PS: Afterthought …

DIANE DE BEER

 

Nataniel costume

 

Nataniël has just finished his annual season at Emperor’s celebrating his 30 years as a solo artist with a season of 30 Years, 90 Minutes: Nataniël Celebrates 3 Decades On Stage.

One of my treats during these 30 years, has been revisiting a production towards the end of a run.

Because his shows have always been dense both visually and in content, review nights were particularly tense for me. This second time round, without stress, is my particular penchant.

I am not just inhaling and observing a one-off season, but one that has been 30 years in the making, was particularly informative and revealing about his creativity, his innovation and imagination.

That’s the way to do it! “I don’t want to bore people with one thing after another of the past,” he said. This was not going to be a best of…

What it was however was an insight into his mind, his personal favourites and a showcase of what he does best starting with his songs and his stories and then everything that he builds and layers around that.

The arrangements of the cover songs he sang, You’re My World by Cilla Black and Lately by Stevie Wonder ( a song he wished he had written, so perfectly it suits his voice) among others, were completely delicious as was some of his own music like Fall which he described as his personal favourite of what he titles his no-hit wonders!

Nats1

His voice has matured magnificently and he is completely comfortable and confident and  enhances his distinctive voice with the additional sounds of Dihan Slabber and Nicolaas Swart. And he is joined by a spectacular band led by Charl du Plessis (keyboards) and completed by Jean Oosthuizen (guitars), Hugo Radyn (drums) and Werner Spies (bass) who have worked with him for a very long time which means they can push the boundaries- and they do.

It’s a complete package that holds the rest of the show in a soundscape that runs through all the emotional hefts of a Nataniël story. And this was a show of single stories, each one a showcase of this master at spinning a yarn that has you screaming with laughter yet leaves you with a moment of melancholy that runs deep.

He tells a tale of a vision that he was holding on to while making  a truck-load of paper flowers. The repetition of the task was offset by what they were hoping to achieve – only to fail disastrously. Then comes the question. “What happens to you when the most beautiful thing you have ever seen is only real in your imagination? You go mad…”

And then it all becomes clear. The set that has been constructed on stage from the start of the show, is this particular image and with Nataniël’s extraordinary lighting abilities (he changes his costumes instantly with the colour and angle of the lights), he achieves exactly that. Not only for himself though, it’s also a vision for his audience. And it starts with what might seem a silly story about student escapades!

He speaks about extraordinary people doing ordinary things. But he constantly presents us with what seems ordinary – only to surprise us with wonderful stage wizardry.

That is the wonderment of his craft. And why it has been such bliss to watch the growth and explosive evolvement of this artist and his shows. It is a completely immersive adventure as you step into this fantasy landscape once that first note comes at you, usually from a darkened stage which reveals itself.

His shows are always that – a slow reveal.

Yet nothing is slow about his costumes (designed by Floris Louw) that glitter and dazzle, not in the expected fashion though and more Louis IV than Liberace.

This was his final curtain – for now – after 15 years at this venue, and he wanted to leave in style – which of course he did, powerfully.

He also wanted, in typical Nataniël style, to easily segue into his next venture, a smashing book on his costumes called Closet, to be released on October 9. His latest TV series also starts this week on Wednesday, Edik van Nantes 3 on DStv’s kykNET (144) at 8pm with repeats following.

So while he’s stepping off the big stage for just a moment, he leaves you with marvelous memories.

Thirty years of uniquely Nataniël performances have done that. He truly is a national theatrical treasure.

There’s still a chance to catch the show for some: Opera House, Port Elizabeth: 20 and 21 October; and Sand du Plessis, Bloemfontein; 26 to 28 October:

Nataniël Celebrates 30 Years on Stage

By Diane de Beer

Nataniël celebrates three decades on stage with 30 years, 90 minutes running from Friday August 24 until Sunday September 24 at Theatre of Marcellus, Emperors Palace. He will be joined by Charl du Plessis (piano), Juan Oosthuizen (guitar), Werner Spies (bass), Hugo Radyn (drums), Dihan Slabbert (vocals), and Nicolaas Swart (vocals).The show starts at 8pm from Thursdays to Saturdays, and at 3pm on Sundays. No children under the age of 15 will be permitted.  Fans can also purchase a limited-edition luxury souvenir programme at the show.

Nataniel show pic
30 years, 90 minutes

Even in those early years it was clear that this would never be a problem. Apart from being a mover with a mission, he has always been a solo creative soul that could slip easily between genres, conjure up creative endeavours and, more than anything to keep himself entertained, come up with something completely different and new at the snap of a finger.

That is what keeps so many intrigued. I was always amazed at critics who complained that his shows were always about telling stories followed by songs. That has always just been the packaging for him but once you creep inside that head, nothing stands still and there’s no time for stagnation. The framework might appear the same, but everything inside has been turned upside down and inside out.

For Nataniël it has always been about change, surprising his audience and keeping them entertained. And that is also how he has gone about planning his 30-year celebration. He wants to make some noise for his audience.

His annual show at Emperors (a stripped-down version played in Cape Town at the beginning of the year) 30 Years, 90 Minutes which opens on August 24, will be a display of his life on stage. Not that he thinks people remember things like that. Or that anything of that nature lasts.

Yet he has very loyal fans and he relishes a sense of occasion. Everyone knows about his obsession for example with Christmas and how he turns this into a magical spectacle for himself and those close to him. A similar principle applies

“My career is 30 years old, I’m not dying,” he says about the celebrations. And that is why he will focus on longevity rather than legendary status. “This will be the mother of all celebrations!” That’s all he basically says about the show. In typical Nataniël fashion, he doesn’t reveal too much.

Take him by his word though and get ready to party. Nataniël is serious about the secrecy in which he shrouds his shows. As a journalist, he gives you enough to do a story and there is something of what he will put on stage but on opening night, when you see what he has created, it’s as much a revelation as if you hadn’t been told anything.

That’s his thing, his magic trick. It is all about the unexpected, the way he tells stories, even his song choices and how he performs them. How will they be arranged, musically performed and how will they fit into a show. There’s nothing left to chance for this perfectionist performer.

He wants to celebrate those who performed with him in the past as well as unveil some of who he is for those who perform with him now and weren’t born then. That’s just the way his mind meanders. “It’s about looking ahead,”he says “What will the new chapter look like?”

Rehearsals, when the whole show comes together, that’s some of his happiest moments. That’s what he wants to show. “It opens like a rehearsal,” he says. “I want the audience to know about the process.” He describes the show as a “night of the forgotten”, stories and shows as he went in search of archive material, that he had forgotten about. “Everything that appears on stage has been on stage before – all my favourite elements of the past 30 years.” It even means re-staging some of his biggest flop moments

Those who follow his career will need little encouragement. They know they have a formidable artist in their midst, someone extraordinarily special, who on a night will blow their mind … perhaps their world!

Nataniel CD cover
Packaging is the appeal

But that’s only half of it. Already part of the celebrations, Nataniël also released a celebratory CD this year, One Day In A Castle. “I like that booklet packaging,” he says about his decision to produce it in CD format. He describes this one as one of the most honest productions he has done. “I wasn’t doing it for airtime, didn’t want it to sound plastic-y, wanted lush arrangements and rich sounds,” he says. He’s achieved all that!

And then there’s the book. He cleverly decided to tell his story with visuals – his costumes no less. That’s how he views his world. When he does a show, or thinks up his next story, it is to the costumes he turns first. It’s all about the look, the pictures he will present and how he shows the world his life.

That’s what this costume book represents – the story of his stage shows and, if you listened carefully through the years, his life. But that’s not all. The way he orchestrates his world is a lesson for those trying to forge a career.

Because he is always doing three things at a time, he tends to intertwine, pull those strands together that can work many streams and explore everything in different ways. His last TV show, shot in an old chateau just outside Nantes, also benefited from his extravagant costumes. With his brother Erik, the photographer of these costume pictures, also part of the production team and co-presenter with Nataniël on his Nantes TV series, these costume sessions would conclude each episode while also presenting the chance to capture the images for his book and posterity.

Because of the way his imagination runs wild, each shoot turned into a production itself. Not all the costumes were shot in the charming French countryside and sometimes it would mean building the fantasy he hoped would best tell the tale on his return back home. “We built sets which exploded into a circus in a forest,” he notes. But they also had to recreate some of the sets from previous shows. It’s the kind of detail his precision demands.

His practical side also slips into the equation though. Even if he wants this to be the most exquisite book in the world, he doesn’t want a coffee table book that gathers dust. It must be affordable and something that people will dip into with delight.

Nataniel in costume
Nataniël’s work of art

He has always been clear about his costumes: “It can’t go on stage if it isn’t a work of art,” he says simply.

For him, the costumes are the best representation of his life. “It is the only thing I collect,” he says, which for this super compulsive shopper (generous to a fault, so usually for others) is some confession.

In the end, looking back, he’s shocked. “I have been making a career for 30 years living in obscurity. And I’m not even a politician,” he claims.

And he does giggle when he finds himself in the middle of a shoot, a male in a tutu surrounded by a clutch of colourful chairs! Outside of context, he knows this is ridiculous. But that is his life and that’s why people listen to every word and follow each step he takes.

It is his extraordinary mind, the way he draws the curtain on the way he thinks, embraces the world and invites them to share his fantastical vision.