TEKSMARK ENCOURAGES AND CELEBRATES ESTABLISHED AND EMERGING VOICES ON STAGE

It was time for the annual Teksmark presented by the Klein Karoo Arts Festival (KKNK) with the support of the Nasionale Afrikaanse Teater Inisiatief (NATI) and The Baxter, almost as 2021 was bowing out. DIANE DE BEER reviews:

PICTURES: Nardus Engelbrecht

A scene from Jane Mpholo’s The Dawn.

It’s one of my favourite events because of the voices that emerge and the insights gained about what some theatre makers (established and emerging) are thinking at this time.

And at this time has more meaning than in any time because of the state of the world – on many different levels. We’re now fully emerged in a pandemic that doesn’t want to leave and the way this has impacted those who want to tell stories or find writing therapeutic (or whatever drives particular playwrights) is fascinating.

It is also the diversity of the participants, not only in age and gender but also in race or cultural group – all of which have an impact on the stories they tell.

Teksmark is an initiative started by the artistic director of the KKNK, Hugo Theart, because he wanted to encourage new writers to feed the festivals of the future. But as the event became more and more established, Baxter CEO Lara Foot argued for the inclusion of  all the official languages. This has made a huge difference which throws up many different issues, with language, claiming stories and diversity all part of the mix.

As I wrote last year, a clutch of debut plays are selected for possible further development and short extracts are featured by selected directors and casts.

For me the impact was felt in a quiet confidence that emerged strongly this year. It was as if young voices (especially of black and brown writers) have claimed their stories. As one of the participants remarked before presenting her play, in the past, it was as if they were explaining themselves to white people.

This time she wanted to write on blackness. That’s a huge shift in a country with our past, and everyone benefits. The more people show their truth, the more understanding and empathy is fostered, one of the strengths of theatre and storytelling.

Staahn Uit die Water Uit by mercy Kannemeyer (left) and Semels by Miandra Hayward.

A good example of this was two plays on domestic workers. The one came from a white perspective (Semels) which has been the more traditional route in the past and the other (Staan Uit die Water Uit) tells a story of a domestic worker who dies in a car accident together with her white employer, which results in the return of the coloured daughter who wants to collect all her mother’s belongings.

All these voices have legitimacy, but it is time to hear the authenticity of the voices of the previously disadvantaged as they share their point of view about their lives – not as seen through the eyes and lives of others. And that’s the difference.

The other growth element that has become part of the annual Teksmark is that many different playwriting endeavours are included, enriching the overall experience and encouraging the different disciplines to reach out to one another – to learn and grow.

Part of this is a series of plays from the Suidoosterfees Nati Rising Star Project. These are young playwrights who attended a writing school in the Eastern Cape led by Abduragman Adams through the Jakes Gerwel Foundation.

 The Stellenbosch University Drama Department Première Atelier is another participant with the Woordfees initiative Theatre Writing Laboratory which offered writers an income with the aim of providing better-quality new performance-ready texts adding further depth, with two of their texts in the final selection.

The project has also been expanded with Teksmark Oudtshoorn, specifically focussed on delivering stories from the region and providing a platform for storytellers and writers from the town. An international sister project called Tekstmarkt also came to life bringing writers from South Africa and the Netherlands together to develop stories for international audiences.

Sleeping with the Enemy by Lwanda Sindhaphi.

Navigating this world that is still taking shape as the shackles of apartheid are loosened but not yet cast away, one of the returning playwrights, Lwanda Sindhaphi, presented us with dilemmas that are specific to those who were forced to live in specified spaces in the past. Perhaps the title, Sleeping with the Enemy, gives a hint of things to come but many different issues are at play.

From the obvious sleeping with the enemy when moving out of the township to the different stances towards this apartheid-designated living space, it’s always fascinating to walk in the other’s shoes  ̶  especially when lives are both physically and mentally so far removed, as is often the case here.

Sindhaphi writes about himself and his people as he highlights stories that many of us would never have thought of or experienced. Theatre is such an amazing space to navigate these kinds of stories – for those who share them as well as for those who discover new ways of looking at life and our fellow countrymen.

Stephren Saayman’s Dankie, Maar Nee Dankie.

In similar vein, Stephren Saayman’s Dankie, Maar Nee Dankie approaches coloured stereotypes from an hysterical vantage point as he has three middle-class families entering a competition to select three perfect coloured representative families for the perfect rainbow nation. This should already have you giggling and gasping as he subtly shows up the audacity of those telling the stories of others and in the process turning to stereotypes.

Nipped in the Butt by Nisa Smit (left) and What Happens in Russia… by Michaela Weir (right)

Two young playwrights, Michaela Weir (What Happens in Russia) and Nisa Smit (Nipped in the Butt), had as much fun with their smart words on stage as when discussing their work. They both underlined the strength of spirited plays with a youthfulness that is wise, witty and wonderful.

Wessel Pretorius (left) and Wilhelm van der Walt (right) in Philip Theron’s Die Kontemporêre Kunskomplot.

A personal favourite was the brilliant and insightful work by Philip Theron, who previously worked in film rather than on stage. His text, Die Kontemporêre Kunskomplot was as inspired as his casting and direction with the state of play between Wessel Pretorius and Wilhelm van der Walt pure joy to watch. It was comic timing to cherish and something that should be recreated for the future.

Other pieces ranged from an unusual portrait of Beyers Naudé (Oom Bey, My Pa by Henque Heymans) in conversation with the former activist’s daughter, to a searing interplay (in Blood Bonds by Vuyokazi Ngemntu) between Steven Biko and the 12 year old African American Timor Rice who was shot by a policeman because he was carrying a toy gun, to two community driven pieces, Jane Mpholo’s The Dawn, which explores gender-based violence, arguably the biggest scourge in our country, in innovative and powerful fashion and Heloine Armstrong’s Maanskyn en Dorings, which investigates the impact of mental health problems and how it affects individuals.

That’s just some of  the diversity and delights of the annual Teksmark, which grows and expands each year and excites everyone who participates and attends. It’s an artistic injection in a time when everyone is scrambling to keep the industry alive and even if many think this is impossible, it’s the only way to keep moving – one step at a time.

And for the arts and storytelling that has always been enough. Or as the Non Executive Chair of the KKNK, Crispin Sonn, said in his opening remarks: What we need is resilience and tenacity.

It was seen here in abundance.

MAGICIAN MARTHINUS BASSON PASSES ON HIS DIRECTING SKILLS TO FUTURE STORYTELLERS

When I first read the press release on the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival’s (KKNK) plans to present a theatre director’s course digitally with the support of the National Afrikaans Theatre Initiative (NATi) with acclaimed director/mentor/lecturer/designer Marthinus Basson presenting, I knew this was one where I wanted to be a fly on the wall. And this is how it played out …

DIANE DE BEER

With no aspirations as a director, I was keen to witness and write about this unique, almost year-long process which aimed to challenge and stretch theatre makers, those already in the profession and those who wish to learn. It was all about offering opportunities in the theatre world so hard hit by the pandemic yet looking at a future with hope and expectation as well as huge encouragement.

There was no doubt that for anyone attending, this was the chance of a lifetime. Just the reach of this director, one of the best in the business, and to add to his many directing accolades, a true love of teaching, which isn’t always a given. He has knowledge in abundance and a generous desire to pass it on.

Genius director and mentor, Marthinus Basson

And as I expected, that was exactly what I experienced class after class. As a theatre writer and someone who has spent many years watching theatre productions, this was a chance to dig deep and experience the process from start to finish. I was also  keen to see how this would work digitally, as Basson was very clear from the start that all this was new to him as well. He wasn’t sure whether the participants could benefit without working on stage (or in a room) – where he still hopes to fit in some real time with these students, when the future allows.

But even Basson has conceded that in many instances everyone gained in this novel process and there are certain instances that surprised everyone. Because live theatre wasn’t an option, once a few texts had been read and discussed by the group under the guidance of the mentor, the participants were given the task to take small sections from different plays, which they then had to stage – digitally.

This is where the fun and the creativity began. Not only were they now expected to use their directing instincts, but they also had to apply it in a way that was a learning curve for everyone. A few with film experience in the group had prior knowledge to help them navigate, but in most instances their imagination was expected to kick in.

I was reminded of a theatre practitioner who had experience of working here and internationally, who noted that because we have never had money for the arts, imagination plays a much bigger role – and often to the advantage of the production. It’s also not as if these artists were suddenly in a position of not having money to work with.

That has always been the case. In this instance, Covid was just another stumbling block. Watching them apply their instincts to tell stories digitally was quite something. From the start they used every trick in the book, some more successfully than others, but failure wasn’t an option. There’s also the credo in theatre that if you don’t fail sometimes, you’re not pushing the boundaries.

A selection of the most recent Basson productions

Following the screening of each session, everyone was given a chance to comment with Basson having the last word. His educational spirit is something to witness. He’s easy with both good and bad because either way, the participant can learn and grow and that’s the point of the exercise. This was a safe space to take chances and to discover what works, how to change things and how to work with space, players and words.

Listening to Basson speak about the way he approaches any new play was insightful. He advised the burgeoning directors to read the play as if they were performers. “How do I understand the text?” That was the first question. And then he gave guidelines and pointers to explain how they should break it down and start making notes for the planned production. You have to map the process from beginning to end which, as the conductor, helps you to know exactly what is going to happen every step of  the way.

He would make statements like: “The accent isn’t important, the meaning is what counts.” Always the text, always the story, and for those of us watching, if the director cannot get you engaged with the story, there’s no point at all. Once you have unlocked the text for the audience, they will be on board. It’s the big question about communicating to your audience, that’s why the text is what leads all the time.

“Never under-estimate your audience. But don’t confuse them, stimulate them.” That’s why they’re there – to experience, not to struggle.

And with every point he makes,  he also expands the mind as he skips off into a story about a memorable book, film, opera, theatre production, to illustrate a point. Knowledge is what informs everything he does.

If these fledgling students got only the grasp of this great man’s mind and how he never stops learning and searching for new productions that inspire – even starting with a couture clothes line for dolls to teach himself some rudimentary sewing techniques which could be applied to costumes in the future.

That’s what you do when money is an issue. You add as many skill sets as possible and you do this whenever you find the time. Artists will know, that theirs is a calling, not a career. If passion isn’t involved, chances are you won’t stay the course.

Something that has always impressed me about Basson’s productions is the casting. And he explains: “I want people who will feed one another. Casting can make or break a production. Clever direction helps the audience,” he explains. And that includes casting.

He points out that directors have a toy box in their hands to play with and how they apply that is where the work starts. Every decision has to make sense, be logical.

And even in these times with money even more absent than usual, keep dreaming. Never stop. The fact that you can’t get there does not mean that you have to stop trying. If you think of some of the productions you have seen at festivals and with how little they have achieved so much, that alone should inspire.

In another insight, he underlines that if you don’t put in the work, you won’t get the results. If aspiring directors only hold on to that, they have already grasped the essence of the things that matter in life.

I could go on and on … and the fortunate and willing participants who were present all the time would have mined this opportunity for all its worth. They will also have the future support of this genius director, who will never give up on artists who need his help.

This was such a clever concept and will reap benefits. Here’s hoping that it can have a future in some kind of form … thanks to KKNK and NATi.

SASOL NEW SIGNATURES 2021 CELEBRATES ARTISTS WHO STAND UP FOR WHAT THEY BELIEVE

Only after I engaged with the winner and runner-up statements following the award ceremony of the Sasol New Signatures 2021, did I realise what stood out most in this second pandemic year was that many of the winning works – especially these two winning pieces – were equally issue-driven and creatively excellent.

What seemed to inspire many of the artists was their engagement with particular issues and ideas that are important to them. 

DIANE DE BEER

New Signatures winner Andrea du Plessis with her winning work Paloceae Lupantozoa

For example, the winner, Andrea du Plessis, is especially inspired by the natural world at a time when heated discussions about climate change are dominating universally. It’s as if someone has flicked the switch and the world’s leaders are taking it seriously for the first time.

And part of this awareness is the result of not only the young but also the artists around the world who are using their creative voices to focus on this particular narrative. As the winner, Du Plessis walks away with a cash prize of R100 000 and the opportunity to have a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum in 2022. 

The runner-up, Dalli Weyers, describes himself as an artist/activist and his manifesto has been activated to draw attention to the gross inequality (and everything which follows that) in the world today. He won R25 000.

No one can be happy with the absence of humanity seen everywhere we turn. Often those in power are all about greed while ignoring the people they were elected to serve. It’s as if there is a lack of understanding of why they were given the power. But more and more people are standing up for what they believe is right – and at the forefront are the artists.

For this year’s winner, it was her fourth attempt at entering the prestigious competition and, with her work being selected for the first time, she grabbed a win.

But then, Du Plessis’s narrative about her life and her art points to determination and drive. Not only could she not finish her fine arts course at the University of Pretoria because of financial problems but she also suffered from clinical depression.

Andrea du Plessis’s winning work Paloceae Lupantozoa

For seven years after dropping out, she had very little interest in making art. Yet during this time she decided to travel to the UK where she worked for four years and also enrolled for a course in art therapy which slowly pulled her back into making art.

She returned to South Africa in 2010 (to Pretoria, where she was born and spent most of her formative years) and later enrolled for a degree in Multimedia Digital Visual Art at Unisa.

In 2015, she moved to Cape Town where she works from her studio as a freelance designer, illustrator and multimedia artist.

Describing her winning work, she says Paloceae Lupantozoa is part of a body of work called Supernature. “It was created in 2020 as part of my final year work for Unisa. It is a personal response to being in lockdown, which triggered a deep questioning and exploration of our complex relationship with nature in an augmented age, and how our access to the natural world has changed over the centuries.

“The work aims to create a link between art historical representations of nature (18th century, Romantic landscape painting) and contemporary representations of nature (new media such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence).The work is multi-faceted but, in short, I wanted to work with the notion of the sublime (experienced through nature and technology) and interconnectedness (in both the natural world and digital media).”

It’s a complex work that has to be experienced in real life to fully understand what she’s playing with. It’s also a response to the pandemic and lockdown, which had a huge impact on her and her work. “I’m privileged to have had a little garden to hang out in during lockdown and this really became a sanctuary as I began noticing all the insects and birds going about their day.”

While she was uncomfortable because of the isolation of lockdown, she also views the time as a “necessary metamorphosis” for which she is now grateful. “My research also involved biomimicry and I was reminded of the fact that nature is the ultimate engineer. As a ‘superior species’ we have so much more to learn and discover. We don’t exist on this planet in isolation. Everything is interconnected. That is the message I want to bring through my work.”


She describes herself as a multidisciplinary artist because she enjoys working with a very wide range of traditional (painting, sculpture, drawing) and new media (videoart, augmented reality and AI-generated art).

“I find it difficult to choose and specialise in only one medium. I need variety, and each medium carries its own meaning conceptually. My process is usually very layered and I like to combine several types of media into something new.” 

Thinking ahead with her eye on next year’s solo exhibition as part of her prize, she is researching flower anatomy, metaphysics and virtual reality. “Hopefully 2022 will offer new possibilities to produce and exhibit my work,” she said before knowing she was the winner.

Well, it certainly will, and for her solo exhibition she envisions something immersive, meditative and surreal. In the world she creates with her art, that certainly predicts something extraordinary and exciting!

For the runner-up, Dalli Weyers, it was also a long and winding road – this was his third attempt. 

And viewing the work, his voice was the one I was intrigued to explore. He explains best: “To date, my professional career can be characterised by a tension between my creative impulses and my commitment to social justice and progressive activism. I’ve consistently looked to find ways in which to bring these seemingly disparate elements together and to further my appreciation of, and to make concrete, the role and contributions creative voices and my own creativity can make to society.

“In the words of James Baldwin, I am at this point in my artistic journey because I believe ‘… the role of the artist (activist) is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see’.”

Influenced, encouraged and supported by friends, this activist/artist “rails against the crass individualism that has come to define so much of our politics over the last few decades and the concomitant loss of community of intent, purpose and inclusion. 

“My politics appreciates the need for commonality to be found and fostered in order to rally progressive causes. The piece I created serves to start a dialogue around a clear set of principles that a community of creative voices needs to articulate in order to chart a course to a more just and equal society.”

Working during the pandemic by using unconventional materials readily available at home, his art practice under lockdown resembled a cottage industry. His intent was also to attempt to avoid an idealised, romanticised picture of scarcity and of individual, privileged domestic idyll. 

“My anxieties often manifest in visions of apocalyptic doom. This work is in response to a world that was already on fire prior to the pandemic and to which the pandemic has simply been fuel to fire.”

The use of plastic bags can be traced back to previous works in ceramics where the relative fragility of ceramics was highlighted through the use of various plastics to bind cracked and broken ceramic pieces.

 “I’m weary of using mediums in my work that on their own do not convey a sense of the moment we find ourselves in. In my mind, ubiquitous plastic bags stitched together, fragile and in a way impermanent (they disintegrate but do not decompose), are illustrative of the real world and the social conditions we live in that are a product of history and our intent in this moment.”

In these crazy and troubled times, Weyers is determined to make his voice heard. He believes his work has impact because it touches on the notion of the art of innovation both in the cultural sphere and in the broader society. “I believe my use of plastic bags as  the sole medium is innovative and that it is furthered because the plastic is enlisted to embroider.” Again it is a work that has to be seen, and the manifesto read slowly to let the message seep in, and then look at the work and the way it was made.

And for me, that is really what these two winning works capture – innovation in a time of lockdown, which was both challenging and seemingly a great source of inspiration and innovation.

Hot Conversations by Patrick Rulore, 2019’s winner and this forms part of his Stage 4 Moments series.

The Sasol New Signatures Art Competition exhibition, featuring the work of the 2021 winners and finalists is currently underway at the Pretoria Art Museum until 9 January 2022.  A total of 123 works in a multitude of mediums can be viewed – from traditional painting and drawing to mixed media works, sculpture, installation pieces and video.

The 5 Merit winners were:

Nico Athene (Cape Town)

Cultivating our Unbecoming:  with Gabrielle Youngleson and Johno Mellish (2021)

Diasec

Michèle Deeks (Pretoria)

Pandemic

Mixed media

Sibaninzi Dlatu (Umtata)

A story of resiliency

Fired clay (bisque)

Eugene Mthobisi Hlophe (Durban)

The new crazy normal

Photography

Monica Klopper (Pretoria)

Choice

Shed snake skin and epoxy

Each Merit Award winner received a R10 000 cash prize.

Alongside the exhibition, the 2019 winner, Patrick Rulore’s solo exhibition, Stage 4 moments is also on show. His exhibition captures typical moments in many South African households during load shedding. The series explores human connections against the backdrop of an ephemeral world of light and shadow.

Pretoria Art Museum
Corner Francis Baard and Wessels Street
Arcadia Park
Arcadia


Tel:  012 358 6750
Email:  artmuseum@tshwane.gov.za

Museum Hours
Tuesday to Sundays:  10am to 5pm.
Closed on Mondays and public holidays

Both exhibitions can also be viewed virtually on the Sasol New Signatures website.  This virtual 3D platform gives you high definition 360 degrees access to all the artworks from wherever you are.

DIRECTOR MARTHINUS BASSON PULLS TOGETHER TWO MAJESTIC PRODUCTIONS FOR THE KKNK FOR LOCAL TELEVISION THIS FESTIVE SEASON

2021 has been a good year for director/mentor Marthinus Basson. He has been involved in mentoring many theatre productions, presented a 9-month long digital directing course and was also responsible for the filming of two of his theatre productions, Koningin Lear by Tom Lanoye (translated by Antjie Krog) and Reza de Wet’s Asem (Breathing In, translated into Afrikaans by Basson). DIANE DE BEER reviews:

Heightening the stakes for both productions  ̶   as well as the audience  ̶  is the fact that the two plays are so different. And yet, in both instances, the lead is played by the towering Antoinette Kellermann, showing her staggering stage craft magnificently with the extraordinary Edwin van der Walt also present in both, with equal aplomb.

Koningin Lear, first staged in 2019 at the KKNK’s 25th anniversary, is a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear with Krog’s translation localising the text to establish the power hungry family led by the mother (Kellerman) as the head of the family empire with her three sons (Wilhelm van der Walt, Neels van Jaarsveld and Edwin van der Walt) and their spouses (Rolanda Marais and Anna-Mart van der Merwe) as well as a family advisor (André Roothman) and a care-giver (Matthew Stuurman).

It’s a majestic work with Basson envisioning a contemporary landscape with a boardroom almost in the sky, out of the reach of ordinary people with a dynastic-driven family at loggerheads from the word go. There’s enough that’s familiar from the King Lear story to pull you into the text  and then all the most pressing issues of the 21st century coming into play – greed and grandiosity leading the pack.

With the genders turned upside down from the original, three sons are asked by their ageing mother to declare their love so that she can allocate their positions in the hierarchy of the company as she steps down.

Alma (Rolanda Marais) and Henry (Wilhelm van der Walt) as the power couple.

When her youngest and his mother’s dearest disgusted by his two older siblings’ fawning and feigning, declares the fullness of his love by walking away, excess becomes the motivating factor for everyone left behind. With the two hustling wives the power behind their husbands’ self-grabbed thrones, the eldest, an ill-fitting Greg (Van Jaarsveld) with his brassy Connie (Van der Merwe), an OTT shopaholic and the younger but smarter Henry (Wilhelm van der Walt) and his wimpering and damaged Alma (Marais) from the wrong side of the track go into full attack to embellish their empire while everything that is or comes into their orbit is destroyed and ruined.

There’s no insight and the desire for dynasty drives and determines their dastardly and often dumb decisions.

This is one of those plays where everything comes together – the words, the translation, the cast, the direction, and most of all, the vision.

Krog, who has already received all the accolades with her translation of Lanoye’s Mama Medea, is masterful as she captures the time, the place and the way language can be used to capture character as well as period and place. With Lanoye’s original and Krog’s translation of text and texture, it’s worth cherishing every nuanced word.

And then the casting. With Kellermann in command, the tone is set as she delivers in stature as the powerful matriarch who, while handing over her wealth and with that her power, is also battling dementia. Her fickle family turns on her in their rush to the top and, in the event, toppling everything they have been handed on a platter.

Family portrait: From left: Matthew Stuurman, Wilhelm van der Walt, Andre Roothman, Edwin van der Walt, Neels van Jaarsveld Front: Rolanda Marais, Antoinette Kellermann, Anna-Mart van der Merwe

This is a family concern, which means it isn’t necessarily the best who step into the leadership position, especially when bravado rather than brains comes into play.

Marthinus Basson in rehearsal during the earlier Koningin Lear.

With Basson the conducter, it’s a play that sings from start to finish and in this transposition from stage to screen, it is the close-ups, some sleight-of-hand tricks and the collective talent that truly shine.

It’s a rare gift that this extraordinary work has been given new life – and I’m hoping a much wider platform.

Thenb prepare yourself for Reza de Wet’s Asem, a play Basson translated and staged to honour his late friend.

As someone who is intimately connected with this insightful playwright’s work, his is usually the definitive production with Kellerman again stepping in as a mother – but this time she couldn’t be further removed from the powerhouse business virago of Koningin Lear.

Tinarie van Wyk Loots, Edwin van der Walt and Antoinette Kellermann in the background.

What they do have in common is their strength and here it is the manipulative monster that comes into play as she spins a trap for any man who might find himself in the presence of this formidable yet deceptive mother-and-daughter (Tinarie Van Wyk Loots).

While Koningin Lear was shot on stage, this production was transferred to a farm stable at the Worcester Museum. And yet, reflecting on the stage production, Basson clevery created a most realistic stable on stage as well.

The cast also includes Stian Bam (right) as the badly wounded general while the young Edwin van der Walt (left) has come to check on the wounded warrior left in the care of these seemingly caring women.

But there’s a frisson of an almost haunting mystery in the air. Everything isn’t as it seems and, as always with De Wet, she plays with her female and male characters in way that constantly shifts the power structures.

You might think you know who is leading the charge, but don’t underestimate a woman (and her groomed accomplice) who has been cornered in an inhospitable world where their presence is hardly tolerated.

Edwin van der Walt and Antoinette Kellerman, both who appear in both plays.

Both these plays are challenging, insightful and staged brilliantly with casts that mesmerise. Even with dangerously little time in hand, Basson has managed to transpose these plays from stage to film, giving those of us who feel deprived because of the absence of theatre a chance to see the best.

They might not be easy to watch and demand that you have your wits about you to follow the story or just appreciate the juxtaposition of the words, but Via should be celebrated and congratulated for taking the chance.

Don’t let them regret it. This is something we should cherish and hope becomes part of our viewing schedule on a more regular basis.

Congratulations to the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) and VIA on DStv for broadcasting these memorable productions during the festive season. It holds great promise for the future of theatre and how hybrid productions can reach much wider audiences – and in that way, save the day

  • Asem: 26 December at 9pm with re-broadcasts on 3 January (9pm) and 6 January (9pm).
  • Koningin Lear: 1 January at 9pm, with re-broadcasts  on 5 January (9pm) and 8 January (9pm).

WRITING THAT HAS YOUR HEART BEATING IN YOUR THROAT

When two books by young black authors were sent to me by two different publishers, I felt there was a reason and got up close and personal with two stories that are both unexpected and enlightening.

DIANE DE BEER reviews:

Nine Hours by Lukhanyo Sikwebu (Kwela):

The author notes in the book and a quick google search alerted me that this was no ordinary first-time writer. He is a film director, photographer, screenwriter and novelist. But that only captures half of it – google and you will see. That’s why he pulled off the action thriller Nine Hours with such aplomb.

Described as a Naomi Mandisa Nel story, this particular heroine leads a secret life as a vigilante assassin, making sure justice is served where the system has failed to make the criminals pay for their horrific deeds.

Not even her policeman fiancé knows about this side of his woman. He is suspicious, though, but he thinks she has other lovers  ̶  not another life. But what most intrigued me about this book was the story it captured and the way it was told.

Firstly, while men play their part, a woman is the one that drives the story and takes you along on the adventure. And we are right in the middle of what is happening on the continent, with a group of young girls abducted by a rebel/terrorist group and their nightmare camp is set on the northern border of Mozambique.

Both of these are real issues, even if the situation has been pulled together to create some semblance of truth without dealing in facts.

Possibly, if you gave my credentials to the author, he would not think of me as his kind of reader  ̶  old and white  ̶  and yet, I was drawn in right from the start. I can just imagine, when too few of these type of novels dealing in adventure and set on the African continent with a mostly black ensemble of players are available, that if I were really in the target group it would have been a great discovery.

We need to see ourselves, at least some of the time, in the novels we read. Only then can we easily move on to more foreign terrain.

What makes this one a winner is that the story is well told. It’s filmic, there’s enough that’s familiar to make it believable and it’s a joyous if emotional ride. This isn’t all fun and games, but Sikwebu has a good balance of good and bad, hectic and wholesome, fast and furious yet with a strong message throughout, to make it work.

He has obviously found a genre that, for the time being, works for him and there are not many around with whom to compete. But it is going to be fun to see how he develops and where he goes in this latest endeavour. Now it’s time to go and see how he fares with his movies. Many would be thrilled with one of his accomplishments, but fortunately, his gig is to move in between all the many artistic endeavours available.

JUNX by Tshidiso Moletsane (Umuzi):

This one is a much tougher ride but equally worth reading, because of the story and the way it is told. I have always thought that theatre was my way into the lives of fellow citizens because of the stories being told.

Similarly with these kinds of books. It is the first in a series created by Umuzi titled Trailblazers and described as short works of high-quality fiction that break new ground in terms of content, style and/or form and written by authors from South Africa, other African countries and the African diaspora. The stories have to spark insight into what it means to live on the continent.

And as Koketso Poho writes in the foreword, “Black life is a juxtaposition. The condition of our lives, our futures and our past are such that we have been struggling to be seen or heard.”

We know that  ̶  certainly in this country  ̶  that remains true. Hopefully with Black Lives Matter things will keep changing and with more of my fellow white citizens becoming aware of the full weight of the artistic talent out there in this country, we will all be enriched by listening and reading one another’s stories.

Junx tells a story without holding back of someone who believes he will be published, yet in the meantime he is chasing whatever is handed to him on the day. Again Poho captures it best: we wake up every day chasing an elusive thing, chasing happiness and laughter that never lasts. We try to numb ourselves  to our realities through hedonism and callousness. But deep down (and that’s the nub) inside we are empty, we are jobless, homeless, debt sits on our necks like the Chicken Licken monkey, and, most importantly we are expressionless, without words or language to even begin thinking about our problems.

Read and learn. Ours is a divided country and because of the past, much of the terror and hunger can be ignored by the rest of us, because apartheid and the way we live have allowed us to turn away. In fact, we have to seriously pay attention if we truly want to embrace this new world.

Because of the unemployment numbers it is becoming difficult to ignore and even the tiny things that don’t bring that much money are worth stealing, so few lives are not affected, but still many of us sit quietly in our historical comfort.

But, says our hero, step into his world for a moment and he will take you there.  He has dreams but because of instincts, he mostly grabs any opportunity coming his way, whether an all-night party or a funny-speaking white dude who hands him the keys to his rented BMW and R1 000 cash to get some weed or anything above or below.

And we’re off for the time of our lives that most of us will only experience when reading this story, while many out there will be trapped in this particular nightmare  ̶  day in and day out.

FOOD IS THE FADDIEST THING AROUND BUT WE CAN FIGHT IT SAYS A WISE TIM SPECTOR IN SPOON-FED

Oscar Wilde

I HATE PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT SERIOUS ABOUT MEALS. IT IS SO SHALLOW OF THEM.

The Importance of Being Earnest.

DIANE DE BEER

Spoon-Fed: Why Almost Everything We’ve been told About Food Is Wrong by Tim Spector (Jonathan Cape)

I’m a huge fan of chef Andrea Burgener and when I read that she recommended this book, I was onto it immediately.

She’s smart about food (and many other things, I suspect) and we need to listen to someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Food is probably one of the faddiest things around. If you’ve lived as long as I have, you would also have gone through periods in time where the goodness of avocado pears and bananas, for example, was completely forbidden. I was so thrilled when sitting in on an interview with Juliet Prowse, who amongst other things, was known for her fantastic figure, and she said that she had an avo a day! Yippee, that was the best thumbs up for me and ever since it has been one of my favourite superfoods!

But it is that dithering about what is good and what isn’t, which seemingly changes with the times, that drives those of us who are keen on good nutrition, dilly. As soon as I am told, have as much coffee as you want, someone else says NO!

So to cipher through the mountains of info and what to believe, I was delighted to find a new voice of reason with all of his facts based on science, something we now know isn’t common sense anymore.

What Tim Spector discovered in researching certain food beliefs is how shockingly little good evidence there is for many of our strongest and most deeply rooted beliefs about food. In the introduction he states that we learn most of our food myths as children.

He explains that he was told certain foods would make him grow more quickly (milk and cereal), make him more brainy (fish), give him acne (chocolate) or give him big muscles (eggs and meat). But he wasn’t told about the benefits of lentils, broccoli or beans, and was told nuts are an unhealthy snack because of the cholesterol.

He was told to eat breakfast religiously, that there was nothing wrong with mouldy food and leaving food on your plate was unacceptable. Sound familiar?

Other unquestioned advice included never swimming within an hour of eating, never eating just before bedtime and the importance of exercise to lose weight. All of these were common “facts” growing up for me too.

But, says Spector, none of these is backed up by science; in fact, many of them are categorically wrong. With all these rules around, we should all be healthy specimens, he believes, and yet since 1980, rates of obesity, food allergies and diabetes in most countries have rocketed, along with unexplained rises in dementia.

His own scientific research has focused increasingly, he writes, on nutrition and food-related questions in recent years. “I have been astonished how much of what we were told about food is misleading, and at worst, downright wrong and dangerous to our health.” And that alone should encourage reading of this wise man’s findings.

He asks insightful questions, like how did we get into this mess where unqualified people dictate the best ways for us to eat? He points the finger at three culprits: bad science, misunderstanding of the results, and the food industry. And I can see all of us nodding our heads…

Reading about his findings, I am reminded of hearing from an ophthalmologist that GPs really know little about eyes, and how a specialist recently pointed out that everyone is specialised in very specific areas. What that means is that those who know how little they know, are reluctant to give advice in areas outside of their expertise.

But if you think about it, that’s not the case with nutrition.  And Spector underlines that the study of food and health nutrition is one of the newest sciences, which appeared in many countries from the 1970s in response to the growth in the processed food industry.

He follows that with a detailed analysis of why we should be suspicious around food-related studies, the cost of comparing one diet with another, for example, and then he says something that we should all pay attention to: the assumption that we are all identical machines who respond to food in the same way, is the most prevalent and dangerous myth about food. It is, he warns, the basis of all diet advice.

We all respond differently to the same food, so the idea that we can all follow the same advice and calorie limits no longer makes sense. And he warns sharply about paying attention to the greatest obstacle when it comes to dangerously inaccurate food information: the food industry.

It’s fascinating stuff and whether you take him at his word, or in this case, scientific research, depends on your interests. I certainly did, because I found his explanations both credible and often just common sense.

Once the introduction is done, he gets into myths under headings like breaking the fast; calorie counting doesn’t add up; the big fat debate; the supplements really don’t work; the bittersweet hidden agenda; not on the label; fast-food phobia; bringing back the bacon; fishy business; veganmania; more than a pinch of salt; coffee can save your life and on and on…

But just to explain some: The subheading in breaking the fast is: Myth: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. While explaining that even when skipping what many would consider a real breakfast, many of us would have a cappuccino with milk and perhaps sugar and this would contain all three macronutrients  ̶  carbs, fats and protein – and will have the same effect on our metabolism as a bigger meal in ‘breaking’ the fast.

He then goes on to explore all the different studies, most of which sadly lack the scientific data to back their claims, and finally reaches the conclusion that it depends on the individual to decide what suits you best – and what would do you and your body the most good.

And just the fact that many of the studies are supported by breakfast food or cereal companies should already have you twitching … and thus he moves on.

I found the book as entertaining as it is informative, and being interested in food from all kinds of vantage points, I discovered enough to tweak my interest and get me thinking.

INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS ARE REAL MODERN DAY WARRIORS WHO FIGHT VALIANTLY FOR TRUTH

During the early days of lockdown, I discovered two journalist-written books that I hadn’t read yet even though it is a HUGE interest and the writers, two modern-day icons in the world of investigative journalism, something that ever since the beginning of time, has kept us safe when people are clearly out of control. You might have to scratch around to find them, but if this is a field of interest, it will be worth your while:

DIANE DE BEER

TELL ME NO LIES: INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM AND ITS TRIUMPHS, EDITED BY JOHN PILGER (Jonathan Cape London):

Pilger writes that one of his favourite quotations is by American journalist T. D. Allman: “Genuine objective journalism is journalism that not only gets the facts right, it gets the meaning of events right. It is compelling not only today, but stands the test of time. It is validated not only by ‘reliable sources’, but by the unfolding of history. It is journalism that ten, fifteen, twenty, fifty years after the fact still holds up a true and intelligent mirror to events.”

And having read this book with great glee and horror in equal measure (joy because of the writing and horror because of the unfolding events described, some familiar, others not), it is the absolute truth.

That’s why someone like Trump, for example, can be so endlessly fascinating. It’s not the man himself (thank goodness!), it’s what the intelligent voices have to say about him as a phenomena in this time and place.

Pilger goes on to explain that Allman wrote the piece as a tribute to Wilfred Burchett, whose extraordinary career included what has been described as “the scoop of the century”. He tells us that while hundreds of journalists “embedded” within the Allied  occupation forces in Japan in 1945 were shepherded to the largely theatrical surrender ceremony, Burchett “slipped the leash”, as he put it, and set out on a perilous journey to a place now embedded in human consciousness: Hiroshima.

He was the first western journalist to enter Hiroshima after the atomic bombing, and his front page in the London Daily Express, carried the prophetic headline: “I write this as a warning to the world”.

Burchell was denounced while warning about radiation poisoning, not only by the occupation authorities but also by fellow journalists joining in the orchestrated propaganda and attacks on him.

What Allman and now Pilger point out is that he had exposed the full horror of nuclear warfare; and his facts were validated, as T.D. Allman wrote when Burchett died in 1983, by the “unfolding of history”.

His dispatch is printed on  page 10 of the book and Pilger emphasises that Allman’s tribute can be applied to all those whose work is collected in these pages.

He describes the huge honour of selecting the work to be reprinted, “the opportunity to honour the ‘forgotten’ work of journalists of the calibre of the afore mentioned”. Expanding his thought processes, he explains that the book and the stories it honours are a reminder that “one of the noblest human struggles is against power and its grip on historical memory”.

And all of us, especially in this current climate, can attest to that. Just listen to the leaders speaking about climate change at the most recent Cop26 conference and remember their denial only a few years back. But history fortunately has caught up with them – hopefully before it is too late.

Also think of Zuma and the Guptas who have crippled the country and the way investigative journalists fought the tide to tell their stories and bring their criminality to light.  Think of the brave souls who took the daily  White House beatings and the twitter humiliation from the ultimate bully with a bullhorn stronger than ever before.

With newspapers across the world in serious trouble and fake news difficult to distinguish for some, the impact of the words of these wise warriors has grown and should be nourished and given a protected platform.

“Secretive power loathes journalists who do their job: who push back screens, peer behind facades, lift rocks,” reminds Pilger.

I cannot urge you enough to read this one, be gripped by life happening and learn.

REPORTING: WRITINGS BY THE NEW YORKER, BY DAVID REMNICK (PICADOR):

David Remnick was with the Washington Post from 1982 to 1991 and then moved to The New Yorker where he was a reporter from 1992 and became the editor in 1998.

This book is different from the previous one as it is not dealing necessarily with the abuse of power, but rather with people power and someone who knows how to get under the skin of individuals and write about them in a way that has as much impact as the subjects themselves have had on the world.

Writing about one of his earlier stints as a reporter for the Washington Post in Russia, he tells how he and his wife flew back on the day before they watched “a column of tanks rumbling past our apartment building” on CNN.

The next day he was on a flight back and sheepishly had to hitch a ride to the barricades. He notes sometime later: “Flying away from the scene of a crime is a journalistic felony that can be forgiven with time only if you remind yourself that even the most observant can see only hints of a large event as it is happening.”

Obviously he recovered from there to become and establish his reputation not only as editor but also as someone who writes about others – up close. Or as he says it, attempts to do that.

His subjects are all in the public domain, passing in or out of a crisis or anticipating one on the horison. “Their time was usually limited or grudgingly provided. They had a reputation to protect, public and private agendas to consider, sometimes even a machinery of public relations to keep reporters at bay.”

He concludes in his foreword that the hope is that at some point they will let their guard down and be themselves. Generally they do what they can not to allow that to happen.

He starts with Al Gore, Mrs Graham (the erstwhile proprietor of the Washington Post) and Tony Blair. This is followed by the authors Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, Václav Havel and a series on Solzhenitsyn first in Vermont and then in Moscow. Which then naturally leads into a Russian-dominated series looking at The Last Tsar; The Translation Wars and finally Putin,

A series of outsiders is then tackled with the emphasis on Israel and the PLO, and finally, his sport fetish, boxing.

It is magnificent and anyone who has listened to his  New Yorker podcast will know that he has a way with words, knows how to pick his subject and then hangs out to give his readers an unexpected close-up and personal look.

Both of these books are available on Loot (and probably more outlets if you check) and would make perfect Christmas gifts for the newshounds or anyone who is dialled into the universe so that they can witness the events and people that dramatically changed our lives.

DIS BAIE LEKKER BY DIE SEE

Publishing this following story about a Durban/Kwa-Zulu Natal visit a month before the horrifying insurrection was quite tricky. In fact it was going to appear a day before the riots – but fortunately didn’t. In the meantime we’ve all been holding our breath so I’m hoping and have checked the places mentioned and nothing has changed apart from the city (I am told) getting a clean-up around elections, so please, if you’re planning to holiday in that region in the coming festive months, have a blast.

And for those who don’t understand the heading: It’s very good at the sea, or some such!

DIANE DE BEER gives a few impressions:

Our final birthday destination: Shangrila Beach House (in Bazley), a self-catering house, cottage and chalet with an exquisite garden designed by indigenous landscape gardener and botanist Alice Pooley.

When a friend decided to celebrate her 50th birthday on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast recently, five of us decided to travel to Durban for a few days prior to the celebrations to explore especially the art and the food in a city none of us knew at all.

Art and culinary adventures are passions for all of us and we had read enviously about the hot spots in both Durban and the coast and we were excited to go on this adventure.

Travelling down by car, our first stop was for lunch in the region of Van Reenen’s Pass where two of our companions had previously enjoyed some excellent meals. The road to Oaklands Country Manor with a name change to Oaklands Farm Stay turns off (for a few kilometres) at the little town of Van Reenen and is easily worth the detour.

Together with the handful of super siblings (four sisters and a brother I think) who are in charge, the setting and the farm itself is special. On the day we stopped which happened to be a Sunday, there was a polo match in progress but quite a few families were occupying the outside tables with spectacular views, ready for lunch.

The splendours of Oaklands Farm Stay.

The menu was perfect for travellers, simple but with enough variety to cover the spectrum.

Salads either garden or chicken, toasted sarmies with chips, beef burger and chips, game pie or tagliatelle with garlic, chilli, anchovies, capers, broccoli and parmesan were the options. Our table covered the full menu and while the rest of the team started with a special cocktail, as the dedicated driver, I went for the homemade ice cold kombucha-style mixer, which was spot on.

The food was delicious, (I shared the game pie and the tagliatelle with the birthday girl because we both were undecided), but so was the atmosphere, the company and the hosts. We will be back whenever we travel this way.

We had ample sustenance for the rest of the journey which isn’t an easy one with all the trucks making their way to the coast. The bill without the lunch drinks was R250 per person (coffees included) which was a really good deal.

Durban was a huge surprise, great fun but not exactly what we expected. We took into account that we were there just before a strict lockdown and as we arrived the province was struggling with high covid numbers.

The splendours of the Phansi Museum.

On the art side we had two excursions: the one was the truly mind-blowing Phansi Museum (with on the side the exquisitely stocked African Art Centre if you’re in the need for some serious local craft shopping) and the other the Kwazulu-Natal Society of the Arts with a vibrant indoor/and out coffee bar/deli attached which was buzzing when we arrived.

The Phansi Museum will blow your mind. The breadth and scope of the collection is simply overwhelming and one wonders why this isn’t duplicated in every city in this country. There’s hardly a more accessible way to introduce the depth of the different cultures in South Africa. And I would travel all the way to the coast if only for a visit to this world-class museum.

Taking a guided tour with the embracing and embraceable guide, it’s amazing to discover the wealth and cultural riches of our people. Even if you are aware of the diversity out there, to see it all gathered together is magnificent. And there’s much to admire and much to learn, a truly heavenly experience.

This was followed by the Society of Arts also in the vicinity but unfortunately they were setting up for their next exhibition, which was a development project. We were, however,  enchanted that in spite of the lack of any art happening at that precise moment, the café was packed. That is good news and I want to appeal to all the large art institutions around the country, in Pretoria in particular (The Pretoria Art Museum, The Javett and Association of Arts particularly on my mind), to find a way to serve at least good coffee with some refreshments. It’s a way of drawing people in whether for an exhibition or simply to gather for some bonhomie.

This particular space is enchanting, and you could see that the refreshments and food were as good and it has to have that stamp of approval. Nothing could be more welcoming and it makes perfect business sense if you get it right. They also have a fun museum shop and anyone traveling to world museums, will know how important those are. Our art venues have to find ways to appeal to visitors. Once there, they will hopefully be captivated by the art.

We popped into one independent gallery just off the well-known Florida Road, but they were also busy setting up and apart from these three, that, according to what we discovered and were told, was it.

Florida Road, a destination we returned to time and again.

On the food side it was also hit and miss. Our first stop was a breakfast/coffee shop which came highly recommended in an online paper and sadly was a huge let down. When writers go all out with their praise that might not be warranted, you are then reluctant to follow their advice. With only a few days at our disposal, we didn’t want any more disappointments.

Fortunately we also had some pointers from friends and locals and we started with what for me was a real find and a must if you go to the city. Glenwood Bakery and its pumping pavement area is an instant comfort. These are locals and you can see this is their regular haunt.

Our visit explained why. Starting with the bill, breakfast with two cappuccinos each, cost R100 per person, which was quite extraordinary considering the quality of the food. Bread and pastries is a big thing at the Bakery and our choices were as varied as our taste – from my mushroom and egg affair which was perfect in size, produce and preparation to bagels with various toppings, and even sweet delights with flavours like hazelnut and apricot which had to be set aside because things were flying off the shelves. We were told probably to preserve freshness, only a very specific amount of baked goodies are prepared each day, so once they’re gone, that’s it.

After our previous flop, this was at the other end of the cuisine spectrum and one to keep in mind if you need a failsafe option. It’s guaranteed!

Of course we had to do Indian and the name we had was Palki, which a few sources had recommended. On our last night we wanted to do take-out and as there were restrictions anyway, it worked out well.

Our cuisine connoisseurs made the choices and we had a mixed bag, which in this style relates to a food feast. Again it is the option to go for when you have such a diverse group of diners, all foodies but with different tastes. But it also allows you to be adventurous in some of your choices and to add new dishes to the group’s repertoire. This time round, it was the not to be missed paratha and dhal makhani, both of which should be part of any Indian meal. Added were a paneer driven dish, a chicken curry and a brinjal pakora. And for the solo diner who is reluctant to be too daring, there’s always a Lamb Curry mince.

And that’s how we even drag the less adventurous along who eventually cannot resist and grow their palate. Palki is not cheap, but it’s quality with great flavours – which is what we were told.

A series of coffee shops and ice cream parlours to choose from in Florida Road.

In between we hung out in the popular Florida Road, kept missing the Patisserie du Maroc which is French flair with Moroccan inspiration, but we had a Monday and public holiday squeezed into our stay, both not good for certain businesses. We caught up on lots of good coffee and artisanal ice cream (a delicious rum ‘n raisin flavour) and even managed to squeeze in some samoosas at the Indian market.

Which is where we spent the rest of the time; a variety of markets on and around Warwick Junction. Outside of lockdown, there are tours available and probably one of these can be fun to do as the different types of markets within the bigger precinct will be showcased.

The colourful area in and around the city markets.

We didn’t have the luxury of a tour guide, but old hands, we easily found our way around the colourful markets, which range from typical Indian and African fare to the ubiquitous Chinese goods which seem to have invaded all local markets.

Getting goods during these difficult times are also problematic and without the foreign buying power, these markets also seem quite depressed. We nevertheless had a great time just walking around, checking the scene (in between a confluence of railway tracks and a graveyard with some interesting gravestones) and seeing how the city centre functions.

From there it was a brisk walk to the Durban City Hall, Post Office and some other majestic buildings including a beautifully preserved Norman Eaton building from a bygone era but many of them still in use today. Sadly the back stairs of the post office was a sight to behold and those who are responsible for cleaning, cannot point fingers at the state of the rest of the city centre if this is the example.

And that was the sad thing about this very vibrant and embracing city centre. With its wide avenues leading to the sea front, it should be a tourist mecca with the markets and beautiful buildings included in this space. But the neglect is horrifying and typical of so many South African cities as white business moves out, it appears owners of the buildings also stop caring.

Also disturbing was the fact that we were the only white people in the area on both days we were there. Just the traffic and the double parking and navigating was like an hilarious movie. It just seems such a pity that a space this vibrant if spruced up and embraced by a much wider community – could become a real tourist mecca.

We had a blast and were welcomed everywhere we went but my heart bled for those who had to spend their lives day in and day out under these sometimes horrific circumstances while hardly a kilometre away, the Durban seafront is a completely different matter.

Personally I suspect its all about money but there’s bags full to be made if the city centre was given a touch of love and care – not gentrified – just a look that a buzzing city centre deserves. It already has all the basics!

We concluded our Durban trip with a breakfast at the promenade at Circus Circus. We were told they serve great coffee and the breakfasts are hale and hearty. It was good to witness the Durban community in all its splendour with joggers, cyclists, rickshaws and hawkers all part of the parade.

From there our trip became a celebration as we moved to a little touch of heaven called the Shangrila Beach House (in Bazley), a self-catering house, cottage and chalet (depending on the amount of people) with the best sea view, its own access to the beach first crossing a working railway line, and an exquisite garden designed by indigenous landscape gardener and botanist Elsa Pooley.

The bliss of Shangrila.

And I haven’t got to the best yet, a mass of friendly dogs and the most wondrous wrap-around stoep. Self-catering with a chef (á la Dr Hennie Fisher) in our midst was bliss and apart from an excursion to Botha House (now a guest house with spectacular views), which was built for the former prime minister Louis Botha by his friend Sir Frank Reynolds, we pretty much stayed put in our imagined home away from home.

Two last suggestions on the way back, was a fuel stop just off Pinetown called the Polo Pony Convenience Centre (571 Kassier Road, Assagay) with a Woolworths food store with the best takeout sandwiches and coffee.

A little further up the road, again at Van Reenen’s Pass (this time on the left hand side of the road on the way to Jozi), there’s the perfect lunch stop at The Little Church Tea Garden which serves food made by the local farming community.

We opted for pies followed by scones and coffee as well as browsing through their well-stocked shelves for some last-minute pressies if needed. There’s also a chance to visit the little church and while having lunch, the views are spectacular. Again, it’s the perfect stop before hitting the road back home.

WATERBOY DEALS WITH A MOTHER’S LOSS OF A SON WHO COULDN’T HOLD ON TO A MEANINGFUL LIFE

One reads books for different reasons and mostly these are very personal and deal with taste, where you are at that specific time or how you wish to engage with the world. Glynis Horning’s heart wrenching lament dealing with the suicide of her eldest son is one that caught my attention, because I knew what the quality of the writing would be and while this would not be easy to read, it would contribute to life’s lessons learnt, which makes us grow.  ̶  DIANE DE BEER

Waterboy  ̶   Making sense of my son’s suicide by Glynis Horning (Bookstorm):

Perhaps it doesn’t make sense that I asked to read this book because I don’t have any children of my own.

But I have been a fan of Glynis Horning’s writing for a long time. We were young journalists together, she in Durban and I in Pretoria and I’m not even sure we met. I think so and that that’s where my interest began.

I have always know she is an amazing writer and this is what prompted me to request this book for reviewing. That and possibly also because I have read previous memoirs in honour of lost loved ones that have left their mark. Perhaps the most obvious is Joan Didion’s lament when her husband and daughter died in short succession.

And while Horning’s loss is still recent, the two-year mark looming (which, some note, brings some relief), the rawness of her grief, the way she tries to keep afloat amidst the lives that haven’t stopped, is quite breath-taking.

It felt throughout the read that I was holding my breath for some kind of revelation, some message of redemption for those left behind.

I have always felt that the worst loss must be for parents who lose their children  ̶  even without having my own. It just seems to hold such a darkness that descends on parents and siblings when that happens. And then for it to be suicide just seems so devastating.

That’s why I could understand Horning’s search for some kind of truth with her attempts to hold on to her precious boy. What could she have done? What signs did she miss? Can she bring him back or turn back that clock?

At the time when both my parents were at that stage where I knew we wouldn’t have them for much longer, Rachelle Greeff wrote a play titled Die Naaimasjien. In that she  writes: “Die dood is soos iemand wat sy rug op jou draai.” (Death is like someone turning his back on you). And because I felt directly impacted by what was going to happen, it was as if she had captured the inevitable permanence when someone dies so majestically.

Even the image of someone disappearing into the distance is captured in that poetic yet painful phrase.

That is what is captured so hauntingly in Horning’s search for something she knows is not attainable – ever again. And even though she hasn’t yet reached that point where one feels she is moving on, she is changed and more in control of her emotions. I felt it is in the writing that she has found an escape, an unravelling, a making sense and perhaps a sharing with both her closest and even those of us who in different circumstances might have to deal with something that feels as if it has ripped the life out of you.

Being the journalist she is, she methodically works her way through this difficult time  ̶  and then of course Covid-19 leaps into our lives ripping the rest of the world apart. Perhaps through doing her work as a journalist  ̶  editing and writing   ̶   which didn’t let up during even the beginning of mourning, she found a way to make her expertise (as one of our top health journalists) work for her.

She knew how to do research, which roads to travel and how to find specialists to explain the inexplicable to help her struggle her way through something she didn’t have a roadmap for. Life is like that. It constantly challenges you both in the worst and best ways and you’re not always able to pick and choose. It often seems random and what you make of it is what determines your life.

But because of who she is, she has resilience but also a fighting circle of people around her to help keep her upright. Her husband and second son have their own battles and the three of them worked together and apart to deal with their own grief. There’s also a triage of lifelong friends who simply never let go of their friend, offering constant comfort. And just being there.

Their words of wisdom, chatter and intimate knowledge of their friend allowed them to be constant warriors in this raging personal war. They were not going to allow her to slip away.

There are many reasons to read this book. Many people feel Covid is just about all we can deal with in this time. The rest should all be slightly mindless and happy, and certainly we need loads of that.

But what a book like this of Horning’s shows, even to someone who doesn’t have similar circumstances, is just what being human really means. How we all fall apart at times, overwhelmed by what life has dealt us unexpectedly. But that there’s always a way out, a light that shines somewhere down the road, something to look forward to, other people who need to hold your hand or rely on you for your particular guidance.

Horning keeps the memory of her lost boy alive with the extraordinary memory of a life lived, sometimes excruciatingly, and shows how we can never judge the lives of others. This allows every reader to walk, if even for a few seconds, in those shoes. If this doesn’t encourage empathy in a world that is more difficult to navigate for some than for others, nothing will.

IN THE CHARL DU PLESSIS TRIO UNIVERSE, IT TAKES THREE FOR A SPECIAL BRAND OF MUSIC TO SHINE

PICTURES: Bernard Brand.

Instrumental careers aren’t easy to maintain, but the Charl du Plessis Trio has achieved just that. DIANE DE BEER reflects on their reincarnation and their latest release It Takes Three, a title that aptly captures their current status:

PICTURES: Bernard Brand:

If there’s something that should be clear by now if following the career of pianist (and a string of other titles) Charl du Plessis, it’s not to expect the expected.

This artist thinks clearly about every step he makes and takes in his always-evolving career. This time the light shines brightly on the Charl du Plessis Trio, which have just released a new CD  ̶  not something rare for this trio, which includes Werner Spies (bass) and Peter Auret (drummer), and yet something unique in their recording history.

For the first time, says Du Plessis from the stage of their launch concert (which will be followed by a string of concerts around the country and probably internationally as well) they have workshopped this latest offering.

This is a result of a change in the Trio, with their original drummer relocating to China and being replaced with drummer/sound engineer Peter Auret, a man who has been seriously performing and recording with his own style very much in evidence.

As with any change, whether one is comfortable or not, especially in the creative sphere it often brings excitement, and in this instance, it seems a chemistry that has worked positively for the musos. “Peter is an experienced recording artist with his own studio and many awards. He speaks his mind and makes suggestions which changed the dynamics in the group,” says Du Plessis.

What it meant is that this latest effort was a much more democratic effort, he says  ̶  tongue-in-cheek. “Usually I would do the arrangements and hand them over to the others  ̶  a done deal.” But this time they workshopped the album with all three contributing arrangements on particular compositions. The change is dramatic, which is important when part of what you do is record. You don’t want all the albums to sound identical.

This has always been a Du Plessis trademark. As a pianist he has understood that to have a career on stage, he has to mix it up – but with thought.

The selection of music might puzzle those who aren’t familiar with the Trio’s work – dominated by classical music that is reworked and arranged to great effect. The days are long gone where audiences aren’t accepting of this kind of crossover especially when those in charge are adept in both genres – classical and jazz.

From Richard Wagner’s Pilgrim’s Chorus from Tannhäuser to Chick Corea’s Spain, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to When The Saints Go Marching In, the mix is eclectic and exciting and much of the fun is recognising the original composition and how they play with it in subtle, serious and expansive ways.

Adding a new skill, Du Plessis, fine tune’s his instrument.

And the recording itself was also an unusual one. Du Plessis, who has been recording for many years both in personal and in group capacity, has had a few unpleasant and perhaps less productive sessions in the past. Now, even with someone in the group who has the expertise, they still called in the specialists to do the recording – on the Atterbury stage, which was specially set up to replicate a recording studio.

One has to know that even these unique circumstances would have influenced the performance and the outcomes. That and the fact that the sound engineer in their midst could then take his time and work on the final product. “It truly shows,” says Du Plessis – and of course it will. Who would not make their own product simply the best?

All of this started as the second year of Covid uncertainty kicked in at the start of 2021. Artists have had a torrid time. Audiences are their lifeblood and these were not allowed. Imagine 50 people at a show  ̶  you don’t even cover the cost of staging the performance.

Making music is the focus:

Travelling overseas for concerts, which is a huge part of their year, was up in the air and Du Plessis decided their project would be the recording. “It was also time to establish Peter as part of our recording cycle,” he explains and they set out to create the perfect circumstances for an end product that would have all three of them smiling.

That’s exactly what they did on stage at the launch, which was a fun affair. Du Plessis kept the chatter to a minimum while the boys dressed in black with designer (I have to assume) tackies (just to add some informality to what might be perceived as too staid an event).

The other ingredient in this production is the Steinway concert grand piano, which Du Plessis (a Steinway artist) went to fetch for the Atterbury Theatre a couple of years back at the Steinway & Sons factory in Hamburg, Germany.

There you have the chance to test many different pianos to make a very personal choice. At the time, when playing something on the piano for the first time, his thought was how cool it would be to make a recording, but also perform live on stage on this exquisite instrument.

It was obvious when attending the concert and then listening to the recording, that they pulled it all off. These are three talented and dedicated musicians who pooled their skills to enhance the end product, and with piano, drums and bass in the mix, the sound is rich and pliable – and the music familiar and yet completely new.

Like with any Du Plessis concert, and I’m not exaggerating, it’s beautifully compiled – both live and on the CD – and all you have to do in both instances (which is the perfect combo, is kick back, embrace and allow the music to wash over you.

Two more concerts in Gauteng are on the cards:

A concert arranged by a group of friends:
 At 8 Kafue road, Emmarentia
6 November 18:00
Bookings: https://qkt.io/TRIO 
R750pp
And the following day:
 at the Linder Auditorium, WITS
7 November 16:00
Bookings: info@jms.org.za or at the door
R200pp