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The Mysteries of Irma Vep

Eight Characters, Two Actors… and Irma Vep…

By Louw Mulder

You see the posters, two of South African Theatre giants in drag. You get convinced to go see this show, just because of VR Theatrical’s reputation. Half way through the first act, you think, “What am I watching”. At the end, when the actors take their final bow, you are saying: “I have to come see this again.”

With effects that totally hypnotise the naked eye, The Mysteries of Irma Vep recently entertained the audiences of Johannesburg with huge success. Presented by special arrangement with Samuel French by VR Theatrical, audiences in Cape Town are next to be in for a treat.

Two actors are responsible for portraying no less than eight characters. This will normally go hand in hand with on-stage costume changes, and visible transformation, but not in Irma Vep. The story is about Jane Twisden, the maid, who expresses absolute loyalty to her former employer, Lady Irma Vep. She cannot stand Nicodemus, the groundsman. Besides a funny hairstyle, his only other characteristics, is his peg leg and cockney accent.

Lord Edgar is the Lord of the Manor but also an Egyptologist, who is haunted by the memory of his first wife, Irma Vep. His second wife, Lady Enid, is a former actress, and also the current Lady of Mandacrest. We also meet Alcazar, the Egyptian tour guide, Pev Amiri, the Egyptian Princess and Mummy, as well as an Intruder, who… intrudes. But what about the lead role, as indicated in the title of this play? That, is the mystery.

Craziness is constantly unfolding throughout both acts. It is craziness perfected. Two actors are constantly changing, transforming from male characters to female ones, and then vice versa again. Wigs off to the efficiency this was carried out throughout the show. The real magic lies within the phenomenon, that whilst two actors are visible on stage, you are truthfully mislead by the fact that there are more characters backstage… disremembering the true identity of the on-stage actors. This was simply immaculate.

Nadine and Louis Minnaar were responsible for the set of Irma Vep, with the lights in the hands of Oliver Hauser. The score was written especially for this production by associate producer and sound designer, Wessel Odendaal. Together with the stage hands, and the impeccable direction of Elizma Badenhorst, the all-inclusive creative team created a fitting milieu, which completely assisted the magical madness to unfold in theatre brilliance.

It is no mystery that Irma Vep would not have been this successful, without the two giant South African stage names cast in this production. Bringing together a well-known musical theatre choreographer, and our country’s leading musical theatre actor, to put them in a play, might be a tall order. Giving them each more than two characters to play, makes that task even bigger. But giving the talent and the je ne sais quoi of Weslee Swain Lauder and Jonathan Roxmouth, the brilliance of the production was guaranteed from the start.

Being great friends off the stage, Lauder and Roxmouth created the perfected duo to unravel the mysteries of this production. The chemistry, as well as their theatrical skills, knowledge and experience played together like a hand and a glove. The two performances, irrelevant of the character, complimented the other, which add ease to the optical misapprehension of who is who in this tale. From musicals to comedic plays, there is no mystery in our talent in South Africa.

The Mysteries of Irma Vep is an experience that should not be missed. It has the ability to even make the grumpiest person laugh. A stellar all-star cast, with all boxes of professional theatre ticked, makes this production, one of 2017’s big ones.

The Cape Town season of The Mysteries of Irma Vep, runs from 3 to 19 August at the Theatre on the Bay in Camps Bay.

Watch the Johannesburg promotional video clip here:

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