Fun on the other side of Gate69

Brendon van Rheden, Christoper Dugeon and Luanna Shonfield recently opened Gate69.

Gate69, the newest Moulin Rouge- meets-airline-themed theater in the city centre, has rolled out its red carpet and opened its doors with the award-winning, never seen before in South Africa production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

The musical, about a transgender singer who survives a botched sex change operation, was produced for Gate69, in association with VRG Theatrical.

“It’s an off-Broadway musical that became a sensation in New York over the last 20 years, and ended up on Broadway for a massive sell-out run starring a lot of famous actors, and we managed to get the rights for the South African premier,” said one of Gate69’s directors, Christopher Dudgeon.

Mr Dudgeon is one of three flamboyant, quirky directors with backgrounds in the theatre and arts, who run the 80-seat cabaret theatre.

Mr Dudgeon has been an actor for 10 years and toured the world with musical productions.

Brendon van Rhyn’s alter ego, Cathy Specific, is the face of the theatre, a performer and the hostess. “I thought I would be a doctor. Then it all changed and then I went into acting and dressing up, but I am at my best when I am in lipstick and lashes,” he said.

And Luanna Shonfield, who used to be a model, covers marketing for the theatre.

“I come from a fashion family. And I travelled the world for many years, like 20 years and in that time, worked for magazines, worked for fashion, doing shoots, make-up and photography.”

Together, the trio described Gate69 as a “dream come true” for them, knowing that there was a gap in the market, that was “what Cape Town is hungry for”.

“It was all in our head, it’s been our vision forever, and then all of a sudden it jumped onto paper. And then it became incredibly real,” said Mr Van Rhyn.

“We’ve been eating, drinking, sleeping on this for so long, the three of us; it feels like we’ve been doing it for 10 years.”

Ms Shonfield said: “This is what people want to see. It’s burlesque, it’s old worldy. When people come inside, they can’t believe they are sitting on Bree Street.”

The inside of the theatre, shaded with purple and pictures of Miss Cathy Specific, has nuances of an airline.

“Cathy Specific is a first-class air hostess, and has a background in flying. Even her name is a play on the airline, Cathay Pacific,” said Mr Dungeon.

“We played around with the name a bit and we wanted to keep it something to do with airlines. So you check in at Gate 69.

“Like the airline gate. And it’s a bit naughty.”

Mr Van Rheden added: “You’ve got the ticket, which is the boarding pass… short of putting oxygen masks in the toilets. We didn’t want to go that literal.”

The theatre boasts an upper and lower deck and the waitresses are dressed as air hostesses, with black catsuits, heels, little hats and scarfs, “like Emirates fast forward 20 years”.

Mr Van Rheden said Gate69 prides itself on being a small, intimate theatre.

“It’s very touchy-feely. It is ‘How are you? How’s your mom and how’s your dad’s hip replacement?’. That’s what we are priding ourselves on – the one on one. That is so lost today,” he said.

“We are 80 people, it’s manageable and we have them in the palm of our hands. We want people to come back,” said Mr van Rheden.

Mr Dudgeon said the city centre is cultivating a culture of small theatre, which is very important. “We’ve all seen the massive musicals that get brought to the big theatres, but finally, it seems that we are managing to create a culture for small theatre and experiment with theatre, new works, things that have never been seen in this country before.

“You almost have to teach an audience to go to the theatre, even if they have never heard about it before, it’s still safe to come and see it, spend your money on a new experience.

“Gate69 is very much a part of that movement. We want to create new experiences for audiences. We don’t want to rehash the old things that they have seen a thousand times before. It is a very unique theatrical base. It’s a very European theatrical space and that’s what we tried to bring to Cape Town.”

The three said they searched for the perfect venue to base the theatre for two years, until they found the space on Bree Street.

Ms Shonfield said: “We’ve been looking for a building anywhere around Cape Town – literally the entire city – from Woodstock to the Waterfront, and this one found us. It’s the core of the city, and it’s become world-renowned now. People are checking into hotels and saying I want to go to Bree Street. It’s becoming an international street.”

Mr Van Rheden added: “To use the old, cliched expression, location, location, location. It really applies here.” wAnd Mr Dudgeon said they could not be happierwith their Bree Street location. “It’s the best street in Cape Town. It has the most incredible vibe, such as First Thursdays, for example. It’s so up and coming. It feels like the central restaurant, night out district at the moment. And we intend to further that.”

He added: “This is a very Capetonian experience. The foreigners will come because it’s very European and they’ll feel at home but it’s very Capetonian. Nothing here will make people uncomfortable.

“We are certainly trying to create a Capetonian following, that’s one of our big focuses.”

Another aspect that the directors want to incorporate is burlesque.”

“They say burlesque is sexy and warm and inviting and beautiful. It’s such a good connotation. And that’s definitely something we want to bring to the theater. We want the girls with the feathers and we want the G-strings. We want a giant champagne glass.

“They also want to create a platform for cabaret at Gate69.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is running at the theatre until Sunday November 27.

But, from Saturday December 3 to Friday December 23, Gate69’s own Cathy Specific and her Trolley Dolleys will be showcased at the theatre.

The production will also feature Mr Dudgeon as one of the Trolley Dolleys. “Chris makes a good drag queen. t#ts and tucks. He makes a gorgeous drag. Can you believe it? A butch boy like that?” said Mr Van Rheden.

The theatre will open specifically for productions, and is not a restaurant, but visitors are welcome to pop in for a drink at the bar.

Gate69 will be closed on Mondays.

Bookings can be made online or by calling the box office at 071 589 2915.