lounge enjoying free drinks, free food, and comfy chairs in Paris. So a blog on the Festival of Lights in Montreal is going to appear out of the Blue.

But bare with me on this.

Montreal – in February – is cold and dreary. And the PTB (Powers that be) in the city decided that having a festival in February – which didn’t conflict with Mardi Gras (March), New Years (January), Jazz (June), Laughter (July), Graffait (who knows), etc. was a great idea. And thus the Festival of Lights was born.

At the end of the Festival – which runs for 10 days of entertainment and restaurant craziness – is Nuit Blanche. Also not a new idea – or even an idea unique to Montreal – but with typical half French/half English style, organization and verbe – springs to life in our Beautiful City. The basic idea – keep the lights on all night – with free entertainment in basically every venue in the city that can host a crowd – churches, museums, bars, you name it – there’s something happening! Frozen Pianos, Casual Art, Singers, Jugglers, Musicians, Art happenings, Art tours – the city bumps and grinds and parties till Dawn.

For The Intrepid Traveller and I – it’s an occassion to stay up just a bit later than normal – and its a time to take in (for free) a show that we would never ever even consider attending. Our selection criteria is simple – has to be inside (we get cold), has to have seats (we can’t stand for even 5 minutes, let alone hours), and it has to be multi-lingual – my french is horrid.

Several Nuit Blanche ago – we discovered the caberet at the National Theatre School. They take a long thin space, fill it with chairs – put performers in front and in the middle of the space – and just go at it. The first year they must have had more funding – because there were at least 20 performers. Each year the number of performers has decreased – but that’s been more than made up for by the quality of the acts.

This year was the best ever for quality – a group of 4 young men who cloned the harmonies of the Beatles – in French. They looked, acted, and played the parts – even if the songs weren’t familiar – the joy and abandonment felt absolutely right. We loved it.

What we actually loved even more was a performance of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucassion Chalk Circle. This was put on in the big theatre of the Theatre School – by the junior professional and extremely talented students there. As is typical with the Theatre School – no expense was spared on costume, set design, and quality of performance. These kids are not interested in impressing me – it’s the Montreal andToronto Theatre folks who come to see and hire that they want to amaze. We’re hangers on that profit from the opportunity to see the future in performance today.

So – enough on the Festival of Lights. It’s over for another year – but listen up if you aren’t from Montreal – this is a reason to come to our fair city. And if you do live in Montreal ask yourself – are you missing something amazing?

Signing off to go back to blogging about travel – The Soup Lady

Cooking Confessions – Tohu Scores Again


I adore the Tohu – it’s a specially built building for Circus arts built on the campus of the Cirque du Soleil here in Montreal. It houses – along with a variety of circus performances throughout the year – a school for Circus arts. So it’s a multipurpose building – with very cool seating options, super high ceilings to allow for the kinds of high performances we expect from acrobats and the like, plus great sight lines. Not a bad seat in a very big house.

We have season tickets – which means that we picked out 3 of their 6 different performances to see this year. For us – this is a minimum – normally we opt for 5 or even 6 of their offerings, but our travel plans this year cut out a lot of the options.

But on to the review of Cooking Confessions – or in French – Cuisine & confessions

Clearly the theme of the night was going to be food – but since the performers are the highly talented, multi-lingual Sept Doigt a la main – 7 fingers on a hand – one can expect that food isn’t going to be the only thing being tossed around. And the set – a multi-level kitchen with a working stove, a sink,  a fridge, and of course rolling tables, hidden furniture, and hooks descending from the ceiling was quite the sight.

We sat down – and were immediately approached by one of the performers – a young lady from Argentina who invited me up on stage to visit her kitchen and help fold wash clothes. Victor was invited up by a young man with rasta hair – who confided in him that Basket Ball was his favorite sport. Other members of the audience were also invited to visit the stage – with its surprisingly springy floor. Despite the paint job that made it look like hardwood – in fact it was padded to give the performers extra spring! Very neat – and quite surprising.

Our guides escorted us back to our seats – and went on to find other members of the audience willing to walk up on stage.

Cool part – since we’d ‘chatted’ with the performers – we felt more part of the action – and this lent an added layer of personal interest to the later tossing and jumping around that was bound to happen.

The party begins when the audience is assembled – and starts with food confessions – performer after performer talking about their food memories – or listing their favorite foods – from the sublime to the desert! One incredibly thin gal, who one can guess never actually swallows anything, listed nothing but deserts – each with more love in her voice than the last.

While the confessions are going on – each performer takes center stage in their turn. There is a remarkable juggler – juggling kitchen tools of course. He does a wonderful turn with stainless steel bowls – and ends his act juggling over-sized wire whips – 7 at a time. Stunning.

The pole dancer/climber/acrobat was probably my personal favorite. He’d come over to chat with us in the lead-up section – so we knew that he’d been injured and has a wrap on one hand. To say he worked thru the pain would be obvious. He ran up and down the 50 foot pole with a grace and a style that the squirrels in my back yard would envy. Several times he climbed to the top – and then apparently let go – dropping down to inches from the ground before grabbing hold to stop. Once he even did it head first. Man – that guy was outstanding.

My husbands favorite performer was the young man with rastas. His specialty – jumping thru hoops. But this is a ‘cooking’ show – so he starts off jumping thru the kitchen cabinets – and graduates to jumping thru people posing with legs and arms forming the hoops. My top favorite jump – hands and feet first – bum in back – thru the looped leg of one of the other female performers. How does he do that.

During the cooking demonstration – they toss eggs – the ones that got thrown to the audience were fake – the ones that got thrown around the stage were real, and got cracked into the stainless bowls for future cooking. They even made banana bread – and had everyone in the massive audience set their iphone alarms for 36 minutes. When they went off – the bread was baked to be sliced and served to lucky members of the audience.

Standing ovation – of course.

On until November 6th at Tohu. But not to worry. If you miss this one – these ober-talented performers will be back next year with a new show – and there is still an entire Tohu season to enjoy.

Tohu – one of the Great places in Montreal – don’t miss it.

 

Belles Soeurs – Sisters-in-law – Just Friends


The distinct advantage of living in a big city like Montreal is the amount of Theatre one can choose – or not choose – to see.

I choose yes. I love to see ‘live’ theatre – give me some actors, a stage, and a story – I’m a happy camper.

So this week was pretty well amazing. 3 great pieces of theatre in 7 days. It just doesn’t get much better – well except that it’s going to be 4 in 8 days tonight. Again – advantages of living in a big city.

Belles Soeurs – that’s a french title – but what we saw was the English version – done as a musical. So it was actually a premiere – if you ignore the fact that the play itself is 50 years old.

First – a bit about the story line and history of the play. Written by Michel Tremblay when he was just 23, this play was quite the stunner in 1965. It portrays French Canadian Women of the lower class in a hyper realistic way – from their dress, to their language and their concerns about religion, family, friends, and their lives. To the staid society of 1965 Quebec, that these women had a voice was considered shocking. To say that it’s a great piece of theatre is an understatement. Belles Soeurs is the most frequently performed play in the French Canadian repertoire. So I suppose an English language Musical adaptation was just going to have to happen.

And I loved it! While no song is particularly memorable – you aren’t going to go around singing Somewhere over the Rainbow, although I love Bingo has a certain catchy lilt – the ensemble is stronger than the sum of the parts. I was particularly impressed with the gal that sings the role of Pierrette – the much maligned ‘bad’ sister who got sucked in and spat out of the ‘club’ scene on St. Laurent.

As a musical – the flow of the play starts and stops as the performers break apart or gather to sing. I rather enjoyed this ebb and flow – it made great use of the Segal Center stage – it’s very shallow and quite wide – and definitely kept my eyes moving. Nice use of the space, I’d say.

But back to the story line – in brief, Germaine has finally won something – a million trading stamps. For those of us of certain age – we remember these stamps. You got them for shopping in stores, pasted them into books – and then in the words of the play – traded them in for worthless junk. But nifty junk – like toasters, and dresses, and wooden carving boards. All the things that today you shop for on the net – in those days they were only available thru these catalogs – and because you didn’t pay for the stamps – they seemed ‘free’. An early loyalty program like Sky Miles, but without the electronic tracking!

To suddenly have a million stamps – or once pasted into books – over 800 books – would be a god-send. And that’s exactly what Germaine thinks it is – a gift from her favorite saint.

But the stamps have to be pasted into the books or they are worthless – so Germaine gets the brilliant idea of inviting her friends from her parish (hence the title – Belles Soeurs – officially Sisters in Law – but in this case – sisters as in unrelated female friends) to come and help her paste. Their reward will be a few cokes and the company. Germaine plans to keep her winnings to herself.

This party sets up the rest of the musical. The ladies gather, they paste stamps and they complain about their lives, tellingly miserable stories of bored husbands, ungrateful kids, or the loneliness of the single woman who sees in a traveling Fuller Brush salesman her one chance at happiness – once a month.

These are not witty women, these are women stuck with the fuzzy end of the lollipop – and they know it. But despite the challenges of their lives, the play and the musical keep you tuned in. All is not hopeless – as Germaine’s teen-aged daughter gets to remind us.

I left feeling that I’d had a chance to meet some people I wouldn’t normally get to know. The Walmart greeters, the cashiers, the cleaners – who want the best for themselves, but lack the education and finances to pull it off. So a million trading stamps looks like a good way out.

Great theatre if it makes you want to tell others – go. It’s worth it.

On until November 19th at the Segal Center in Montreal – but coming soon to a musical theatre house near you. And definitely worth it.

Take a Trip on the WildSide! Well worth the $$


I know – it’s been over a month since I’ve done a post. And it’s not because I wasn’t busy doing stuff – it’s just plain old lazy if you ask me.

But tonight was exceptional – and it ends next week (Jan 15) – so you must hop right on this band wagon.

Billed as the hottest thing in Montreal in January (which given that today was a warm -7 – and yesterday was a much colder -30 is possibly true) – the WildSide Festival at Centaur has always had a warm and fuzzy place in my heart. At just $15 a show (down to $10 if you are a subscriber at Centaur – and buy the super pass) – it’s a steel. And this year two of the three plays we saw were absolutely outstanding.

V-card – which features 4 of Montreal’s most talented young performers wearing masks so that they portray over 20 different characters is a tour de force you do not want to miss. Not for the easily embarrassed – it’s a lively conversation about when you lost yours. And it’s fantastic. Go.

Iceland is even better if that’s possible. The 3 performers alternate telling a story – which starts off with a murder – and well – ends in an uproar. In between you get to meet the characters – who engage with the audience to tell their sides of the story. It’s a fab performance, brilliantly written to be both entertaining and enlightening. And trust me – you will come out the wiser for the experience.

Centaur – Wildside – Go!