It’s a time for festive celebrations and collective reflection Nataniël tells DIANE DE BEER as he elaborates about his end-of-year show at the Atterbury Theatre, Butterfly running from December 1 to 6 and again at the beginning of February but this had to be moved to May 14 to 18 because of lockdown:
This is not a time to pontificate, be prescriptive or preachy. It was the end of a tough year with calamitous interruptions of which no one knows the outcome – yet – but with his traditional festive season show, Nataniël wanted to spotlight the effect of this period of isolation without dwelling on Covid19 specifically.
He mentions love and loss, neglect and honesty, blame and forgiveness, insanity and hope, all of which he investigates from his unique vantage, inspired by his continued isolation.
For some of us, being cut off from the rest of the world might have been frightening but for others it was a time to exhale, try to regain a sense of focussed living. “I discovered I quite enjoyed the frugal lifestyle that resulted,” says this artist of extravagance, and he immediately points to his costumes for this show specifically.
Deciding on their design route, he and his long-time designer Floris Louw went big. “Once the shops opened, we could buy fabrics but nothing new was coming into the country,” he notes.
Anyone who knows his particular bent to surprise will know that this simply wasn’t good enough. And because they had to work from different towns, it all happened digitally. “We found all these fabrics that I had bought and never used for previous shows, pieces that could be mixed and turned into something else.”
And it is all this improvisation that brings a different kind of creativity to the surface. In the end, the costumes might have had an element of frugality in terms of what was available, but being the artists they are, these garments are even bigger and more spectacular than before.
That’s Nataniël. Make it tough and he will find a way to make it work. While the theatres are only allowed a 50% capacity, the costs of staging a show remain the same.
He is flummoxed about the fact that theatres are compared to rugby matches in the pandemic sense because it has been found internationally that theatres are some of the safest venues around. “Audiences sit quietly and listen to a show. There’s no communicating and cheering or physical touch. But we still have similar costs as if the auditorium is fully packed. Theatres aren’t charging you only 50 percent fees,” he notes.
And again being artists, they don’t provide 50 percent shows. Once they decide to step up, it’s all systems go – and with more than a few months of dark theatres, there’s an excitement bubbling as the doors are still opening slowly yet with exuberance.
Musically he believes he has made accessible choices. “This is easy on the ear,” he says as he turns to his text which consists of different stories – not dealing with the pandemic directly and yet, he has been intrigued by the way individuals have reacted to these unexpected challenges. “People talk about going back to normal. I don’t want to go back.’’ This is a time for change and that’s the extraordinary opportunity he hopes many will embrace.
It is a time to learn and to leap into a newfound reality. “Many believe in stability but that sounds like a slow death to me,” he says. “I might be exhausted, but I’m excited.”
As always Nataniël is joined on stage by Charl du Plessis (piano), Werner Spies (bass), Peter Auret (drums) and Nicolaas Swart (vocals). With a soft sigh he knows live theatre comes with its own baggage and a recent visit to the Charl du Plessis Trio album launch reminded him how some people simply ignore theatre etiquette. “We had someone in front of us who was conducting a WhatsApp conversation throughout the show. She was in and out of the theatre to receive and return messages. I wanted to trip her,” he said. But few will dare to be a disturbance in his shows. In recent years, he simply calls them out aware that if they disturb those on stage, it also worries the audience.
Another irritation he has discarded is corporate bookings. “I only want people in the theatre who want to be there, not because someone else has bought them a ticket!”
While the December shows were sold out, bookings have been opened for this later mini season which runs from May 14 to 18 @ 8pm with a May 16 Sunday show @ 3pm.
Go to his recently launched blog (www.smallcoronations.com) for all then latest news, he has also launched some ridiculously delicious cookies available in selected shops as well as in the foyer during the shows and regular pop-up shopping events at Atterbury Theatre and a smart new olive oil range, as well as his latest book of short stories.
Nataniël Stories Dik Dun Think Thin will be sold at his many shows and as always is a collection of stories in Afrikaans and English, some written for shows and tweaked for a book and others specially written.
Regarded by many as one of our best short story writers, anyone who has listened to one of his tales will know about his use of language, the way he plays with and applies specific words and then, of course, his imagination, which seemingly has no limit. From show to show, book to book, they keep spilling out from a mind that doesn’t appear to be working too hard to create a world we all want to escape to.
He describes this as “a very happy book”. The title won’t be explained in any of the stories but recently someone gave his childhood piano teacher the funeral programme of a woman called Sally from Porterville who used to work for the Le Roux family when they lived there.
“Paul Kruger had smaller funeral,” says Nataniël, who explains that Sally was larger than life with HUGE personality. “She always used to say Dik, Dun, Thick, Thin,” he says almost like an exclamation mark. “I couldn’t believe how they found a way to get it (the programme) to me,” he says as he pays tribute to someone who made an impression on his young life.
Again that is part of his extraordinary storytelling ability. It often seems quite fantastical yet much of the time reflects the weird and wonderful byways of his life. He has a way of exploring those adventures with eyes that look at the world with wonder.
And we’re the blessed recipients.