National theatre acts dominate at festival


You are at the National Arts Festival and you may not know your Fringe from your Arena or your Main Stage from your Physical Theatre. But best‚ maybe‚ to ditch the programme categories and simply go for what excites‚ provokes and intrigues.

Although there are occasional exchanges between Fugard or Baxter Theatre productions in Cape Town and Market Theatre shows in Johannesburg‚ by and large it is really only at festivals that the theatre-goer gets to see a national spectrum of work.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: South African playwright and director Lara Foot is among the female names dominating this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown Picture: GALLO
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: South African playwright and director Lara Foot is among the female names dominating this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown Picture: GALLO

In a festival that‚ this year‚ boasts a strong bias in favour of women‚ Lara Foot‚ CEO and Baxter Theatre Centre artistic director, is the featured artist who brings reprises of two of her hits: the magical Karoo Moose and the deeply disturbing Tshepang‚ which has travelled rural South Africa – and the world.

Her new work‚ The Inconvenience of Wings‚ which delves into the world of dysfunction‚ stars Andrew Buckland‚ Jennifer Steyn and Mncedisi Shabangu. Actor Sello Maake kaNcube is seldom seen outside Gauteng (except in our homes on the small screen) and festival theatre-goers should enjoy his solo performance in The House of Truth‚ written by Siphiwo Mahala‚ which pays tribute to Drum journalist Can Themba. It is directed by Market Theatre stalwart Vanessa Cooke.

The journalist and short story writer also features in the Market Theatre’s production of Crepuscule‚ written by Khayelihle Dom Gumede‚ based on a Themba short story about love across the colour line.

Iconic women in South Africa’s rocky road to liberation are also honoured. The Abrahamse & Meyer production of Ruth First: 117 Days is directed by Marcel Meyer and stars Jackie Rens as the assassinated freedom fighter.

Sindiwe Magona’s portrait of OoMaSisulu is directed by Warona Seane and has been adapted by the cast. It is headed by Thembi Mtshali-Jones.

As ever‚ Bessie is written and directed by Bobbie Fitchen‚ who knew the Botswana-based battler.

The rule-of-thumb for Fringe producers is evidently that you bring back a show that scored pretty well before‚ so there are heaps of those‚ from cult favourites such as Nicholas Ellenbogen’s Raiders Spaced Out: The Moon Rock Musical to the Butlers franchise.

Productions that made an impact last year and are back include the outstanding Cenotaph of Dan wa Moriri (starring Tony Miyambo)‚ Greig Coetzee’s cult hit Johnny Boskak is Feeling Funny‚ Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi’s tour de force A Man and a Dog (written and directed by Penelope Youngleson)‚ Jemma Kahn’s delicious, We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants and Lynita Crofford’s hugely entertaining post-divorce cyber-dating show Violet Online.

Another memorable piece to come from the Alexander Bar and Theatre is Graham Weir’s remarkable Dead Yellow Sands.

Directed with sensitivity by Bo Petersen‚ Weir’s unpretentious‚ quirky portraits are drawn from life.

On the main programme‚ Pieter-Dirk Uys (sans Evita) is in town once again with The Echo of a Noise‚ but most of the theatre is new – well‚ to Grahamstown‚ at least.

Two productions directed by the excellent Sandra Temmingh tell Cape stories: Peter Voges’s heartwarming Henrietta with Love starring Lee-Ann van Rooi is in direct contrast to Die Glas Ennie Draad‚ a powerful gangster tale which avoids the cliches‚ written by the performers Daniel Mpilo Richards and Gantane Kusch.

The versatile Richards also stars in Mike van Graan’s one-person satirical fringe show Pay Back the Curry.

It is directed by the man whose funny fingerprints are all over the Fringe‚ Rob van Vuuren: his most recent stand-up show Life‚ directed by Tara Notcutt‚ has some brilliant moments‚ while his extended riff on the toilets at the Department of Home Affairs (Wynberg‚ Cape Town) is – er – solid fringe fare.

If original South African political satire is your thing‚ then J Bobs Tshabalala’s Secret Ballot looks worth exploring. The indefatigable Abrahamse and Meyer team seem to have an inexhaustible store of obscure Tennessee Williams plays – this year Noh theatre meets Jackson Pollock as David Kaplan directs The Day on Which a Man Dies with heavyweight talent Jennifer Steyn‚ the ubiquitous Daniel Richards and‚ inevitably‚ Marcel Meyer. (Steyn’s award-winning performance in a previous A& M Williams production was almost as good as her Nora in Olwagen’s Ibsen last year.) — Tiso Black Star Group Entertainment