Celebrating both playwright Athol Fugard and the 45th anniversary of the Market Theatre, artistic director James Ngcobo turns to the earlier work to capture this moment in time. DIANE DE BEER reviews Blood Knot, the perfect choice for what feels like a re-awakening of live theatre:
PICTURES: SIPHIWE MHLAMBI
BLOOD KNOT BY ATHOL FUGARD
STARRING: Francois Jacobs (Morris) and Mncedisi Shabangu (Zacharia)
DIRECTOR: James Ngcobo
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Mannie Manim
PROPS AND SET DESIGNER: Nadya Cohen
THEATRE: Mannie Manim at The Market, Johannesburg
DATES: Until November 14 Tuesdays to Saturdays 7pm; Sundays 3.15pm;
From the time you lay eyes on Mncedisi Shabangu waiting to enter into the dreamworld of the two brothers in Blood Knot, it’s difficult to turn away.
His whole body seems to be drenched in sadness, and at this point you can’t yet see his eyes. But that is Shabangu’s strength. He climbs into a character almost stretching the skin to breaking point. And when he holds onto his centre like he does here, using his tools sparsely, it’s magnificent.
The two brothers (the one seemingly white, the other black) live in a dilapidated room somewhere in a township. Zacharia earns a living while Morris stays behind in the room, caring for his brother and their dreams.
He has his sights set on a small farm in Africa, but his brother’s desires are more immediate. What Fugard does so brilliantly is to thread the sadness of their lives through every breath they take, from start to finish.
It’s not in big gestures or huge events and that’s what makes it so painful to witness. It’s visibly there in everything they do. It’s where and how they live, their isolation, the way they keep polishing their dreams, which hopefully creates a life, and perhaps as an endgame, happiness.
They take small steps as long as they can keep the harsh world at bay, but as we all know, that’s impossible when something as visible as the colour of your skin determines not only your life, but your total being. And how does one buffer the pain?
That’s what Mncedisi manages to put across with his blend of naiveté and an almost childlike desire to secure some warmth and humanity in this place that doesn’t seem to hold any of that. And still he desires and dreams.
It’s in the rhythm of the way he both moves and speaks. Sometimes he takes it slow, then speeds it up, but always quietly so that when he raises his voice in either anger or joy, it cuts through the fabric of your soul.
That’s the kind of work this is, small and written with a quiet simplicity and yet, the issues are pressing against the walls of that room as if waiting to explode. Fugard knew that it is in these small stories, the everyday events that slip by unnoticed, that the depth of racism lies.
And especially this early work, the first that made the world step back and notice, makes it very clear how this kind of hatred permeates everything it comes into contact with – every minute of the day and night. It affected everything and everyone – the oppressed and the oppressors – and it still does.
Because Mncedisi’s character is the one who holds you tight and draws you in, Jacobs’s Morris could just disappear, but he has forged a strong presence, acts as the brother’s foil and allows the bond between these two disparate characters to evolve.
Ngcobo has always been a Fugard fan, both as an actor and as a director, and it is clear that this one, in The Market’s 45th celebratory year and Fugard’s upcoming 90th in 2022, is a heartfelt love letter. He has honoured the text and allowed the words and the actors to sing.
And with a full understanding of the nuances of the work Mannie Manim adds to the mood as he lights the space with great dexterity and delicacy.
It is in the simplicity that everything glows and allows you to step inside the pain and experience a life that can only be determined by others. Those of us who have had the privilege of planning our own futures with relative ease, may find it difficult to understand the lives of others. That’s what Fugard did so insightfully during the apartheid years when few voices managed to make themselves heard.
And in a world where racism has grown rather than diminished as one would have hoped, his plays are as relevant and even more poignant than when they were first written. Because we lived through those horrific years even if we were part of the privileged (rewarded for being born white), to witness what is happening today is excruciating.
When will the world learn that diversity is what makes it turn? Fugard said it then and is still saying it now. And yet we keep shunning the other and stomping on their dreams.
Ngcobo and his two actors are determined to shine the light – and they do so stunningly.
When author Gerda Taljaard is asked about her latest book at a book launch, she answers with a question: “What is better to write about than dysfunction?” Probably, on par with reading on the topic, agrees DIANE DE BEER:
With a book titled Vier Susters (Four Sisters), dipping into her favourite genre, domestic noir, Gerda Taljaard has created her favourite playground.
Set on a farm in Magoebaskloof, píctures form in your mind’s eye and the house itself becomes another character. You don’t have to listen too hard to hear the floorboards creaking and the rain lashing against the windows during a storm.
And Taljaard explains it best: the house is also a powerful Jungian symbol of the female psyche, which then links it to the Gothic romance tradition: a lingering evil, the prevalence of death, the appearance of the supernatural and the hysterical woman (in this instance, Beatrice), the result of suppressed sexuality.
“It becomes a psychological space,” she notes as she explains that she didn’t want to write what is a favourite genre in Afrikaans, a plaasroman (directly translated as farm novel).
With storms raging, water plays an important role in this novel. “It can be cleansing for those who feel troubled, a kind of baptism, or even represent undercurrents.” And the list goes on…
She wanted to make a more skewered stab at this almost comfortable setting (on the surface) with the homestead itself in a state of disrepair, as are the relationships between the four sisters. And that is how she stumbles into the story she wants to tell.
It’s 1945 and war is at the centre with an Italian prisoner of war, mangled by a leopard during his flight, finding his way into their lives. There’s also the complicated politics of the land, with language rather than race the issue.
All the siblings are on the farm in the house they grew up in, which now belongs to the eldest, the beautiful Beatrice, married to a rather weak man; Sophie, the worrier, married to an English man, and Ivy who finds refuge in her childhood home following an escapade with what would now be described as a terrorist group (based on the truth, with the main character also based on reality).
Very much the adjunct to the three sisters, Kittie lives in an outside room/servant’s quarters but was raised as one of the white family yet never fully embraced, almost allowed only to hover on the edges.
We’re dumped into the emotional and political timebomb right from the start as the sisters tread lightly while performing their ‘allocated roles’ in the family – roles many would recognise, as they’re part of family dynamics and dysfunction.
THE many many faces of author Gerda Taljaard:
While the author is also one of four sisters, her aim with the novel wasn’t just her own familiarity but also the fact that women don’t often take centre stage in these stories – even when they are so often at the heart of the home. “I did take courage from my own family, where strong women have always been a feature,” she says. But she also feels that women have to take their rightful place in the past. “Women should not be excluded.”
She points out that while they are a close family, the sisters are all so different in character, it’s difficult to spot that they are related. “I do, however, understand the dynamics of these kinds of relationships,” she says.
For Taljaard, the writing process is very specific. Once she knows that there’s something brewing, it’s the first sentence that opens the floodgates. “It’s what I need to get the writing to flow,” she says. She makes rough notes, not a framework, and the writing takes over. “It’s almost a spiritual process,” she explains.
And in this instance, her introductory sentence can be twofold: first there’s almost an introductory page, which makes much more sense once you’ve read the story but also introduces the sisters to you briefly and explains the name of the farm; and in Part 1, where the back story starts, one of the sisters arrives at the farm and stops to gaze at the mountains she hasn’t seen for some time. And then reflects on the brevity of life…
But there’s also a tribute in the front of the book from Tove Jansson’s the Summer Book:
At first, no one mentioned it. They had developed a habit, over the years, of not talking about painful things, in order to make them less painful. But they were very much aware of the house.
That presence also encapsulates her own story. On the sister she identifies with most, she points to Kittie. “There is something of me in all the sisters, but Kittie is the outsider and the one I feel a real kinship to,” she says. “She doesn’t fit in and I think there are many similarities.”
But more than anything it wasn’t her own siblings that came to mind when writing the book, it was her grandmother and her sisters who dominated her being, she confesses.
While we all love identifying the writer with the people she is writing about, with this one it doesn’t matter. We all have families, understand particular family dynamics and probably know dysfunction far better than we want to.
That’s what Taljaard does so well as she pulls you into her story. That and the writing. This was my first introduction to this author, who has obvious storytelling abilities but also a way with words, which is tough to capture if not in Afrikaans.
It is, however, the language, the way she juggles with words and concepts, her striking sketches of people, the way they think, trespass and trip through their lives that hold your attention – and finally your heart.
It’s also a story that’s so universal, it would be a pity if it’s not translated, giving it the accessibility it deserves.
Hopefully she will have another first sentence soon.
As things start opening slowly, the festivals are starting to show stronger movement and do things in innovative ways. As their contribution, the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) supported by Absa launched a virtual version of the popular Absa Kuierkamer, which is part of the festival each year and they keep adding more and more content, so keep checking their website and social media for future surprises. DIANE DE BEER shows the way:
“The KKNK has presented several online projects and productions over the past year (including Samsa Masjien by Jaco Bouwer quite recently, for example). It is an online festival where we offer the arts to everyone in the comfort of their home – whether it is on the television or computer screen, on the radio, on a smartphone, or on your doorstep – the KKNK is everywhere,” says Hugo Theart, Artistic Director of the KKNK.
The festival, which was temporarily put on hold last year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, will see Absa celebrating 16 years as a proud sponsor.
According to Theart, Absa has been involved with the festival for many years and they continue to support the arts in this challenging time with the world still grappling with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The Absa Kuierkamer has become an institution at the festival, a place where festival-goers are entertained and informed and can spend time together,” says Theart.
Dr Paul Baylis, Absa Senior Specialist Art Curator adds: “We’re bringing innovations that will extend the reach of the festival beyond its usual territories, in the process introducing new audiences to the festival.”
They have come up with is a series of virtual engagements, activations and talks offered during the online festival period to continue to make the arts, and possibilities found there for artists, a reality. “This digital art presence makes visual arts more accessible to diverse audiences, whilst also providing visual artists with a platform to explore and comment on issues that impact their lives,” says Bayliss.
The Virtual Absa Kuierkamer also mimics aspects of the host town of Oudtshoorn and will see numerous online activities presented where visitors are given access to a variety of multimedia content. “Functions are spread across the town and art lovers can explore various beacons and buildings, just as they would during the festival. The platform boasts a wealth of unique interactive features, and all these features are offered through a web-based application, which enables a seamless experience on computers and mobile phones,” adds Bayliss.
One of the highlights on the program is award-winning presenter Hannes van Wyk’s Coffee Table Talks (popularly known as Koffietafelgesprekke). Van Wyk talks to his guests about, among other things, the impact of Covid-19 on the arts and entertainment industry and explores ideas around the future of this industry.
Another virtual experience that will be presented, is a series of art documentaries titled Beyond the Canvas. These focus on themes that have an impact on the South African visual arts landscape. The themes range from technology, social media, tourism, and graffiti, to recycling and food in relation to the visual arts and will include both local and international guests sharing their thoughts and experiences.
In addition, a series of sixBusiness Talks is hosted by Absa’s Retail and Business Banking division (RBB) over the three-month period and will also see numerous guests invited to participate in conversations to find solutions to some of the country’s pressing questions. “Talks are compiled to focus on matters that contribute to the sustainability of our country at large,” Bayliss says.
Justin Schmidt looks at Renewable Energy and Manufacturing, James Noble sheds light on the world of Franchising, while Abrie Rautenbach highlights trends in Agribusiness. Fiks Dlamini focuses on opportunities in the Public Sector landscape and Kgalaletso Tlhoaele homes in on the importance of Enterprise Development.
Entertainment which can be enjoyed for free is also presented on the platform. These include 21 Life Lessons, a series where well-known and prominent South Africans share their life lessons; comedy segments by a few of our best comedians and storytellers; The Karoo Project, a special music series recorded by Zolani Mahola, Jitsvinger and Native Young in the Karoo during lockdown; and Oudtshoorn se mense, a series where residents not only showcase their talents, but also discuss the exceptional town and region. These sessions are available to all viewers to enjoy for free.
Starting with the music component, the KKNK is equally well-known for its music offering and the beautiful region of the Karoo, specifically the Klein Karoo, which plays host to this festival.
The Karoo Project was recorded by Rootspring Music in the desert landscapes of the Karoo and created in this amazing ecological space by musicians eager to play music again. The aim was to capture these soundscapes in their most raw and stripped-down form. Pippa Ehrlich, the Oscar-winning director of My Octopus Teacher, was a consultant on the project.
According to Yusuf Ganief, CEO of Rootspring NPC, their core purpose is to support artists and allow their creative expression to be the voice of conscience, to depict the mood of a nation. “TheKaroo Project was born through a need to find ways of expressing this voice during a very challenging lockdown period,” he says.
Mahola’s Thetha Mama is a reminder to humanity to reinvigorate the respect and humility that we once embodied towards Mother Earth. Jitsvinger’sDoenitis a head bobbing, high energy piece that speaks directly to one’s inner child and ability to move and let go. Graveyard by Native Young (Yannick Meyer & Mohau) is a deeply personal song about the ephemeral essence of life and mankind’s inevitable return to source – to nature.
Native Young’s Graveyard
Zolani Mahola’s Thetha Mama is now available to view in the Virtual Absa Kuierkamer’s theatre, via the KKNK-website as well as Jitsvinger’s Doenitlaunched in the beginning of October and Native Young’s Graveyardin the beginning of November.
It’s quite something to spend some time in these short bursts of laughter and memories. The short comic moments are almost like reading cartoons, while Mahola’s exquisite performance enveloped in her own Karoo musings linger magnificently and reminds one of the power of artists and how they state their thoughts and their expressions best- by sharing.
Absa also supports the KKNK’s second Virtual Gallery that opened its doors earlier this year. Bayliss is the curator of Absa’s exhibition, Emotion. Custom-made artworks by previous Absa L’Atelier participants, designed for this digital platform, are exhibited here. Stroll through the Virtual Gallery at www.kknk.co.za/afdeling/virtuele-gallery/.
And watch out for some exciting theatre in the not too distant future.
The Virtual Absa Kuierkamer is presented until the end of November 2021. Click here for an overview and virtual walk-through of the unique platform: https://bit.ly/3zW6RjP
Visit www.kknk.co.za and follow the quick registration process for access to the Virtual Absa Kuierkamer.
As a special highlight, Coenie de Villiers and Deon Meyer have put together an early Christmas concert especially for the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) and Oudtshoorn, to lead us into the festive season.
Audiences from across the country raved about De Villiers and Meyer’s Karoo Suite 1 & 2 and now these two masters and lovers of the Karoo have put together a special show, Karoo-Kersfees which takes place on November 25 and 26 at 7pm at the beautiful Surval Boutique Olive Estate in Oudtshoorn.
De Villiers is at home behind the piano for a Karoo programme that not only pays homage to the beautiful region, but also the Christmas season. “We can finally perform again. On top of that, we can do it under the stars in the Karoo. Come and share the Christmas spirit with us – it will be an honour to play for an audience again,” he says.
Meyer joins De Villiers on stage as they sing the praises of the Karoo, the starry night – and in particular, that one starry night thousands of years ago. “A Karoo Christmas concert under the stars. In the Karoo. After all the months of pandemic, lockdown and restrictions. It’s going to be magnificent,” says Meyer.
The production lasts 70 minutes. A limited number of tickets are available at Quicket at R250 per person. All Covid-19 protocols will be adhered to, and audience members must wear a mask at all times.
For inquiries, contact the KKNK office on 044 203 8600, send a WhatsApp to 065 285 2337, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
European Film Festival 2021: virtual and free of charge
“We are deep into our second year of confronting the threat of Covid-19, both in terms of our lives and our livelihoods. It has been difficult … everyone is affected. This year’s European Film Festival has been inspired by overcoming difficulty and challenge. Its theme, Healing Journeys, seems rather appropriate for our times. I take this opportunity to invite you – irrespective of whether you are a repeat or a first-time viewer –to join us on this year’s exciting cinematic, and healing, journey,” says EU Ambassador Riina Kionka.
DIANE DE BEER
European films have become quite a rarity locally, so when the European Film Festival 2021 announced that this year’s festival would again be virtual and free of charge following the success of last year’s first virtual outing, I was elated. It will be happening from 14 to 24 October, so make sure and tune in.
It was obvious from the first film I watched that, as always, the European film sensibility is very different from that of the rest of the world. Not only is their’s a very distinct identity, but each contribution comes from a different country with a very distinct flavour.
For some of us, certain countries will be more familiar than others and some of the films I selected to watch were determined by my curiosity about the unknown, while others had a familiar actor (Gerard Depardieu) or perhaps an issue which I have a particular interest in.
That’s one of the points of interest of European movies ̶ the stories they decide to tell. It deals with a contemporary world and the things that might be going right or wrong. That in itself is already fascinating. Which stories would feature strongly in this year’s festival?
A selection of 18 films, 13 of which have been directed by women, will be screened free of charge, providing a window onto what is fresh and new in the film industries of the respective countries, states the organisers.
Four new participants – the Czech Republic, Denmark, Switzerland and Ukraine – will complement those from last year: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, along with the return of Portugal.
Healing Journeys is this year’s theme, which runs through many of the films in fascinating fashion. And if there is something we need more now than perhaps in any other time in our lives, it is exactly that. That is perhaps also why women feature so strongly. Not only are they more in touch with their emotions (generally speaking), but as mothers and usually the more available parent in most families, they would be the ones who are most in touch and familiar with healing in society.
Because of the pandemic I suspect, the emphasis on mental health, for example, from a variety of sources has been more visible than previously. It is as if the severity of Covid 19 has given people permission to speak their minds about their personal circumstances. Think Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles.
Healing – be it mental, physical, spiritual or societal – is vital to the human condition, to our humanity, to our existence, according to the organisers. This applies both in South Africa and in Europe, they believe, where despite our different contexts and histories, there exists common experience and a mutual need for healing.
They explain that the films on show will present, through the lenses of European filmmakers, a snapshot of experiences of re-establishing oneself after sometimes traumatic and possibly cathartic experiences. They deal with journeys that include organic growth, transition, and processes of self-discovery. Many include a healthy dose of humour, bringing some possibly much-needed laughter into our lives. Much of the humour is of a more cerebral nature … films that make you smile and think at the same time.
In conclusion they note that these films present stories of hope, humanity and thought-provoking intrigue, showcasing new work by some of Europe’s most accomplished filmmakers alongside exciting new talent.
Here are a few of my picks, as well as some links to more details on the viewing process and the full programme. Nearly all of the films have won awards, with the newer films also certain to do so:
I couldn’t resist picking this one starring Gérard Depardieu, paired with the little known Déborah Lukumuena. Robust is the debut feature by Constance Meyer and it deals with an aging film star and a young security guard who has been tasked with taking care of him.
He is old and white with a huge ego (it seems), while she is young and black and busy training for a wrestling championship. They couldn’t be more different, but as these things work, despite their differences, they form an unlikely friendship.
With the inequality of their positions not only because of age but also because of the society they live in and the colour of their skin coming into play, it’s an intriguing watch. It’s subtle yet caring with a great sense of humour and humanity and the best from Depardieu in quite a while.
Germany (Mr Bachmann and His Class):
Citizens-in-the-making was the clause that caught my eye. That and the fact that it was a documentary. I didn’t realize that it was more than four hours long and that is quite a commitment, but I found it totally gripping for many reasons.
Mr Bachman is the teacher we all hoped for and wish our children could have. This ever-patient individual uses unconventional methods to inspire young students, all in the process of preparing for tuition in their next phase of learning, the equivalent of our high school.
They are all immigrants, in other words outsiders, and he is determined to give them an identity and a sense of belonging. And the way he tries to give these young students a healthy outlook on the people around them and in the process, wipe out prejudice, is quite extraordinary. What he is doing is giving his young charges life, showing the possibilities and the way we should treat everyone around us. It’s a good one to watch with the whole family and I’m sure you can probably watch it in bits. It is described as Maria Speth’s life-affirming documentary and I fully agree.
Ireland (The Bright Side):
Breast cancer and stand-up comedian is probably not two phrases that fit easily together. What makes it a perfect fit here though is one knows that most stand-ups use their platforms to talk about their lives. Whether they say it or not, or it’s as explicit as that doesn’t matter, but they are used to speaking their minds.
And if one knows anything about cancer and its treatment, it is that the mind plays an important part.
Ruth Meehan’s The Bright Side is a moving and surprisingly uplifting story especially because of the mindset of the lead character.
She’s not into this cancer cure stuff and while she is persuaded by her family to go for the treatment, the thing she didn’t expect was the people who would be doing chemo with her and thus play a huge role in her life.
We all know that the pandemic has had a massive impact on our lives and, perhaps more than anything for some, it’s about not taking anything for granted. In the past, probably the big C was the thing most of us feared most – but now we know there’s much more out there which could harm us. Looking at films that might impact on how you face life, dealing in blackly comic jokes and exit strategies, can be more entertaining than you thought.
Switzerland (My Little Sister):
This one is perhaps a harder sell. Not because it isn’t well made, but it is harsher and more disturbing, which is perhaps more than most of us can deal with now.
Writer-director duo Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond’s My Little Sister is an intimate, personal tale about sibling love in which a sister gives her all to support her ailing twin brother, and inspires herself at the same time.
It looks at how a family copes when one individual turns her full attention to the person who might be losing their life. And what that does to the rest of the family.
This was the film I was most drawn to, especially because of its country of origin. Apart from the Russians’ intimidating presence in that part of the world, it’s not really familiar to me – and especially with a story about young people, who are always quite a fascinating barometer of a country, I find.
Reading some theatre scripts recently, a young voice said she was writing the play because it was what she wanted to see. And this film feels similar. Kateryna Gornostai’s Stop-Zemlia deals with young adults on the cusp of making that leap. At the centre is an introverted schoolgirl and her classmates and how she navigates what she feels is becoming quite a fraught world. But I really liked the young lass and how she was dealing with everything around her – and in the end, I realised, people are people are people wherever they come from. A nice one for a family with teenagers. Should make for some interesting discussions.
United Kingdom (After Love):
In Aleem Khan’s ground-breaking feature debut After Love, Joanna Scanlan is quite extraordinary as a white, English Muslim convert uncovering secrets after the death of her husband. It’s something completely different as she discovers that he had another family.
How do you deal with a life once the person you have dedicated yours to, has left and you discover he is not who you thought he was?
Special Co-Production Presentation(Quo Vadis Aida):
It was the extraordinary collaboration that drew me to this co-production between nine European countries. That and the topic they were dealing with – refugees. And with the recent disastrous US flight from Afghanistan, the story is particularly relevant.
Also we’re dealing with an atrocious war which is seared into our memory because it was one of the first following the establishment of 24-hour news channels.
Oscar nominee Jasmila Žbanić’s Quo Vadis Aida? hones in on a UN translator is caught between doing her job and trying to help local inhabitants and her own family when the Serbian army takes over the small town of Srebrenica.
If your country collapses and you can’t stay, what does your life turn into. If we had asked this question a few decades ago, it would have felt like something that could never happen. No more, the number of refugees who have still not found permanent homes and who are constantly shunted from one border to another is ongoing all over the world. It’s terrifying and this film captures that horrific moment in people’s lives.
Please note that the films are geo-blocked for viewing in South Africa only. For film synopses, trailers and how to watch, please visit www.eurofilmfest.co.za
It’s the beginning of spring and the arts are taking a leap of faith as three of our Afrikaans festivals launch theatrical and cultural fests which offer a smorgasbord of theatre, art, books, dance, music and conversations – as light or intense as you could wish for. DIANE DE BEER gives you a roadmap of the Toyota US WOORDFEES:
For a few years now, Saartjie Botha and the Woordfees team have tried to deliver on as many different artistic desires as possible.
And this time, the viewing has also been looked at seriously. From October 1 to 7, Toyota US Woordfees will be broadcasting on DStv channel 150. If you are a subscriber, you can view all day and week if you wish (although they are still pleading that you pay for tickets to help the artists in these dire times, and those who can afford it, should make the gesture).
And if you don’t, the channel has the option of subscribing for a month, which might just allow you to check out their regular programming too and see whether it is something that might be worth buying into in the future – especially with the change of viewing habits currently.
With theatre my absolute passion, it’s the first place I go to and I’m immediately excited about the second coming together of the sublime Sylvaine Strike and Andrew Buckland. This time, they’re acting together with Toni Morkel, who was part of their first pairing (then director Strike and actors Buckland and Morkel) taking the directorial reins. You’d seriously be mad not to watch – with the added bonus of Jaco Bouwer capturing it on film.
Strike says that the names Ferine and Ferase derive from two chemical components luciferin and luciferase which exist in a firefly’s bum and make it glow. “So one without the other can’t make light, they have to be together to glow. Lots of fireflies in this show,” she adds.
The play was first created on commission by head of the Woordfees Saartjie Botha in September 2020, three-quarters of the way through the first tough lockdown and the idea was to create something that would show audiences why theatre is unique and exciting. Botha didn’t want a big set, she didn’t want audio-visuals, no multi-media, only pure theatre. “We want body and craft and what the actor is,” was the instruction.
They started writing remotely through October, November, December and in mid-January came into a rehearsal room with Morkel as director. With Bentel at the piano, they began to develop the story on their feet and to find a common language between her and Buckland, who both have very specific styles, but it was wonderful for her to perform again.
They discovered and developed a mutual style, which is largely based on clowning duos. Think Laurel and Hardy for example, that kind of world, very much a nostalgic, romantic story where they play three different characters each, with the narrators the main characters called … Ferine and Ferase who have a backstory of their own, and they tell a story as travelling players of Bucket’s End.
“It’s beautiful, it’s very physical, it’s gorgeously costumed with each a standard clowning costume that transforms into a couple of things,” she embroiders.
Of course, they were meant to play it on stage and they had a short trial run with a 45-minute version. For the current digital festival, the full play has been turned into a film, with Strike enchanted with Bouwer’s extraordinary transformation from stage into film, shot in studio, all in black and white, inspired by old movies.
Another production I would urge everyone to see is the 2020 Fiësta Award winner for Best Production: Die poet, wie’s hy?, a celebration of poet Adam Small’s work, starring Dean Balie with theatre direction by Frieda van den Heever, and film direction by Christiaan Olwagen. I had the advantage of seeing it live, but this is about words and music and it will translate well.
It was as perfect a production as anyone could wish for. At the time I hoped it could tour the country, and this will do brilliantly.
If you haven’t see the magnificent Jefferson Tshabalala, check in at Off the Record. He is a performance maverick and gives a take on life and the world which might shake you up a little and add some wisdom and perspective to what you viewed as life. You will be screaming with joy at the smartness of his moves. It’s structured as a satirical gameshow with guests.
There’s also the adaptation of Dominique Botha’s Valsrivier, which first played at the last live Afrikaans festival in 2020 before it was set to travel but with time and yet another chance to find its feet and settle in. With a cast headed by Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Tinarie Van Wyk Loots, Stian Bam, Wiseman Sithole, and Peggy Tunyiswa, as well as an award-winning turn by Robert Hindley and theatre direction by Janice Honeyman (filmed by Christiaan Olwagen), it should hit all the right spots.
Two new productions include Reza de Wet’s Miswith Nicole Holm, Martelize Kolver, Jane de Wet and Laudo Liebenberg directed by Wolfie Britz and filmed by Bouwer, as well as Adam Small’s Krismis van Map Jacobswith June van Merch, Ilse Klink, Dann-Jacques Mouton and Elton Landrew, theatre direction by Jason Jacobs, and film direction by Bouwer. The names involved in both productions say it all.
The Woordfees started as a festival of books and authors and this will always form a strong component, with the latest books by Nataniël, Lien Botha, Rudi van Rensburg, and Jeremy Veary part of the strong lineup, as well as a series of probing actuality discussions presented by the University of Stellenbosch.
With the university the backbone of the festival, classical music includes students and alumni with Zorada Temmingh on organ, Megan-Geoffrey Prins and the Amici String Quartet, the celebrated University Choir with the contemporary side showcasing David Kramer, Karen Zoid with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Deon Meyer and Coenie de Villiers in their Karoo salute, Amanda Strydom with Stadig oor die Klippers, as well as Spoegwolf and Die Heuwels Fantasties.
Celebrated chef Bertus Basson will introduce Stellenbosch delicacies with a few well-known Stellenbosch luminaries, while the wine route turns 50 this year and will be celebrating.
Movies spotlight Locked Doors, Behind Doors; Mike van Graan’s Some Mother’s Sons, Churchil Naudé in Die Ongtemde Stem and Ontluister – Die Geknoei met die Klank van Afrikaanse Musiek while stand-up comedy will feature Marc Lottering, Schalk Bezuidenhout, Nik Rabinowitz, Shimmy Isaacs, Alan Committie, Bennie Fourie, Alfred Adriaan, Melt Sieberhagen, Kagiso Mokgadi, Joey Rasdien, Hannes Brümmer, Conrad Koch and Wayne McKay.
Woordfees TV will broadcast predominantly in Afrikaans but will also include English and multi-lingual works. All Afrikaans narrative works produced by the Woordfees festival, such as plays and discussion, will have English subtitles. Fees TV will be available in South Africa on DStv Channel 150 from 1 to 7 October 2021, 24 hours a day, to all DStv Premium and Compact Plus subscribers. In Namibia, it will air on GOtv channel 15, with access for all GOtv Max subscribers. The Fees TV pop-up channel will also be available on DStv Now, and a selection of content on DStv Catch Up.
It’s the beginning of Spring and the arts are taking a leap of faith as three of our Afrikaans festivals launch theatrical and cultural fests which offer a smorgasbord of theatre, art, books, dance, music and conversations as light or intense as you could wish for. DIANE DE BEER gives you a roadmap (in three sections) beginning with AARDKLOP:
It’s time to catch some theatre with the Aardklop gang as they gather their artists with plays and music to entertain the Gauteng crowd deprived of regular live theatre and song.
There’s something old, something new, something for the young – and even something for those of us who too often feel blue.
Running from September 28 to October 3, it will be presented at Atterbury Theatre, the Voortrekker Monument and Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool.
Theatre is chosen with care to appeal to a wide range of expectations, with Sandra Prinsloo, Marion Holm, and Dawid Minnaar all returning with old favourites.
Prinsloo tells the heart-wrenching story of Oskar en die pienk tannie, which showcases the relationship between a carer and her young ward who is dealing with his own trauma.
It is magically written and performed.
Minnaar also takes a look at an unusual friendship in Monsieur Ibrahim en die blomme van die koran directed by Philip Rademeyer. Crossing cultural, religious and age barriers, it’s a story that is gently balanced between sentiment and sensitivity. And how we have to be open at all times to receive lessons life wants to throw at us.
Marion Holm isn’t exactly doing an old show, but she has gone scratching around and taken another look at stories she told long long ago – which might be reworked and return in dark times while shining a light on our blessings. But more than anything I know, this performer, even in these times, doesn’t know how to stop the laughter. She’s funny when she starts talking.
Frank Opperman knows how to perform solo and hold the attention. He’s back and this time he’s performing in an adaptation of Zirk van den Berg’s award-winning adult fairytale Ek Wens, Ek Wens. It could have been written with him in mind. Seb is a grey little man with a rather sad life. He’s an undertaker. Until one day when he meets an angelic child, Gawie. This magical meeting raises the question about his life and what he would wish for if he had only one chance. The book on which this solo performance is based won the WA Hofmeyer Prize as well as the kykNET-Rapport prize. And then for those double pairs:
First there’s Brendon Daniels and Deon Lotz in Kamp, which is perfect festival fare as they go camping and discover on their first night that they’re not quite as prepared as they should have been. No matches? And that’s only where it starts. It’s all about bonding in nature when you find yourself outside of your comfort zone. The acting combo is stunning and as the boys bond in this buddy genre, it’s much more about the fun and games than wilderness weirdness.
Brendon steps in again and this time he is partnered by the talented Tinarie van Wyk Loots in Opdrifsel, written and directed by Philip Rademeyer. A married couple is dealing with the heartache of losing a child and hope to focus on reclaiming their lives and recover from such an overwhelming tragedy.
In conclusion, Nataniël will be performing as part of the Aubade series at Afrikaans Hoër Seunskool on October 3 at 11am and 3pm as the narrator with Charl du Plessis and Megan-Geoffrey Prins (both on piano) and a chamber orchestra presewntingKaranaval van die Diere (Saint-Saëns) and Pieter en die Wolf (Prokofiev).
Both of the texts have been rewritten by Nataniël (in Afrikaans, one translated from a previous English text also written by the artist) and he underlines that while these were originally created with children in mind, neither he, his texts nor his clothes will appeal to children in any form. “No one under 15 should even consider attending,” he warns.
Spirare (meaning to breathe) is the talk show series of the festival. Here are some of the highlights:
First off, there’s an invitation to write a long WhatsApp about the Voortrekker Monument, which will be followed by a discussion lead by Kabous Meiring with guests Gielie Hoffmann, Fransjohan Pretorius and Henk van der Schyf about this still-dominant Pretoria historical site.
Meiring will also take the topic in a more general direction by looking at all monuments, statues, town, city and street names. Joining her are Prof. Anton van Vollenhoven, Lindie Koorts, Lyntjie Jaars and Danie Langner
The head honcho of Aardklop, Alexa Strachan, with guests Christo Davids, Chris van Niekerk, Deon Lotz and Brendon Daniels will focus on Festivals and discuss the accusation that they are freak shows.
Supper met die Sotte gathers some of our country’s top comedians (Schalk Bezuidenhout, Shimmy Isaacs, Rasdien and TJ Strydom) to attack everyone and anything with humour and satire.
Cornelia Faasen and her guests Dr Theuns Eloff, Lizz Meiring, and Dr Ismail Mahomed are given the title Wie Stook Watter Kool en Wie Blus die Brand. They will be looking at the responsibility of artists to stoke, stir or stroke the populace.
Municipalities are caught in the headlights with Lourensa Eckard and guests Theo Venter and Theuns Eloff talking about local government and the solutions to the current breakdown all around the country. Is it the turn of the citizenry to take control of their lives?
Political and social commentator Heindrich Wyngaard asks whether South Africans get angry about the right things? Why do they get so angry about certain topics and others they simply ignore? Should we pay attention to everything and shift our focus around? Or are we getting what we want and need?
And perhaps now is the best time to talk about swotting and whether drama is still an option. Many careers have been hard hit during the pandemic and the arts, because it is so reliant on audiences, more than most. And often artists are so busy trying to survive, they don’t have time to sharpen skills, which could see them through tough times. Tinarie Van Wyk Loots, Christo Davids and Sandra Prinsloo speak their minds.
It’s almost like experiencing a command performance when speaking to Nataniël about his momentous week at the beginning of October. DIANE DE BEER explains:
Being who he is with all his talents on display, it’s a busy time, even though Nataniël complains that none of his hard work is paying dividends at the moment. But we know it will. If there’s one thing he knows how to do without thinking about it, it’s being creative.
Hardly a thought crosses this uber-active mind without its generating some future event. Most people would collapse just listening…
It starts with two concerts which conclude the Aardklop Opwipfees as part of the Aubade series at Afrikaans Hoër Seunskool on October 3 at 11am and 3pm with Nataniël as the narrator and and Charl du Plessis and Megan-Geoffrey Prins (both on piano) with a chamber orchestra forKaranaval van die Diere (Saint-Saëns) and Pieter en die Wolf (Prokofiev).
Both of the texts have been rewritten by Nataniël (in Afrikaans, one translated from a previous English text also written by the artist) and he underlines that while these were originally created with children in mind, neither he, his texts nor his clothes will appeal to children in any form. “No one under 15 should even consider attending,” he warns.
He also points out that while he isn’t allowed to interfere with the music, he will. “It is deceptively difficult and I’m sure I will have something to say at rehearsal!”
People should book because tickets are limited to 250 – and you don’t want to miss this one!
“And” says Nataniël, “if you’re an adult and you’re not fond of the classics, there are always rusks.”
Or, perhaps you might want to pop in just to see how he solved the problem of reading the text on stage. “No one knows about my reading glasses and I’m not going to buck that trend,” he says.
The following day is the launch of his latest television series Terwyl Ek Wag, which for him is the logical follow-up to his Nantes series in which he travelled to this historical university and cultural city to investigate and explore his roots.
This time he plays inventively and imaginatively, as he does, with the arrival of the Huguenots. The stage is set on the original farm of one of the four Le Roux families (from Normandy and not his own). It is a place he discovered many moons ago and at the time wished he could do something there. Now’s the time.
“It’s a farm that looks like a farm, not a shopping mall,” he says pointedly, referring to the over-developed wine farms he loves to hate.
What they do in the series is to explore the skills of the time, like soap-making but also appreciate the artistic tendencies of the current family who returned to their ancestral farm some time ago. “They’ve tried to respect the past and, for example, maintained and restored some of the old buildings and pursue things like gardening,” he says. You might even find fairies if you look carefully.
And for Nataniël there is something about starting a second life. “If I had to do that now, I want a bed, a gas flame and table for cooking, and an art gallery,” he says. He rejects all the frippery and trappings in this new life and names it antique minimalism.
Focussing on the food for the series, he hoped to create dishes that look as though they had their origins in a painting. “I like food that appears to be quite rough and ready.” Anything from the garden with lots of flour and which resembles pictures from children’s books, appeals to him.
It’s not historically researched as such, but what he made had to come from an old-fashioned farm – that’s the feel. The crew (of which his sister Madri was a part) ate everything he made.
As always, he emphasizes that he isn’t a chef. “I have zero technique,” he says, but lots of inspiration from chefs like Topsi Venter and Rachel Botes. (The recipes will appear on his blog in English after the broadcast of each programme.)
The series, which is broadcast on kykNET (144), is 13 episodes long and they also have an astonishing documentary, which will be screened at the end of the year about the making of the soundtrack.
In past seasons he could find appropriate music for his French series but this time he decided to compose everything himself – and this is what the documentary spotlights. “The music is as dramatic as the series,” says the drama genius.
“Everything in my series is curated,” he says and anyone who has seen this producer at work knows that what he says is what he means – EVERYTHING. And you can see that from the costumes to the cuisine.
We’re speaking French Huguenots; think collars and creativity. Fashion looms large, from the signature opening scenes to the final curtain.
And for those who are waiting for his annual stage show, even with the harshest of Covid restrictions, he is determined to step on stage with all the pomp and splendour his audiences love. “I don’t care how many see this one.”
One gets the feeling, indulgent or not, this one is for him. And if he is the audience, I want to be there – even if he feels that as actors they have been denied audiences – stupidly. “Our audiences are intelligent, don’t scream or chat, they’re silent, socially distanced as required and masked.” But to make a living, 50-strong audiences didn’t even cover the costs. Fortunately this has changed to 250, hopefully in time.
Titled Moscow and, luckily for Pretoria, staged at the Atterbury Theatre from October 5 to 10, the show will feature full costumes, full band and full lighting. But more than anything as always, it will be about the content and the chanson.
He feels this isn’t a time of laughter and frivolity but rather an exploration of chaos and order, insight and inspiration and, of course, a celebration of the most beautiful month of the year ̶ October.
But even in his most philosophical mood, this storyteller is someone who views the world in a way that few can match ̶ and whether he tries to make you laugh or even when it’s not that funny, the way he describes even a disaster will have you in stitches.
And there’s the music, original compositions and selections from old songbooks with the music of Dusty Springfield and the Mills Brothers, for example.
And even if you don’t like dramatic music or costumes … “there will be rusks”. That’s a promise.
Also on display, before and after the show, will be the collection of his unpublished Kaalkop columns,107 Kaalkoppe,which he advises you to buy and read, one story a day. “There’s a specific rhythm involved in a book like this. Like a column, you shouldn’t read three or four at a time! Savour each one and do one a day ̶ or even a week.”
He promises loads of fun and bookends the collection with an introductory and concluding story. And for those who want to hear him chat about his Kaalkop journey, he will be part of the Woordfees festivities on Channel 150 (DStv) from 1 to 7 October (see details on website later). Or check it out at Woordfees link, supplied below.
THE thing that strikes one most with the two latest of Vincent Pienaar’s novels, is the joy. It’s something that he ascribes to and it works as you jump into what might not be an entirely happy premise and yet, you are taking off on an adventure. DIANE DE BEER gets some thoughts from the author and also speaks her mind:
It was as if even when dealing with serious issues in some instances, there’s always laughter bubbling just below the surface.
He has done it again in his latest book Limerence (Penguin Books), which is described as something that when you’ve got it, enjoy it. And advises you on the front cover, that if you don’t know what the title means, look it up!
As with the previous book, his first sentence immediately gets your attention: “Did you know that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil?”
And then he meanders on to tell you why.
But that is the interesting thing about Pienaar’s storytelling, he jumps into a place, drags you along and has you smiling (if sometimes unwillingly) on the ride.
This time it’s the story of a man whom women love to hate but can’t resist. They know he will get away with it over and over again, so when he approaches four women he was involved with, all with a similar proposition, they’re reluctant yet fall for his preposterous proposition – and only start breathing fire when they discover all four of them (yes, the ego always intercepts) have been handed the same will.
Pienaar explains that the story evolved bit by bit, as his stories always do.
“I was amused by the idea of a person giving different people identical last will and testaments.”
And then he allows us to see his wandering mind, to show the process: “Why would he do that? Because he’s not dead and he wants money. As simple as that? No. Greed may be a good enough reason in real life, but in fiction you need more motivation. So he’s in trouble. He needs money quickly. For what? Unpaid debt? Maybe, but not sexy enough. He must want to do it for somebody else. Enter Julie with her three children, enter Sabelo, enter Pieter, enter Mr Downey and on and on.”
That’s when the characters get up and running and sometimes it feels as though they’re dictating where he goes. “My characters never allow me to pull anything together. The women, all from different decades, presented the perfect platform to tell the story of Johannesburg (specifically Hillbrow and Melville and later Yeoville) from the 1970s to the present. But they are all strong, which made their backstories interesting, and how the story evolved is a matter of their making. I really liked the idea of a character sauntering in and out of Melville, infuriating the women endlessly.”
Talking about the title and the obvious delight he finds in words and writing, Pienaar confesses that he liked the idea of “finding your own voice”. But that’s easier said than done.
While you are trying to find and establish that, you are constantly being shoved into the grammar trap of do’s and don’ts. That he believes (and I agree) “smooths the peaks and valleys of the text onto a pothole-free highway of blandness”. It was a struggle, but having read both books, the Pienaar personality is unashamedly there and he’s having the best time. When an author does that, how can the reader resist?
But back to the title: he was almost finished with a book provisionally named I Love Crazy when a friend introduced him to the word “limerence” and voila, he had his title. “After I found out what it meant I worked it into the story.”
He also struggled to get a name for the main character, until a friend’s dog died. “The dog was named Scout and I decided my main guy would be Scout. This led to Scout (To Kill aMockingbird), Holly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Clarissa (Mrs Dalloway), Daisy (The GreatGatsby), etc. Even Ripley is from the movie.” And the games go on with or without the story, which is part of the fun.
Having published in both Afrikaans and English, he says: “I write competently in Afrikaans, but I write comfortably in English.”
Yert he still thinks his funniest work is Jo’burg die Blues en ŉ Swart Ford Thunderbird and he’s just completed an Afrikaans play inspired by the murder of Charl Kinnear.
But he admits that the voice he has found takes courage and he doesn’t yet have that in Afrikaans. “The Afrikaans grammar Nazis scare the shit out of me.”
If you’re wondering about writing in the time of Covid, “I didn’t want the book to become a dark tale of people darting about in the shadows, jealously guarding six packs of beer under dirty overcoats.” And with that line, he has a full explanation in the front of Limerence.
What he likes pushing to its limit is humour (not necessarily funny) in any work of fiction, no matter how bleak or dismal the story. “It’s what keeps the reader reading (or amused, if you like),” he believes.
I don’t totally agree with that premise, because there are many different things that keep me reading depending on the writing and the story being told. But I do like Pienaar’s intent and style. And I love the way he runs off in all kinds of directions to say something that he finds amusing and wants to include in his story.
He describes this penchant as a noble one.
“If you watch any of the movies in Nora Ephron’s trilogy (When Harry met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle), it’s all about the playfulness and not about laugh-out-loud funny.”
Pienaar is on a roll and while he feels he has almost stumbled on a style with Tsunami, the next book is provisionally called A Man, a Woman and a little White Dog named Floof. But don’t attach too much importance to the title, that might change, as Limerence reminds us.
He’s hoping because of the Ephron fan he is, these three might be considered a trilogy – perhaps an homage.
CAST: Paul Slabolepszy, Frans Rautenbach, Jana Cilliers, Graham Hopkins, Anthony Coleman
A confession to start this review: I have always been a Paul Slab fan. Not only of his writing, but also of his acting. And probably more than anything, of his passion as an artist.
There’s also his friendship/collaboration on (and off) stage and on film with the late Bill Flynn, which gave so many of us pleasure and memories.
That’s why this movie appealed to me right from the start. In real life there’s a youthful exuberance to Slabolepszy that few can imitate and it is exactly that quality that inhabits the world of Mr Johnson – his character and the story.
You have to let your imagination run riot – but that’s often the case when Slabolepszy’s involved. David Johnson has been in a coma for 47 years. He wakes up at the age of 73, which is what the movie deals with.
This is a man who when 20-something has an accident, which puts him in a coma. When he wakes up, obviously, his whole life has changed – both the physical reality of who and what he has become, but also technologically with smart phones and the internet, to name just a few.
Fortunately money isn’t a problem. What the director wanted to deal with was old age and people being discarded and ignored. And to have Slab as your vehicle is smart thinking because he brings the impetus to this Cinderella type story – the down and out ageing “20-something” is something probably only he could pull off.
And he does – with charm and wit, the perfect antidote in today’s world. There’s much to complain about; a first-time director with first-time mistakes, a script that truly tests your BS detector, and questionable decisions on too many levels.
But then there’s the appeal of Slab, the fact that they are dealing with ageing, something that features abundantly on film, stage, books and television simply because of the Baby Boomer numbers and thus higher visibility. It is part of the zeitgeist. And there’s the excellent use of some star power we’re more used to seeing on stage than on screen like Jana Cilliers, a great (also sentimental) choice as the love interest, a superb cameo by Graham Hopkins, and a hardly-ever-seen Judy Broderick, who feels as if she has been missing in action.
When I started watching, I had only read the first few lines of the synopsis and thought I was seeing a more serious movie than the one I was about to watch. However, in these times when few people need anything serious, this fantasy romp with some serious underlying issues is probably just about the right temperature.
And who can resist Paul Slabolepszy, all dressed up and ready to go.
It doesn’t matter how much good streaming is available to us in our brand new world, quiet time with a good book cannot be replaced by any of the noise around us and gives us a chance to escape to somewhere completely different – and we can decide how and where. DIANE DE BEER looks at a few of her most recent choices…
In a time when lots of reading is possible, it’s been great to catch up with books by authors I have neglected for far too long. Damon Galgut is one of those and I sure picked the right one to enter his world.
I have found when reading as much as I do now but also as I grow older, that the thing that interests me most when it comes to choosing books and really getting into the heart of whatever matter the author wishes to explore, is innovative storytelling.
And that’s what moved me most with Galgut’s latest, which already has the accolades and possibility of awards (Booker, for example) streaming in. The topic, our apartheid past, has long not yet been exhausted, but to keep readers engaged you have to find a way to look at familiar tropes and topics that is as innovative as it is engaging.
The Promise (UMUZI) does that in spades – for me. I have heard others complaining with passion about his lack of empathy with his characters and more, but none of this came into play for me in his particular telling of the story.
One of the many podcasts I listened to about the novel and the writing is that Galgut was exploring a new way of telling the story. He found the magic carpet for my ride and he loved that he had found a different voice, as did I.
I could feel that even when dealing in very heavy subject matter, especially for readers in this country at this time, there was a lightness about the telling which was joyful to read.
It’s the story of four siblings in a particular family and the events unfold around four funerals of different generations of this same family. This means it is set in different times in a country that underwent huge changes , with a different president , for example, at the telling of each tale. Not that the president and the politics are in the forefront.
What plays out in this particular family is the dictum that where you are born and how you are raised, all have an impact on who you become. And it all circles around a promise that was made a long time ago which has never been kept and has everything to do with the country we live in.
I loved the originality, the elegance of the writing and what lies underneath the story for each individual reader to unwrap.
For something completely different, Viet Thanh Nguyen, who wrote so sharply about the Vietnam war in The Sympathizer turns his gaze to a different country – and even continent – France. I couldn’t help smiling in The Committed(Corsair) as he turns his acerbic gaze on the French; and as we have discovered, those who read the first novel, in the way he treated the Americans and turned their interpretation of the Vietnam war on its head, he takes few prisoners.
But while he might be telling the story in colourful gangster style, there’s nothing rough and ready about his opinions of the latest country he has decided to tackle.
Walking through Paris (even today) with even its touristy streets very sharply defined by different races, it’s easy to spot the heart and soul of this majestic city.
And in this time of refugees, Nguyen starts his latest novel with the following penetrating sentence: “We were unwanted, the unneeded, and the unseen, invisible to all but ourselves. Less than nothing we also saw nothing as we crouched blindly in the unlit belly of our ark.”
This is not going to be an easy read and yet, the pace is fast and furious, and you have to get with the programme to keep up with his sharp comments and incisive opinions as he tells a story of corruption, complicity and companionship only if you can bring riches to the table.
“That’s not a French name they would say … All I had to do was change my name. I’ll admit, I tried on some different names, it didn’t feel right. And I thought, I went to your schools, which are my schools. I learned your language, which is my language. I don’t feel Arab at all, except when people call me an Arab. And that’s not enough? Now I have to change my name, which my parents gave me? And I knew this would not be the end. They would never stop. They would not be happy until I married a woman who looked like them, gave them children who looked more like them than me, made friends only with them. Either I could be one hundred percent French or I could just be a dirty Arab, so instead I decided to be one hundred percent gangster.”
It’s a small passage in a large book, but it captures the essence of both the story and the world we currently find ourselves in, where everything that has been done to others has festered and turned into a ferocious beast who has no way of protecting itself or those of us watching.
There’s a third in the trilogy on its way and I can’t wait.
If you’re a Deon Meyer fan there’s no need to read this but if you’ve never met the detective duo Benny Griesel and his partner Vaughn Cupido, get a life.
Most of us read a thriller at some stage of our life and because it has meant big money for many authors (probably in this country as in many others, the only authors who have any chance of making money), there’s a landscape of books to choose from.
South Africans are blessed to have one of the most successful in the world in this genre in our midst – Deon Meyer. Personally, I fell in love with his stories because of the South African landscape he established.
He might be wearing rose-tinted spectacles but I prefer to think not, because what he has done is focus on the characters and no one can argue that while we might have some of the worst politicians in the world (they didn’t really have any role models?), we also have some of the best people.
There’s not a day that goes by that one of my fellow citizens doesn’t put a smile on my face, and it is that element that Meyer captures so well.
Then of course he also spins a good yarn. He has all the fodder available right under his nose but also in today’s zeitgeist, and he has captured that brilliantly in the past. And again in this latest novel, Donkerdrif (Human&Rouseau), (if you can, read it in Afrikaans, but the translations are good and should be available very soon) which latches onto all the evils that drive our world today: greed, power, money, corruption… and the list is endless.
We know the formula although Meyer is too smart to make it thus, but Benny and Vaughn will win the day and we will be there rooting for them all the way.
Starting this column with a book that is all about the writing and the storytelling, it is perhaps apt that I conclude with one that didn’t succeed for me in especially the familiar way the story unfolds.
We’re still reading about World War 1 and 2 and I suspect it will go on for a long time, as it should. Lest we forget and the horrors are repeated is the age old explanation and that’s true, but if you are going to focus on telling stories that capture a specific time, you are going to repeat versions of stories that came before which happened for me in mark Winkler’s Due South Of Copenhagen (Umuzi).
After all, the two boys with surnames Fritz and Udengaard aren’t the first with German or German-sounding surnames bullied by their schoolmates even 30 years after the war. So come at it with a fresh angle, a different vantage or you won’t keep my attention. I have heard and seen too many different versions and after a while, you switch off.
Winkler’s snapshot of the past is beautifully captured, he writes masterfully and perhaps from my point of view, it is best read by a younger generation who would not know about these intimate stories set against a larger backdrop.
But for me, the small-town idiosyncrasies of a specific time and place, two youngsters thrown together because of the prejudice against them, wasn’t enough to keep my attention. Because it was well written, I finished the reading, but it was in one ear and out the other as quickly as I turned the last page.