Artlooks & Artlines is a monthly column written by Ismail Mahomed, Artistic Director of the National Arts Festival.
Theatre managements across the globe often present ‘tribute shows’ when they really need to put bums on seats or to bring in much needed cash to keep the lights burning. It is an age-old trick!
Tribute shows can also be fun but there is always a risk with creating and presenting shows that make their audiences go back in time. Tribute shows can either be soaked in melancholy about an overtly romanticised bygone era or they can evoke bitterness because of the the pain, loss and anger that they recreate about the times that they recall.
The Baxter Theatre’s recent season of Remembering The Lux was so cleverly conceived. It played to full houses. It recreated an era that was vibrant and colourful. This wasn’t about just plain old melancholy. Nor was it about rekindling the kind of memories that would evoke our anger against those who tried to cheat some of us of lives and our dignity.
Remembering The Lux was a celebration of how the human spirit has triumphantly beaten the apartheid system at its own game. It was a celebration of those magnificent artists who performed on the stages of the by-gone Luxurama Theatre and about those loyal patrons who filled its auditorium. It was a bold statement that theatre conquers anywhere, anytime and all the time!
The production honoured the artists who used their talents to make audiences momentarily forget the separateness that was legislated outside of the auditorium. It showed how the music of the time brought audiences of all races together. It celebrated the power that music had to defy the Group Areas Act; and to unite its audiences to sing from the same hymn sheet that a better future was within reach of all South Africans.
The first half of Remembering The Lux joyfully rekindled those memories about dressing up. The rituals of walking into a darkened theatre were humorously parodied. The act of packing food baskets to take with to the theatre were brought to life with absolute jest.
As I waited in the foyer of the theatre, my thoughts went fleeting back to my first visit to the Luxurama Theatre when I was still a wet-behind-the-ears teenager. I can recall my cousin saying to me as we dressed up for our visit to the Luxarama Theatre: ‘Hou vir Oom Shoukat besig. Ek wil net ‘n spraykie van sy Aramis kry. Mens kan nie Mum for Man gebruik vir die Lux nie.’ (keep Uncle Shoukat busy. I want to get a squirt of his Aramis deodorant. You can’t wear Mum for Men when you go to the Lux).
At that moment that little memory brought a smile to my face. I thought, ‘Hell! Why am I wearing Issey Miyaki tonight! For old time’s sake I should have worn some Aramis or Old Spice tonight!’
So too, when I bought my packet of Samoosas and Daltjies in the foyer little did I realise that it was that sub-conscious part of my brain telling me, ‘maar dis hoe ons dit gedoen het by die Lux’ (that’s the way we did it at the Lux).
As my teeth sank into the aromatically spiced Daltjies many more memories came flooding back. I waited with anticipation. I wanted to once again experience the fountained proscenium arch of the old Luxurama Theatre. The second half of the production did not disappoint. It just brought the Lux to life again in all its glory!
While the first half of Remembering The Lux was a playful and delightful walk back in time with some really colourful characters, the second half of the show was a glorious celebration of that wonderful era of the 60s and 70s, its music, its flamboyant costumes and performances. Every part of that second half rekindled everything as it was then. It strength rested in how it showcased that our artists then and now still are so absolutely world class!
Remembering The Lux was more than just a night of superb entertainment. It inspired a sense of hope in the resilience of the human spirit. It made one understand why theatre is always that blessed thread that weaves us all together with our past and our present. It made us understand each other so much better. It offered us healing because it made forgiveness and remorse meet each other. It inspired us with hope. It reminded us that we are survivors!