Biz-Community (Cape Town)

18 June 2012

South Africa: New Life for Old Music in Topsy Turvy

opinion

I didn't know what to expect. Gilbert and Sullivan? I'd heard the names before and I knew they had something to do with music. More than that, I honestly couldn't say. Fortunately for me, Topsy Turvy was here to educate my clueless mind. And judging by what I experienced, I suggest you let it educate you too.

For those of us who don't know, Topsy Turvy offers a nicely organised history lesson on the British duo responsible for over a dozen comic operas like HMS Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance. More than a century after these operettas first appeared, they're given some local flavours and modern twists. These include nudges and winks at South African politics and affairs so current there was even a line about the Isidingo fire.

I'm not sure how much the purists will enjoy these reinterpretations of their beloved classic works. Then again, it seems in keeping with the satirising spirit of Gilbert and Sullivan that their creations end up being satirised too. That means we as the audience, get to enjoy something that we might be familiar with, but haven't experienced quite like this before. Isn't that a good thing?

Without skipping a beat

If you're still not convinced, I have two words for you: Jonathan Roxmouth. At just 25-years-old, he's already one of the country's top performers. And just 10 days after ending his award-winning role as the lead in Phantom Of The Opera, he's demonstrating his range (and stamina) by doing something poles apart.

"The biggest thing with a one-man show full of characters is making sure the delineations between each one [are] clear and that they don't start sounding like one another," Roxmouth said in an interview with Peter Tromp. "The vocal challenge of covering bass, baritone, tenor, contralto and soprano is daunting, but doable with practice."

Under the guidance of Alan Swerdlow, who directed him in Hats Off and Beauty And The Beast, Roxmouth is able to go from singing high to singing low to singing fast to singing slow - all without skipping a beat. He even does a trio on his own, using changes in his voice, expression and stance to indicate who's who. If that's not versatile, I don't know what is!

Could have been a total disaster

It's clear that Roxmouth, who also designed and constructed the set, has a lot of passion for what he does. It's also clear that he's having so much fun on stage, which makes it fun for the audience too. And that's the point. Topsy Turvy isn't for people who are looking for something serious or "deep"; it's about silly music, silly jokes, and silly fun.

Even I, admittedly not too fond of audience involvement, couldn't help but sing along in the Song Of Participation (aka Let's See What Happens), which involved three members of the audience joining Roxmouth for a march around the stage while the rest of us chimed in as the chorus. That could have been a total disaster and yet it worked quite well, probably because it's hard to resist a performer so nimble at improv and so eager to share the fun with you too.

So, if you feel like pressing pause on your problems and experiencing something you've never experienced before, Topsy Turvy is just for you. Don't be surprised if you like it more than you expect!

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