The fantastic Karroo Theatrical Hotel… oh, the Follie…
The Karroo Theatrical Hotel is arguably the most popular drag show in Karoo. According to its owners, Mark Hinds and Jacques Rabie, guests often have to book months in advance for a weekend experience that includes accommodations, food, and the hotel’s main attraction, the Steytlerville Follies.
Described as a “sophisticated cabaret show featuring famous Karoo diva Dame Leyla Lamborghini performing her dramatic renditions of great songs of yesteryear”, it is presented by “Maestro Freddy Ferrari with his mastery of the grand piano”.
The Lady and the Maestro are the alter egos of the owners of the hotel, Rabie and Hinds. Yet when the couple met in 2003, owning and managing a hotel in the Karoo, let alone producing and performing their own cabaret show, was not part of the plan.
Located 164 km north of Gqeberha and relatively far from the N1 and N2, the quiet little Eastern Cape town of Steytlerville is not exactly the kind of place that many find themselves crossing unexpectedly.
Drive on the north side via the R329 and the first thing you see before you spot the town in the distance is the old South African flag painted on the side of a mountain, with the dates 1928-1994 painted below; and next to it, the current flag. Drive a hundred meters further towards the city and you are greeted by a sign loudly proclaiming in capital letters “JESUS ââIS THE KING OF THE UNIVERSE”. Keep driving at a polished speed and you will cover the entire length of the main city road in under a minute and Steytlerville will be behind you.
“Here in the scorching summers and freezing winters the silence is so pure you can hear God think, the stars so close to you feel you only have to reach out to touch them.” This is how a tourist page on the baviaans.co.za site describes Steytlerville. According to the most recent census, as of 2011, Steytlerville housed a total population of 1,835, spread across 540 households.
âI kept seeing this ad that said, ‘Hotel for sale in Eastern Cape’; second week, same newspaper, same advertisementâ¦. It was an abandoned buildingâ¦ derelict and stood empty for a few years and we fell in love with the place, âsays Hinds, recalling the moment in early 2003 that would lead him and his partner Rabie to Steytlerville.
The couple had met a few months earlier in Cape Town, at Hinds Waterkant’s home, shortly after returning to the country after more than a decade abroad.
âI traveled the world playing like a white-faced clown, and eventually came back to South Africa to settle in 2002, in my home country,â says Hinds.
Soon after, the couple discovered that they not only shared a passion for stage and performance, but also a love of platteland. First, they moved to Tulbagh. A few months later, Hinds came across this ad.
âWe always wanted to live in a mansion,â says Rabie. So they bought the abandoned hotel in 2003 and got to work transforming it into their dream mansion in the middle of nowhere. But it wasn’t long before the townspeople came knocking to ask when they would open. âWe both looked at each other and said ‘WHAT !?’ Rabie remembers.
The nonconformist life visited the couple to learn more about their journey to the Karoo, and how, in doing so, they penetrated deeper into their most authentic selves and gave the Karoo the cabaret he didn’t think he needed. Above is a short film about the fantastic and fabulous Karroo Theatrical Hotel. DM / ML
Don’t miss the story of Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit, Tales from the Heart of South Africa: Saturday Night Madness at the Karroo Theatrical Hotel, that inspired the film.
Tales from the Heart of South Africa: Saturday Night Madness at the Karroo Theatrical Hotel