Review: Coward & Cole – Two Piano Maestros at Work

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Coward & ColeKalk Bay Theatre is five steps ahead of the game. In this exquisite venue, where the owners ‘shop’ for the best shows and artists at the annual Grahamstown Arts festival , not only do they have comfortable seats with soft red cushions, but the 78-seat theatre is filled with two-person lovenest seats as well. And with a newly opened restaurant and licensed bar upstairs in a circular gallery overlooking the theatre, you shouldn’t miss an opportunity to spend an evening there.

I was lucky enough to be there last night for the opening performance of Johnson & Perold, err, I mean Coward & Cole.  Having seen each of these two piano maestros perform individually, I was keen to see how they would work together and what they would do with the exquisitely flippant music hall songs of Noel Coward and Cole Porter.

After Simon Cooper, the owner of the Kalk Bay Theatre, had welcomed us (how’s that for intimate theatre?) Godfrey Johnson and Roland Perold entered the stage to strong applause and leapt into ‘Opening Night’ – highly appropriate, and the right song to match the excitement and anticipation in the air from the mainly female audience.

The award-winning Johnson is a cabaret master, having performed more than 20 one-man shows across the globe.  The younger Perold is also a multi-talented artist and works as an actor, choral conductor, musical director and producerTogether in this new show the pair reinterpret famous tunes from Noël Coward and Cole Porter, adding references to political figures in their love songs, complaining about the hot weather, and – an absolute highlight of the show – explaining the bizarre turn of events that explain why Uncle Harry is not a missionary anymore.

The pair take turns in singing and accompanying throughout the show, with plenty of light-hearted banter and teasing thrown in for good measure.   Indeed an integral ingredient for the success of this show lies in the duo’s ability to improvise and work with each other’s impromptu ideas. With such a healthy stage the few glitches in the show – a handful of missed notes, and a few words fumbled – simply added to the feeling of spur-of-the-moment spontaneity from the giggling performers. On many occasions the audience too was smiling and chuckling, but only in the more subdued sections.  The rest of the time they were roaring with laughter.

The intimate nature of the Kalk Bay Theatre was enhanced further by the kaleidoscopic use of the lighting facilities. It was a rare treat, as these details can make or break a show sometimes without an audience even knowing why. Sadly, although the sound control in itself was perfectly good, the two electronic pianos simply couldn’t compare to the tone and timbre of a grand piano, which was sorely missed.

But that aside it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening in a delightful venue.  It’s a tough life being a performer as the famous song ‘Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs Worthington’ blithely illustrates.  But watching Johnson and Perold gave a shade of jealousy to my admiration – they seemed to be having so much fun!  But for now I’ll stick to watching the stage, rather than being on it.  Especially if that stage is at Kalk Bay Theatre.

Maike Gevers

Coward &Cole  runs at the Kalk Bay Theatre 7 – 24 March 2012. Guests can now enjoy a delicious two-course meal with the option of a third course after the show. During desert, guests have the opportunity to meet the performers.

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