NataniÃ«l is a uniquely South African creation – there’s no-one quite like him. He does everything his own way, at his own pace and in his inimitable and outlandish style; it’s this that makes him one of the most enigmatic and intriguing artists in the country.
Coronation is his new show for his annual season at Emperor’s Palace and while undoubtedly entertaining, it reflects a performer that seems to be stuck in a creative rut.
Like previous shows at the East Rand casino, Coronation consists of a number of original songs, written, composed and sung by its star, interspersed with his short spoken stories and anecdotes about various very South African characters.
The trouble is that this format gets repetitive and is exactly what he’s been doing for years. One could argue that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” but with a performer of NataniÃ«l’s stature I can’t help but feel that a new take on his material might be refreshing for audiences and his own creative process.
To be honest, NataniÃ«l seems to be a little bored and Coronation comes across as competent and workmanlike but hardly inspired. He appears at odds with the need to produce this kind of work on demand on an annual basis, which I suspect does not suit his temperament.
Perhaps the show’s biggest fault however is that it doesn’t live up to its conceptual framework as expressed in the publicity for Coronation: a look at “the madness and absurdity of power and those whose lives are ruled by it.”
While NataniÃ«l delivers when it comes to costume (barring some kind of silly ‘pool noodle’ creation) and performance, the theme that the production claims to explore is very lightly engaged with.
Some interesting ideas are touched on and then abandoned while other concepts seem to appear out of the blue and be unconnected to the whole. Structurally it doesn’t hang together and fails to make any kind of cohesive statement.
There’s also less movement in this production than, for example, in The Moses Machine (2006) which leads to a somewhat static presentation.
The usual deadpan NataniÃ«l humour is thankfully very much in evidence; although it’s clear that his biting and often-insightful wit reaches its highs in the Afrikaans idiom, which represents around 30% of the show.
NataniÃ«l is backed by a fantastic nine piece band, whose members double up as back-up singers, and the star’s own vocal prowess remains impressive. I am still in awe of how the monotone raspy-voice storyteller can instantly transform into a spirited silky-sounding songbird.
Coronation is another unique creation by NataniÃ«l, and while it may not represent him at his peak, it remains an engaging offering – especially so if this is your first time spending an evening with the talented performer.
Coronation is on at the Theatre of Marcellus at Emperor’s Palace until March 16. Wednesdays to Saturdays at 20h30 and Sundays at 15h00. Book at Computicket.