Times are tough and shops, businesses and companies across the board are battling to make ends meet. During such times people inevitably cut back on perceived luxuries and restaurants, movie houses and theatres are usually amongst the first to feel the pinch.
One such theatre is the Victory Theatre in Houghton Estate. But the Victory Theatre is no ordinary theatre. It was built in 1929 as a cinema and screened the first ‘talkies’ for the surrounding farming communities which populated the area at the time. Gradually Houghton Estate and the surrounding areas gave way to apartment blocks, shops and offices and in 1988, Ipi Tombi re-opened the cinema as a fully-fledged theatre.
In 2007 the theatre was revamped again. Today it features a restaurant, a roof top balcony, refreshment and souvenir counters, four levels of secure access-controlled parking and a music bar. Over the past few years it has played host to a wide variety of acts including the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Andre the hypnotist and Mean Mr Mustard. In 2009 the theatre became the official home of Africa Umoja, a home-grown show which has met with international acclaim.
The Victory Theatre and its production company Mbumba Entertainment are non-profit Section 21 companies that employ approximately 170 staff. Importantly, the theatre also doubles as a vital arts and culture centre for the surrounding community.
Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to watch Africa Umoja at the theatre and was thoroughly impressed. I have seen a number of local and international shows over the years and rank this show right up there with the best of them. The evening kicked off with dinner at the resident restaurant which seats 250 people and sports a suitably contemporary African theme and parquet floors; a reminder of its early heritage. The food was good and arrived quickly courtesy of the friendly waiters. In addition to the single portion menu options, group buffet options are also available. My partner and I watched the world go by on Louis Botha Avenue as we ate.
Prior to the show, a bell announced the show’s imminent beginning. Everyone finished the last of their meals and made our way down an internal staircase to the intimate theatre which seats just 460 guests.
The award winning show is the brainchild of Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni and has toured 30 countries. In a nutshell, the show tells the story of South Africa’s musical evolution. It begins with life in the villages and includes themes relating to apartheid, Sophiatown, gum boot dancing, gospel music, and modern day kwaito music. Even Vanilla Ice and Michael Jackson are alluded to.
The show is excellently choreographed, funny and moving. The actors are incredibly talented and clearly proud of their craft. Many of the actors play multiple instruments and the rhythms, dancing and songs are infectious. Africa Umoja is a truly South African distillation and was a delight to watch.
Africa Umoja is slated to wrap up its show at the Victory theatre at the end of December as it has been booked to perform in France and London early next year. Auditions are currently taking place to form an additional Umoja cast which will play in the original cast’s absence.
Other forthcoming shows include Gospel Sundays which takes place on the last Sunday of every month and ‘My pa dink hy’s Elvis’- a light hearted production headlined by Ben Kruger and Vilje Maritz which will take place on the 10th and 11th of November. Also starting in November is Kwela Bafana+ which will bring to life the sights and sounds of South Africa in the 1950’s.
Unfortunately, in the wake of prevailing economic conditions, the Victory Theatre now faces the threat of having to close its doors and is appealing to the general public to help. You can help by spreading the word. In addition to hosting its own shows, the Victory Theatre is the perfect venue for school, university and drama club productions and is ideal for conferences and private functions. The theatre is affordable and well maintained and is obviously well loved by those that work there. Suffice to say it would be a real loss if the theatre has to close its curtains permanently. Visit www.victorytheatre.co.za for more information.