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TRIBUTE TO DAVID MATHESON (article first published : 2005-05-29)

The death in Cape Town of Durban-born David Lynton Matheson after a long history of heart problems marks the passing of one of South Africa’s major musical directors.

In an interview with the late David Coleman, former Arts Editor of The Mercury, David Matheson quipped that the biggest production he had handled was Aida for Pacofs (former Performing Arts Council of the Orange Free State) which had a cast of 450, five horses, a camel, two lions and an elephant named Rosie.

In the same interview, David Matheson admitted to having been interested in theatre right back to when he was a shy six year-old and his mother sent him to elocution lessons to gain confidence. This tuition stood him in good stead as he competed in local eisteddfods, going on to perform in student productions. He played Osric in Napac’s (The Natal Performing Arts Council now the Playhouse Company) first Shakespearean production of Hamlet in 1964, with Pieter Scholtz in the lead role.

He later trained at the London Opera Centre and joined the Opera for All Company on its tours of England. He spent time in America where he directed several operas in St Louis before returning to South Africa in 1976 to join the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School. As head of music, he led the school to success at the world Choir Festival in Israel.

After that, he held several posts at the Performing Arts Councils, eventually becoming resident senior director for Capab Opera and Musicals. Among the musicals he directed in the major centres in South Africa were Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Pyjama Game, Kismet, The Sound of Music, Camelot, Man of La Mancha and Annie as well as The King and I which was filmed for television.

He also directed a number of operas including Tristan and Isolde, Nabucco, The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro and Die Fledermaus.

Durban audiences will remember his productions of The Great Waltz and Hello Dolly starring Judy Page which played the Playhouse Opera in 1989. That same year he directed Judy and her daughter Kim Kallie in Circle of Love in the Playhouse Cellar. Among the numerous – and there were many! – times he directed Fiddler on the Roof, was a production in Durban where he also directed Evita.

John Moss, former head of the Napac Drama Department now living in England, reminisces: “I only knew David briefly in my early days at NAPAC. In 1970 I was able to engage him for three Drama productions:

“In The Devil's Disciple he played Christy Dudgeon, the simple-minded brother of Dick Dudgeon, the eponymous hero and Let's Get A Divorce! in which he played Bastien, one of the two flirtatious servants, and also a police officer. He appeared in the first NAPAC production of Peter Pan in which he played Mullins, one of the Pirates, and also the role of Great Big Little Panther, one of the Redskins.

“Prior to these he had directed Noyes Fludde and Five For The Road for NAPAC Music and had also appeared in the opera, The Medium.

He was very active in directing productions for school audiences. All of 35 years ago, I remember standing at the back of the City Hall at one of these shows talking to Tim Aitcheson (the arts critic for The Mercury at the time) who obviously thought highly of him as showing great potential,“ John concludes.

As all performers of the time knew, Tim Aitcheson didn’t give praise lightly. He was proved right and thousands of musical theatre lovers went on to benefit from David Matheson’s passion for the genre. Rest in peace, David. – Caroline Smart




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