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3rd October 1999

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Kenny's WorldWomen on the brink

Three talented young actresses, Tracy Holsinger, Karen Balthazaar and Michelle Perera, having formed a new theatre company called Mind Adventures with the aim of giving Sri Lankan theatregoers something refreshingly different to the usual fare (and - they say - to make lots of money) launched their project last week with a production of David Hare's cerebral comedy, Slag, at the Legends nightclub. A clever choice of location for a cleverly written play.

Slag was written in 1970 and tackles the sujet du jour of the time - feminism and female emancipation. It is here, if anywhere, that the production tend to fall down a little. Whilst it is indubitably true that feminism or the rights of women are still very much a pertinent issue - especially in a relatively unenlightened patriarchal society such as ours - and the piece is very well written, the fact remains that the script becomes somewhat dated almost thirty years on. I do not think that this affected the atmosphere of the production too adversely, but the play's import could have been made more realistic by a light updating of the script, most notably the references to real people and popular culture.

The play centres around three women living in the closeted atmosphere of "Brackenhurst College", an English Public School. The three are of entirely different age and temperament to each other: Anne, the school's headmistress, is middle-aged and prefers to see the world through the eyes of tradition; Elise ( a Northern lass whose name came about as a result of misspelling "Elsie" on her birth certificate), somewhat ditzy, the most moderate of the three; and 19-year-old Joanne, an aggressive male-hating feminist whose revolutionary zeal barely conceals her naive idealism. The three women lead a claustrophobic existence, in each other's faces 24 hours a day as the school dwindles down to just eight students and no other staff whatsoever.

(I was struck by how bizarre this play actually is: Hare presents a serious discussion of a very real issue through a highly unrealistic situation. The ultimate effect of seeing this production is a sensation of disjointedness and one is left with the nagging feeling that the playwright employs the farcical nature of the situation to subtly ridicule feminism as an equally frivolous notion.)

The play is arguably more a study than a story, as the plot essentially goes nowhere but the characters are carefully scrutinised and developed through the course of its two hours or so. Very much more in the nature of fringe theatre than anything else really and a difficult piece to tackle in terms of retaining the interest of the audience. The choice of venue certainly helped do this. The performers were very close to the audience and were able to almost interact with the front rows, making the watchers feel like they were part of the action.

The performances themselves were of a very high quality and the chemistry between the three players, even on the usually nervous first night, was evident to see. The title of an early Pedro Almodovar film, "Women on the edge of a nervous breakdown", is a fair description of the basic mindset of the three characters. Elsie nurses a phantom pregnancy right up to the bitter end (even more odd than one would think when one considers the fact that she hasn't actually had a coupling to base her state upon), Anne veers through her days in a state of near-hysteria concealed beneath a thin layer of perpetual optimism and Joanne seems about to kill her fellows, the male world and herself at any given moment.

The roles are demanding ones and it is a credit to the three actresses that they carried off their performances with aplomb. Tracy Holsinger looked born to the role of the matronly Anne. Her performance was controlled and professional, underlying her class as a thespian. It would have been easy for her to have given in to the cartoonish nature of the character and resort to clownery but she remained natural throughout, playing the part of a woman hanging on to scarps of dignity as a last defence to perfection, and even managing to lick Elise's feet with an air of indulgent frippery as opposed to absolute degradation. Michelle Perera did well as the plain Elise harbouring delusions of grandeur, combining a sort of austerity and bookish gravitas with a generous slice of ribaldry.

Karen Balthazaar had perhaps the toughest role in that of Joanne - physically demanding at any rate, given the number of times she had to fall over in an entirely convincing manner. It would have been all too easy for someone playing Joanne to overact, as the character is the most vociferous and certainly the most demonstrative in gesture. Having seen Karen turn in excellent performances in "Widows" and "Virgo Intacta", I was not surprised to see how well she handled this role too.

On the whole then, "Slag" was entertaining and well performed. The script was well crafted and contained some genuinely funny lines delivered with gusto by the three members of the cast, each of whom was ideally matched to their roles.

Joan to sing of Mandela

Joan Armatrading has been selected by the South African government to write and release a song celebrating the country's most famous son, former President Nelson Mandela.

Joan who is a British singer is taking the task very seriously. She had met the former President during one of her previous visits to the country. This is not the first time the former President has been referred to in a special song. When he was serving a jail sentence the Special AKA release, the song 'Nelson Mandela' was a plea to free him from jail. The song became a rallying anthem for the anti- aparthied groups. Changes came to South Africa with the advent of President De Klerk, Mandela's freedom and the rest is history. The man is now retired but the government feels it is high time they dedicate a special song for his work. The tribute to one of the twentieth century's greatest leaders is due for release just before Christmas.

Champions for the second week on the UK singles chart is the song 'Blue (Daba Dee)' by Eiffel 65. The Italian trio behind the song have done very well selling a little more than 500,000 copies in just two weeks. The catchy tune and easy lyrics tend to stick in one's mind. Perhaps it is another reason why it managed to grip the No: 1 for a second week. Looks like 'Blue' is going to be another popular dance track in Lanka too.

No: 2 this week is the pop act S Club 7 with their newest offering 'S Club Party'. The single is a follow-up to 'Bring It All Back' which topped the chart in June. This new song is a little more scaled down, the beats per minute slightly slower. S Club 7 are riding high in the UK on the strength of the TV series in which the group members act called 'Miami 7.'

Shania Twain's 'Man, I Feel Like A Woman', checked into the UK chart at No: 3. The single, a blend of country and pop follows her last huge hit 'That Don't Impress Me Much'. Shania's success this week comes on the strength of her album 'Come On Over' taking the No: 1 slot on the UK album chart. The video of the song is a parody of the Robert Palmer video clip 'Addicted To Love'. Shania is now undoubtedly the most successful female country star since Dolly Parton. It is hoped she too will not encounter the same problems Dolly Parton has with trying to get airplay of songs and albums.

Teen sensation Britney Spears' third single '(You Drive Me) Crazy' has come into the chart at No: 5. It's a far cry from her two previous singles 'Baby One More Time' which reached No: 1 and 'Sometimes' which peaked at No: 3.

Kelle Bryan has finally made it as a solo star. It must be a sigh of relief for the ex-Eternal star. Her debut single 'Higher Than Heaven' entered the chart at No: 14. There was growing concern about the song's chances of success, but she has placed herself in the same bracket as another ex-Eternal star Louise Nurding.

Geri Halliwell, the ex- Spice Girl in Canada recently for the music awards has been saying she is looking for a Canadian male to fertilize her eggs. So much for the promotion of English Womanhood.

The Bee Gees are to be honoured in set of postage stamps in the Isle of Man where they were born this Christmas. The announcement was made last Monday.

Despite all her troubles at Heathrow Airport last week, Diana Ross plans to return to England this month to continue her work. She has yet to decide if she is to take legal action for the way she was body searched by a woman security officer at the London Airport.

Meanwhile Diana Ross has been nominated to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame - 2000.

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