I thought this was a straightforward play about a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, and all the problems happening behind the scenes: simple, predictable, mildly amusing. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
A lone man, dressed in a wrinkled shirt and dress pants, stands on an empty stage. Durban-born Ryan Dittmann dances between characters; starting as the dim, partially deaf barman then switching to the desperate cougar assistant manager before transforming into the hyper-efficient ninja/waiter Lovemore. With 10 main characters, six side characters, a number of live chickens and a frog, the audience could be forgiven for confusing the personalities. The key is Dittman’s physical cues. The barman stands tall but in a visible daze, while the assistant chef is black, fat, merry and carries a cleaver in her apron. Of course there is no actual apron and no cleaver but Dittman’s physical spacing still makes you see that particular person as clear as day.
In all this chaos, the plot might be minimal. But director Jaques De Silva ensures that by the end of the day, the good triumph over the mutinous… and train the new guy.
The performance space is used well: here is the dining area with the missing salt and pepper shakers, there is the kitchen where the the chickens have escaped their cage, and here is the pantry where the chef is busily plotting. Almost all the sound effects are produced by Ryan Dittmann personally, including the frog and the popping of the champagne corks. And then there is the constant noise of laughter from the audience, especially when the restaurant manager has a psychotic episode and perceives all the customers as farm animals.
Stranger Things is perfect for the smaller stage – intimate but not too close. The acoustics keep it entertaining with no distractions, and the amount of young couples in the audience was a great reminder that there is another fantastic option for dates-with-a-difference in Cape Town. This is one of those shows to which you come happy and leave happier.
Stranger Things runs at City Hall as part of the Cape Town Fringe Festival 2014 from 25 September to 5 October 2014.