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BAMBI SINGS THE F.A.K. SONGS AND OTHER STRUGGLE ANTHEMS

Focus on: Bambi Sings the F.A.K. Songs and Other Struggle Anthems

– Robyn Cohen, The Cape Robyn, 13 March 2019

 

CABARET-THEATRE, CAPE TOWN: Bambi Sings The F.A.K Songs and Other Struggle Anthems — performed by Pieter-Dirk Uys and accompanied on piano by Godfrey Johnson.

 

The first time that I can recall seeing Pieter-Dirk Uys stepping out in Bambi Kellermann’s shoes was in 2000 at On Broadway, Green Point — sadly that venue has long gone. It was a cabaret, Concentration Camp. The name says it all. No fluff for Bambi. I was riveted by the chilling character of Bambi — a damaged woman who brings her scars and warts to the theatre.

 

After that I saw Bambi pop up in PDU revues but the next solo show I saw her in was at The Fugard Theatre, in 2010 — with Bambi Sings The F.A.K Songs and Other Struggle Anthems. I was blown away. Dark, edge of your seat fare. Chilling and thrilling. Stumbled out of the theatre like I had been slapped by this woman. Cannot use the language on this platform to describe her delivery and gestures. Masterpiece theatre by our legendary Pieter-Dirk Uys. He won a Fleur du Cap Theatre Award for Best Performance in a Cabaret for this season. Brilliant.

 

The Fugard Bambi show was an extended version of the show of the same name that premiered in 1995. I did not see the 1st version. It toured extensively — including a tour of The Netherlands. In 2010, PDU, told me that the difference with the Fugard 2010 show was that Bambi was appearing with a full-on band. In the earlier incarnation, Bambi was accompanied by Godfrey Johnson on piano. Now in 2019, it is back to PDU and Godfrey on piano — no band.

 

It sounds like having two people on stage — in small venues — will heighten the tension of Bambi. She is definitely not chilled as she prowls the stage and in 2019, she is likely to be as acerbic and edgier. We live in scary, edgy times.

 

For those of you who don’t know, Bambi is Evita Bezuidenhout’s younger sister. Bambi is ten years younger than Evita who regards her as the black sheep of the family. Evita is not impressed with her choices and often denies that she is her sister. Sibling denialist.

 

From what I have gathered over the years of chatting to PDU, Bambi left SA in 1956. She returned in 1994. In her years abroad, she spent much time in Germany, working as a stripper and sex worker. In 1957, in Vienna, she met the man who was to become her husband. He was a Nazi but she didn’t know that at the time. She talks about this in her cabarets.

 

Back to the Songbook. Bambi’s shtick has reflected what has been going on in her life but her affinity with the F.A.K songs led to PDU creating this cabaret framed around the songbook.

 

The F.A.K Sangbundel is the songbook of the Federation of Afrikaans Cultural organisations. The Federation — to affirm Afrikaans culture — was founded in 1929. The first edition of the FAK songbook was published in 1937 and most of the songs were written for singing along. Afrikaans liedjies such as Sarie Marais are in the songbook.

 

Bambi’s eureka moment to incorporate the songbook in her cabaret goes like this, as told to me by PDU, prior to the Fugard run. One night, in a club in Darmstadt (near Frankfurt), Bambi encountered famous singer Lotte Lenya — wife of Kurt Weil,  the German Jewish composer and caberet-ist. Kurt died in 1950, so he obviously wasn’t there. Lotte died in 1981 so she could have been there in the club, as Bambi tells it. Anyway, in that dark and dangerous club, Bambi had a life-art changing moment. According to Bambi, Lotte threw up over her shoes. Bambi looked up and saw Kurt Weil and Bertold Brecht — materialised — in the club. After a night of serious partying, Bambi woke up and saw that the F.A.K lexicon of songs of her childhood had been re-arranged and re-jigged for her. And that became her caberet.

 

In 2010, when I asked PDU to reflect abut Bambi versus Evita, he said: “Bambi is more theatrical than Evita because she has been a performer. She has a sense of humour and understands irony. Evita does not. Bambi has been in the gutters of life and so can also understand more emotional upheavals than Evita would dare to. If Evita is the Queen Mother, Bambi is the mistress of the King.” Evita is the diplomat- conciliatory and a shape shifter. Bambi doesn’t varnish who she is, but she owns up to her misjudgments. PDU: “Bambi is saying: If you make mistakes -she married a Nazi by mistake- don't hide your shame. Help others from making mistakes by talking about it. If you don't confront your demons, they will win. And always look hell in the eyes with a heavenly smile.”

 

No oversight committees required for Bambi. She spews it all out on stage. Great to have Bambi back, ranting and prodding us out of our communal inertia — and amnesia — especially that. Will Bambi reflect on the surge of anti-semitism in Europe in 2019 and muse about her time in swinging post war Germany in the 1950s, when Nazis were clubbing and hiding in plain sight? Bambi is a chilling individual but she faces her demons. With the exceptional writing of PDU, I think we can expect an intense and gripping Bambi 2019 cabaret.

 

Absolutely critical to this powerful show is the music. Godfrey Johnson has been on the Bambi journey from the start and is musical director and has done all the arrangements. He is classically trained and he brings his craft and musicality to his arrangements. Godfrey’s first show with PDU was when he was 22! Bambi was in one of their first collaborations. Like PDU, Godfrey is constantly processing material and of course venue and context in terms of time frame, filter into the arrangements.

 

Cape Town 2019 tour:

 

March 23 – EVITA SE PERRON, Darling. To book, call 022 492 2831 or e-mail bookings@evita.co.za

 

March 28 and 29 – Almacafe, Rosebank. To book, call 021 685 7377

 

April 5 – Kronendal Music Academy of Hout Bay, Hout Bay. To book, call 021 790 4457 or online through Quicket South Africa

 

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Bambi Sings the F.A.K. Songs and Other Struggle Anthems

 

With Pieter-Dirk Uys as Bambi Kellermann and Godfrey Johnson at the piano, this cabaret has been hailed as a milestone in South African theatre and 'not to be missed!' With music arranged by Johnson, the cabaret is performed in three languages. Bambi's story is told in English, while the songs also include some in German and some in Afrikaans. It unites the acrid stench of the old Weimar Republic of the 1930s and the sexy rot of Hamburg's Reperbahn with the familiar aromas associated with 'ons eie' Voortrekker-camps and braaivleis-orgies.

 

Bambi Kellermann (born Baby Poggenpoel) is the younger sister of Mrs Evita Bezuidenhout, the 'most famous white woman in South Africa'. Chalk and cheese. Whereas Evita has become a household name and favourite across political party lines, Bambi smoulders in the background — not yet as famous as her sister, but far more dangerous. She loves the music of Kurt Weill and Stephen Sondheim. And being an Afrikaner meisie at heart, finds any excuse to sing her favourite Boere Liedjies out of the F.A.K. Sangbundel. But with a sinister twist.

 

Uys won the Fleur du Cap Award for “Best performance in a Cabaret” for this this show, and it is not for the faint-hearted.

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