Brendan van Rhyn dreamed of becoming a pediatrician. I found it very hard to see myself, in let’s call it the darkest timeline, as his adoring audience of one, grateful that he cured my spawn of the flu in 13 days opposed to the regulation 14. Instead we were both in our highest heels, me without kids, and van Rhyn as Cathy Specific at the launch of Gate69. The Cape Town production of John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch almost became a sideshow to the splendor of Cape Town’s newest theatre.
Gate69 is plush and purple with Warhol-style pop art pieces and Cathy Specific-adorned furniture. Let’s just say no one will come off lightly making a drinking game out of seeing the premier flight attendant’s face at Gate69. What starts subtly with the drag artist’s face on a few chairs in the bar area, explodes into a million of Cathy’s knowing smiles splashed on the wallpaper as you walk up the stairs, only to be greeted by the lady herself (Brendan van Rhyn) with a familiarity that makes you want to believe you are cousins.
Inside, the tables are packed tight and piled high with mezze platter delights and seasonal fruit. The waitresses – dressed in revealing PanAm air stewardess-style outfits (‘sexy’, but classy rather than crass) – plied us with warm bread all evening, reminiscent of a time when it was still fabulous to fly.
Hedwig (Paul du Toit) is unapologetic about having parked her trailer on Gate69’s prime real estate, the stage, and along with Yitzhak (Genna Galloway) she spends the next hour breaking it in, or rather bending it to her will.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch could be described as the lovechild of a down-and-dirty glam rock musical and a telenovela script that was rejected for being too realistic. Yet, as melodramatic as an East German genderqueer who survived the botched sex change operation needed in order to marry a man and escape the Berlin Wall only to be dumped in America may sound, it is relatable in a bizarre kind of way. Well the way Hedwig told it I could not help but believe it.
The audience feels Hedwig’s pain when we overhear the voice of her former lover – her ‘invention’ – thunder from
the Cape Town Stadium and not mention her name, not even to credit her for all the hit songs he ran off with. With little acclaim for her work Hedwig jealously guards the dim spotlight, mostly from her far more talented and long resentful husband, Yitzhak. Callously introduced by Hedwig as her ‘Boy Friday’, Yitzhak is brilliantly played by Genna Galloway who, as it happens, is even more talented than du Toit.
The repeated mention of Cape Town stadium is just one of the many localisations that nonchalantly roll off Hedwig’s sharp tongue. I particularly enjoyed the dig at Patricia Lewis’ hair extensions, a classic if ever there was one. She also occasionally broke the fourth wall to pick on the crowd and particularly on Cathy Specific and her ‘skinny stewardesses’.
Most Cape Town audiences will remember Paul du Toit from his extensive stint as Brad (440 performances in South Africa) opposite Brendan van Rhyn’s Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show. Caked with glittering blue eye shadow du Toit looks much more comfortable in Hedwig’s skin. The red gash on his knee – presumably a rug-burn though Hedwig would have a more suggestive explanation – is evidence of his dedication to the role. He is currently also on the South African film circuit as a corrupt brute of a police officer in SA’s official entry to the 2017 Oscars, Noem My Skollie, though the ultra-masculine character fell flat in my mind after experiencing Hedwig just two days earlier.
I have seen the band Van Coke Kartel in a venue with 20 people and open air venues where one has to fight for a place to stand, and they always played with the same energy. This is the same feeling that I got from Hedwig and Yitzhak. They ‘played’ to a stadium packed with fans pushing get a spot in the front instead of a crowd with assigned seats. Behind Hedwig’s’ back Yitzhak rocked the hardest, careful to stay out of his line of vision and inadvertently solidly into that of a polite(ish) theatre crowd now itching to mosh in front of the stage.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch runs at at Gate69, Cape Town until 27 November 2016.
A version of this review was featured on WhatsoninCapeTown.com