Whether it’s in a city filled with memories, or staying at an historical site like The Lord Milner in the Karoo, you can’t quite match the feeling of nostalgia that you get when considering simpler times.
The Victoria, which houses “dinner cirque” Madame Zingara, is one of the last remaining mirror tents in the world and conveys that same comfortable ambience. The tent is over 80 years old and you can’t help but wonder what stories this circus doyenne could tell if she were able.
“For us to work in a mirror tent is so inspiring,” says Richard Griffin, the brains behind the Zingara concept. “The tent comes from a lineage of cirque – something that is fairly new to South Africa. We still do 70% of our recruitment in other countries.”
Griffin has brought the Theatre of Dreams to Montecasino for the After Forever tour, a show that will be casting its spell over audiences until June this year. It features some of the world’s most talented performers, but the real star is the Victoria herself.
“When you look at the dimensions of the tent, you see everyone is close to the stage. The show is about the relationships between the stage and the audience. The audience actively engages with the acts. For me, that is one of the show’s successes,” Griffin says.
“When I first saw a mirror tent, I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I was at a festival where they had a tiny version. I was literally climbing up the side to look at it,” Griffin says with a laugh. “Being in the tent is a very unique experience. If you translate the word ‘Zingara’ to gypsy, it’s all about living the big top lifestyle.”
Pulling off a production like Madame Zingara is no mean feat. In addition to the show element, visitors are served a four-course dinner between acts. The production travels with a group of dedicated waiting staff, as well as a technical crew.
“My Ouma was with us this time and couldn’t believe the raw empty space becomes this,” Griffin says, gesturing around him. “We came here with 17 trucks. The tent is just floors, walls and the roof. The tent is quick – it takes three days to put up. However, it takes us 23 days to move in. It used to take 12, but it has evolved as the show has evolved. We’ve truly invested in the product and the people working and living within it.”
Guests are welcomed to the Zingara experience by giant lollipops, a cow and a heart that looks like it was stolen from the set of Moulin Rouge.
Once inside, Barbies in shiny costumes and feathered doves add a bit of quirk to the table decor. Nothing is by chance – every aspect of Madame Zingara has been carefully concieved.
According to Griffin, Johannesburg audiences are his toughest critics, but also his favourite guests. “Joburg is amazing! People from Gauteng tell me: ‘This is what I want, now shut up’. They are responsive to what they see. They pay a lot of attention to detail, and will focus on something and appreciate what they see.”