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Still tickling the ivories

South African entertainer Jonathan Roxmouth chats about being back at the piano in the 20th anniversary production of A Handful of Keys.

Bizcommunity Eugene Yiga: The show has been performed over 1250 times for over 400,000 people. What do you think makes A Handful of Keys so popular?

Jonathan Roxmouth: I think it is because the show as a whole is stronger than the sum of its parts. It is pure entertainment and doesn't require an audience to think or reflect - just to have a good time and laugh for two hours. Two men playing two pianos for two hours might not look appealing on paper, but it is celebrating its 20th anniversary for a reason.

Still tickling the ivories

EY: And how does the show continue to stay fresh after 20 years?

JR: A Handful of Keys pays tribute to the piano and the people who play the piano. This genre of music has definitely evolved over time, from the classical composers all the way up to contemporary artists like Adéle who use famous piano riffs in their work and, thus, become part of popular culture over time. This gives [the show] the ability constantly to keep with the times whilst still retaining the bits that have made it such a success story.

EY: How did you get involved in the production?

JR: During the rehearsals for The Buddy Holly Story, Ian [von Memerty, the show's creator], who was directing it at the time, came up to me during a lunch break and literally said: "How about you do Handful next year?" The rest is history.

EY: And what's been your most memorable experience with A Handful of Keys so far?

JR: I am officially the first person in the history of the show to miss the piano bench during the "four hands, one piano section" in the classical composers. It was on the night we recorded the show for posterity. Little did I know that my posterior would be immortalised.

EY: How does performing in productions like this compare to your experiences with musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard?

JR: It doesn't. They could not be further apart on a scale of comparison. The musicals make use of the fourth wall. Handful most certainly doesn't and this adds an element of spontaneity that depends on an audience's engagement with the show.

EY: And if you had to choose between big musicals and smaller revues, which would it be?

Still tickling the ivories

JR: I wouldn't. Neither market is strong enough to survive on them alone. I think the combination of the two makes for an exciting and varied career during these interesting times in South Africa.

EY: It seems like you hardly take a break between runs of different shows. How do you maintain your performance stamina?

JR: I do try to get a week's downtime between runs, but when I can't it comes down to as much quiet time and vitamins as I can muster. Basically, I use Berocca by night and Super Mario Brothers by day.

EY: And what's next for you once the current season of A Handful of Keys ends in October?

JR: I am doing my first play! In addition, it is also my first farce. I am playing Bertie Wooster in Perfect Nonsense - straight from London's West End - at Theatre on the Bay. He is a lovable idiot; allegations of typecasting have already been made ...

A Handful of Keys is at Cape Town's Theatre on the Bay until 10 August and Pieter Toerien's Montecasino Theatre from 14 August to 12 October. Book at Computicket.

About Eugene Yiga

Eugene graduated from the University of Cape Town with distinctions in financial accounting and classical piano. He then spent over two-and-half years working in branding and communications at two of South Africa's top market research companies. Eugene also spent over three-and-a-half years at an eLearning start-up, all while building his business as an award-winning writer. Visit, follow @eugeneyiga on Twitter, or email moc.agiyenegue@olleh to say, um, hello.

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