DIANE DE BEER
When a festival in these lean times boasts two productions the scale of the Marthinus Basson-directed MI(SA) and Brett Bailey’s Samson, there’s a certain expectation and excitement attached to the execution.
And the performances were no let-down. But it’ s also the magnitude of the input from many and on different levels to produce these shows that’s humbling.
Economics prohibit more work on this scale, especially as many of these shows don’t have a future because of costs, which makes a Bailey production, the first time at the Woordfees, so extraordinary.
MI(SA), for example, was the brainchild of the CEO of the National Afrikaans Theatre Initiative (NATi) Cornelia Faasen, who initiated (and sponsored with Woordfees and Suidoosterfees) the production, which included the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Missa Luba, the Argentinean Misa Criolla and a new work by South African composer Antoni Schonken with a text Die Nuwe Verbond – ‘n misorde vir die universum by Antjie Krog.
That’s quite a mouthful, also to watch and experience, but so beautifully conceived and executed with a brilliant creative team from design to choreography to a choir who worked tirelessly to perform not only one but three different compositions in the same concert – which is what turned this into such a special encounter.
The nature of an arts festival isn’t always ideal for spectacle or pieces that ask much, but without them, it would disintegrate into a popcorn affair which would leave many dissatisfied. One simply has to bite the bullet to reap the rewards. And this was how I experienced this one.
I am a music lover rather than someone with the knowledge to review/critique but often in these instances, I think it adds rather than detracts from the experience. Listening to those who know their music discuss the merits of the production, there was both apprehension and certainty in equal measure, but I wallowed in the three different approaches, the rhythms, the instruments, the choreography by Ina Wichterich and Sifiso Kweyama (including a contortionist telling a compelling visual story in a completely different medium), Amanda Strydom who has done the Criolla before and with her distinctive tones could also recite Krog’s inventive text, the courageous choir, the soulful soloists and the splendid orchestra, who all contributed to something special.
I would have liked a second viewing, once was perhaps just too expansive to take it all in, but what was there to be absorbed was the perfect start to an arts festival. It will be performed again at the Suidoosterfees on April 28 at 2pm at Artscape.
And with Brett Bailey the conclusion, who could have asked for more. In typical fashion while describing the whole process in the festival paper, he also said in a discussion after the first show that he settled on Samson as the story because of the Pointer Sisters’ song Fire and he starts singing Well, Romeo and Juliet, Samson and Delilah…
But that’s Bailey who puts on a show with such fire that at first viewing one can’t help burning up. It took a second viewing, a luxury at an arts festival, to take in the full scale of this massive production. It can be overwhelming but once you sit back and allow the story to unfold with everything available; a compelling narrator, a brilliantly animated backdrop, actors/dancers/singers, music and musicians, in typical Bailey fashion, it’s all there as he deals with a dysfunctional and destructive world in a way that tears at your heart.
It’s going to the National Arts Festival where most of his works have been shown locally. If you’re going feel blessed and book now.
Apart from these two superstars, Basson and Bailey, the festival also showcased some feverish solo productions from both experienced and young performers; James Cairns cleverly translating his Nick Warren text Dirt to Stof and thus finding a new audience in his faultless Afrikaans, directed by the innovative Jenine Collocott who also guided the bubbly Babbelagtig;
Craig Morris who returned with old favourite Johnny Boskak (which he has also translated into Afrikaans for Oudtshoorn’s KKNK this week) and proves that a good performance will make a play last forever;
and a new voice from Jefferson J Dirks-Korkee with Rooilug, an authentic tale of abuse and a performance of endearing charm.
Two-handers also held sway with Cintaine Schutte (opposite Albert Pretorius as the perfect foil) giving an astounding performance that leaves one breathless in the Nico Scheepers directed Tien Duisend Ton;
with Brendon Daniels and Waldemar Schultz strikingly coming together in Die Road Trip, a festival winner with a clever text and a buddy theme that never alienates women, quite a rare thing. Both will be on show at the KKNK.
The other big production hitting hard was Sylvaine Strike’s magnificent vision of Beckett’s Endgame, never an easy text to engage with or execute. But with a blindingly brilliant performance by Andrew Buckland as Homm, the seriously silly adjutant played by Rob van Vuuren, as well as the hysterical Antoinette Kellerman and Soli Philander whose exquisite hands do most of the expressive talking, it was mesmerising in visual and emotional context.
Saartjie Botha’s Toutjies and Ferreira arrived with big-time Fiësta accolades in what could almost be described as a double bill, so different are the two halves. They’re even directed by different directors with Nicole Holm in charge of the first madcap backstage romp, while Wolfie Britz pretty much plays himself in that and then directs the emotionally charged stage show starring a luminous Frank Opperman and Joanie Combrink as parents who are packing up the belongings of their recently immigrated last child.
Two others are already settled in different countries with Combrink’s character confessing that they have children and grand-children on four continents. It’s an emotional rollercoaster with Kellerman’s director proclaiming madly that the theatre cannot exist without ladders, all of which flows into the loss of grieving parents unable to see that other avenues could make their load lighter.
Marthinus Basson describes Die Gangsters as one of his favourite productions giving a nod to the writer, Dr Ben Dehaeck. The piece was first performed at the Breughel Theatre in Cloetesville in memory of the inspired theatre maker and teacher, and now two years later it has returned with new life and an ensemble cast who sparkle and shine as they take ownership of a story with great gusto. Audiences responded in large numbers and the piece blossomed with creativity and cunning performances.
Unfortunately, at art festivals, some productions are too big to see at the first performance and yet, the programme is so hectic, there’s no other option. Everything about Katvoet excited me about the prospect of witnessing another performance at the KKNK, which I will do. It starts with the robust adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Nico Scheepers and a cast featuring Marius Weyers (Big Daddy) and Marion Holm (Big Mama) as the battling parents, Tinarie van Wyk-Loots as Maggie, Laudo Liebenberg (Boela), Albert Pretorius (Buffel) and Martelize Kolver (his wife Jollie).
Adapting and reimagining a classic is a tough ask, but here it is viewed from a new and younger perspective with less angst about the prescriptions, which offers different insights.
It was an exciting theatrical selection but that’s just some of what was on offer at a festival which started out celebrating books. It still does that while embracing the full spectrum of the arts wholeheartedly. It’s become one of our most important festivals not only because it is based in and attached to a university (although that helps) but also because of the spirited leadership of Saartjie Botha who is constantly pushing the envelope while ignoring the parameters.
That’s what the arts should be – a platform for all artists.