REVIEW: Calling Me Home

Calling Me Home

I have seldom been as excited to see a musical as I was to see Calling Me Home at the Joburg Theatre last night. Not only because of the fabulous cast, but because it is the first truly South African musical since the glorious King Kong, and an ideal opportunity to show how much our creativity has grown.

There was a positive buzz of anticipation from the premiere audience, which halfway through the first act had subsided into impatience for the interval and a strong desire for libations to combat the boredom.

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Artsvark has received some criticism for allowing this review to be penned under a nom de plume. I understand that anonymity lends itself to abuse and could support any number of agendas. I know the reviewer personally, and I am aware of their credentials in theatre and music.

The review is critical, but it also reflects many of the opinions I heard from opening night guests, many of whom are, like the author of this review, respected industry names. I made the call to allow this review to be published anonymously by the author, as sharing negative opinions of a work could jeopardise the author’s own career in the arts. The author has been described as horrible, and the review as cruel and destructive, opinions as valid as the author’s.

UPDATE: I am standing by my decision to publish this review, and to protect the writer’s anonymity. Faced with having to make the decision to publish an anonymously written review in future, armed with similar information as this time, I will make the same call to publish again.

Etienne Shardlow

Song after song we were subjected to repetitive dirges in minor keys, devoid of any African rhythms or inflections, with not one up tempo song throughout. By the time Samantha Peo made her appearance, looking absolutely gorgeous, it became clear that not even her excellent delivery could turn this into a good song.

This is a musical in which vague African wars are fought without any reason, where Africans travel easily between this continent and a New York seemingly set in the depression era, with none of the vibrancy of the Big Apple, nor of the African continent.
I have seldom seen so much wasted talent on one stage. Musanette Sakupwanye is arguably South Africa’s top male jazz vocalist and surprises with a natural acting ability, unfortunately the songs he sings hardly display his prowess and range. And if you were hoping to see glimpses of Samantha Peo’s brilliance in musicals like Chicago you will be sorely disappointed. Zolani Mahola of Freshly Ground fame is completely wasted as Lindiwe, who has two songs in the first act and has little else to do for the rest of the show. Lynelle Kenned and Anthony Downing are seasoned pros who struggle to keep any momentum in the constant scene and set changes. Every song brings a set change. If only it brought some character development and humour. Newcomer Michael McMeeking will surely work again, despite this lukewarm entry into the industry.

There are no vibrant, up tempo group numbers to break the maudlin slow songs in minor keys. There are no light or humorous moments, a la Master of the House or Lovely Ladies from Les Miserables. There is no exploration of the rich African rhythms and harmonies, colours and textures that this continent provides. Why the director did not call in a few experienced colleagues for advice during the rehearsal process is a mystery. Anyone with musical theatre experience would surely have seen the glaring faults in this production and would have been able to suggest useful changes. But my suspicion is that director Magdalene Minnaar won’t be directing any more musicals in the near future.

Although it’s really positive that sponsorship was secured for a new and entirely South African musical, this was not the right musical. The creator, Alice Gillham, seems to have admirable credentials, but this show should not be part of them. A quick Google tells me that she has a Masters degree in Ethnomusicology. I would honestly never have guessed.

By Rebecca Swift


  1. Different is not wrong. If all shows lived up to critics expectations then how could anything be improved on, there would be no growth. This show has flaws, if it has the opportunity to be refined it has the potential to be good. It’s an amazing start to a first attempt!

  2. I find the following sentence extremely ironic. “I made the call to allow this review to be published anonymously, as sharing negative opinions of a work could jeopardise the author’s own career.” With this in mind, you allow the person “Rebecca Swift” to jeopardise someone else’s career by brutally destroy another persons, work and reputation, while hiding behind a pseudonym, with absolutely no responsibility taken! Exceptional double standards Mr Etienne Shardlow. To republish this diatribe under your own byline means nothing, the damage is done!

  3. Whoever this person is, should have no career as a theatre critic. Good grief, I loved every single minute of this production. This person is completely missing the point and message. Not every production is big and bold. Every single cast member left their heart out on that stage and gave a fantastic performance. I’m actually going to see it 2 more times, wish I could see every performance. I agree with Anton, they are hiding this person’s identity, while he / she is allowed to rip apart these fantastic performers. I know everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this was not a review, it was a nuclear attack!!! Clearly no class or taste. Word of advice….if this is your day job, please find another….. immediately!!!!!!

  4. I agree with Anton. Critics should be credible. And if you hide who you are, you can’t say anything, because then you are not credible. Its merely cowardly!!

  5. This is a perfect example of a terribly written review. South Africa is riddled with these “critics” who take it upon themselves to play God. If you write something like this, at least have the balls to add your name.

  6. Coming from a Child`s perspective i watched the show on the 26th of august(Yesterday)I had no problem with any thing, i think the show had an amazing musical vibe and all the songs fitted in perfectly. Again from a child’s perspective.

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