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Kat and the Kings

The story is told by Salie Daniels, playing the middle-aged Kat looking back on the 'good old days' when he was a teenager and a member of a popular band. Actually, this musical is based loosely on the real life memories of Salie Daniels.

The story is set in Cape Town's multi-racial District 6 in 1957 and concerns Kat Diamond, a 17-year-old kid who forms a band called the Cavalla Kings which includes 4 coloured boys and one girl. They become very popular and end up playing in 'White only' clubs, which they are only allowed to enter through the back entrance. When they are booked to do a cabaret for the Claridges Hotel in Durban, they are instructed that they must sleep in the servants quarters and work as bellboys during the day.

They make it to the big time, but this does not last long as their district is demolished and turned into a 'whites only' area, and they are forced out of their homes. The band breaks up as most of them decide to leave the country and Kat, who wanted the band to remain intact, becomes a shoeshine boy. This story reveals their passion, dreams, excitement and zest for life in the face of hate under the apartheid regime.

'Kat and the Kings' is a wonderfully entertaining night out. It has new, original songs that sound like the 50s, which are catchy and entertaining. There is some great singing and dancing by a very talented young cast. There is an act with a skeleton, which is funny and very cleverly done.

Salie Daniels gives a touching performance as the older Kat looking back to those innocent and exciting days as a teenager, which was to be destroyed by an evil regime. Jody Abrahams as the young Kat is full of energy and passion, which is shown in his breathtaking performance in every song and dance routine. He sure is fit! The rest of the band is also full of energy and talent. Alistair Izobell as Magoo, has a very distinct, strong voice and so too does Mandisa Bardill as Lucy Dixon. Junaid Booysen as the comical Ballie, brings a lot of humour to the show and Loukmaan Adams is competent as Bingo, Kat's best friend.

There is not much of a story in this show, which I was a little disappointed with. I would have liked more background and depth to the characters. But this is only a minor grape, because the show is a great 2 hours of entertainment for people of all ages. The cast received a well deserved standing ovation at the end and when the curtain came down the cast ran to the exit doors to shake the hands of the patrons as they were leaving.

The show has received great notices from the popular press. NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD says, "It's the infectious beat and the dance that captivates". PETER HEPPLE of THE STAGE says the show is "Unpretentious and good-humoured". THE SUNDAY TIMES says "You won't see better singer-dancers anywhere in the West End." BILL HAGERTY of THE NEWS OF THE WORLD says, "It's a joyous show full of vitality".

This is a feel good show being performed by a cast who is really enjoying their work.

Give yourself a treat and see it now!

(Darren Dalglish)

I can't think of another play which crystallises the tragedy of South African apartheid, as succinctly and joyously as this marvellous musical by David Kramer and Taliep Petersen. There isn't a better show in town, but get in quick. Word of mouth may not do the trick to keep it running, but I'll be applauding it from the rooftops.

The awfulness of the events surrounding the decision by the Verwoerd government to raze to the ground, the multi-racial, but harmonious, Cape Town slum called District Six is seen from the perpective of an ageing shoe shining narrator, Kat Diamond, brilliantly perfomed by Salie Daniels.

His alter ego, the young Nat Diamond, is portrayed contemporaneously by the pushy, egotistical, and widely talented Jody Abrahams, whose cocky dance routines never fail to amuse. It is easy to envisage how the young Nat would develop into the shiny, mature and relaxed Nat, but not so easy to see that an embrionic rock star should eventually find himself back on the streets from which he came. You can't get much lower in life than cleaning shoes in a place where a high proportion of the populace don't even own any shoes to shine. That was the evil of apartheid.

There isn't one weak link in this play. The five piece vocal harmony group is brilliant. They support each other and move things with dynamic but effortless charm. Not a strained smile, not one performer upstaging another.

Whilst their talents are completely complementary, their characterisations are finely, but charmingly abrasive. Bingo (Loukmaan Adams) is a lover boy - usually with other guys wives. Ballie (Junaid Booysen) is a charming stick of elastic with a gollywog haircut, until the group gets the razor out and slims him down a bit.

Fortunately - we discover in the play - Ballie survives the surgery and recovers to sire seven children with the (unseen), white, Josephine. Despite the illegality of their relationship, is it any wonder he leaves the group to go home to her loving arms, just when they are breaking into the big time.

Magoo (Alistair Izobell) is of Indian extraction. Suave, debonair and seemingly untouched by the social horrors of the Cape coloureds. Karma never came so cool.

Lucy Dixon (Mandisa Bardill) is a real find for the budding performers - and for us. She has Vanessa Mae - Tina Turner qualities. A soaring voice, a neat figure, and "get out of my way" dynamicism. It is her who organises, motivates and shapes the group. She drives them forward to hit records and gigs in prestigious hotels.

But things were not what they seemed in the South Africa of yesteryear. Springbok Radio played their record freely until they discovered the performers were coloured. The prestigious Durban hotel booked them for a major cabaret spot, but insisted they work as bell-boys during the day. As for coming down off the stage and dancing with a white woman - that was strictly against the law.

Despite the injustices implicit in the plot, hardly a minute passes without being given a reason to laugh. Subtle tricks worked into the fabric of show are titbits between the stunning music and lyrics.

You get ballads, rock and roll, West Indian calypso, drumbeats which suggest the Zulus are back in town, and even a Carmen Miranda without the fruit. The writer and Director David Kramer hasn't missed a trick. Nor has MD Kevin J Robinson leading on trumpet. I loved the big band set. That's how it was in those far off days. I should know - I was there. Go and see this play. And take me again.

(John Timperley)

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