Topsy Turvy is merry, madcap and lots of funJennifer de Klerk
Jennifer de Klerk: So what makes Jonathan Roxmouth, a suave, talented, good-looking 25-year-old, relate to Gilbert and Sullivan back in the 1860s?
Apart from the fact that their operettas - Pirates of Penzance, Mikado, HMS Pinafore, Iolanthe, The Gondoliers and Yeomen of the Guard among others - are out of copyright!
It’s simple. They are still fun, and in the hands of Roxmouth and director Alan Swerdlow, they become even funnier.
Gilbert and Sullivan – lyricist and composer – were the satirists of their day, Roxmouth points out, cheerfully taking a stab (with plastic swords and red roses) at current headlines, clothing their wit with colourful tales of lovelorn maidens, swashbuckling heroes and last-minute revelations.
Highly predictable stuff, Roxmouth says, showing off his virtuosity on the piano while weaving a South African-inspired operetta on the same lines – take a taxi driver, a taxi boss, a maiden, a birthmark and mix it all up – DIY and create your own, he urges his audience. And why not, especially if you can do the range of accents and characters that he can.
No doubt G&S updated their lyrics daily, so he obviously feels free to do the same kind of patter. Not much has changed anyway, politicians still have their own agendas, glib salesmen still peddle their wares, justice is still fickle. So mix a Hogwarts magical potion with “John Wellington-Wells”, add Eskom, the ANC and the Spear to “Got a Little List” and you have Pieter-Dirk Uys to music (his words, not mine).
It’s quite a long show – two hours with a short interval – a long time to hold the stage on your own, even one lavishly decorated in red velvet drapes with gold trimmings. Roxmouth manages with skill, wit and impeccable timing, playing off his audience, gathering laughter with a raised eyebrow or a quick sidelong look.
He can sing too, but we knew that after “Phantom of the Opera” and “Beauty and the Beast”. Some of the numbers and characters are delivered straight, such as the rollicking Pirate King and the compulsory, ultra-fast-paced “I Am a Very Model of a Modern Major General”.
He manages the girls too, with the aid of bows, hairpieces and scarves from a marvellous chest of many drawers, while hitting the high notes with precision and aplomb.
There is even some audience participation when three volunteers don policeman’s helmets for “When the Foeman Bears His Steel,” while the audience supplies the “Tan-tan-tara”. Three pairs of left feet and a quick aside about modern policing rocks the auditorium.
All right, I confess it, I’m another Gilbert and Sullivan fan, well indoctrinated by exposure over the years to most, if not all, the operettas, some from professional hands, some not. The essence of G&S always seems to survive.
It certainly survives this one – with a shower of gold stars.
Topsy Turvy with Jonathan Roxmouth, directed by Alan Swerdlow, is at The Studio, Montecasino until August 5.
Jennifer de Klerk is editor of Artslink.co.za
Montecasino Complex, Fourways Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa