Google ‘Baxter’ and you’ll find it’s a term for a nice but terminally dull man who tends to be a bit of a doormat.
How inappropriate in the case of the Baxter Theatre. For many locals this is a much-loved institution, hosting a plethora of shows from local comedy to international drama. Love or loathe its iconic 70s design, this place never fails to gauge a reaction. And it has a great history too as a leader of the performing arts in Cape Town.
How fascinating then, to have the opportunity of a backstage pass. Iain Harris has set up Coffee Beans Routes with the express purpose of providing contemporary, urban and African travel experiences around Cape Town. And not just to tourists – Iain’s tours promise a new insider knowledge to even the most died-in-the-wool Capetonian. Last week he served up one of his newer dishes, The Secrets of the Baxter.
We met first at the Coffee Beans Routes HQ, based in an elegant heritage building on Wale Street where, as the group got to know each other, we nibbled on a few pieces of locally-produced chocolate. With Iain, everything is about ‘local’.
We then headed out of town to the leafy suburbs of Newlands and Rondebosch, where the red brick building of the Baxter Theatre dominates the main road. Our first stop was the new Baxter Lounge, where we had a glass of Zonnebloem Sauvignon Blanc while trying to name the famous faces grinning down from the photographs lining one wall. The lounge is a glassed-walled sitting area situated at the very top level of the building right next to the 172 seat Golden Arrow studio theatre. That the Golden Arrow bus service should sponsor a theatre space is a continual delight to me. But then maybe their renowned zany driving skills are simply an expression of their love for the Arts.
Our host, Carmen Kearns, was part of a family dynasty whose members have worked at the Baxter for decades. She proudly guided us through the concert hall and the main theatre before taking us behind the scenes to the Green Room, the Orchestra Assembly Room and the Wardrobe Room. Throughout, she described the typical goings-on backstage for our eager ears.
Of course I was hoping to bump into a celebrity rehearsing a scene or a diva throwing a tantrum or even some musicians tweaking their instruments. But I realised it might be considered a little ill-timed to have a tour group tramping through the stress-ridden hallways just as a show was about to start. In fact, we were there about an hour and a half ahead of the show – a time when things were relatively calm, though we did get a sneak peak of some dancers rehearsing their moves.
We were then whisked up stairs again for dinner at the Baxter’s Act Restaurant where, in keeping with the theme of local culture, we were offered a traditional Cape Malay dinner of bobotie and malva pudding. The renovation of this area is a revelation – an elegant modern white space has replaced the former rather dingy cafeteria, complementing the quadruple height brick and orange foyer that it overlooks, and uplifting the complex as a whole.
The tasty dinner was followed by the show, in our case the opening night of the Baxter Dance Festival. See our review for that here. I enjoyed it all the more for the new insider knowledge I had gained in the course of the evening. And to top it all, we were able to mingle with the stars in the bar after the show. An intriguing evening with a difference.
See what else is on in Rondebosch