In conversation and with his cuisine, Shuichiro Kawaguchi gets you smiling

Shuichiro Kawaguchi with his much loved butternut

Most people have some kind of obsession – some good, others not so much. For Shuichiro Kawaguchi it has always been food. He loves to cook and with the results, he hopes to charm – or simply get you to smile. DIANE DE BEER who has tasted his extravagant cooking, discovers his latest passion – butternut. He shares his thoughts on what he regards as a remarkable ingredient with which to experiment:



When Shuichiro Kawaguchi (Minister-Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission at the Japanese Embassy) talks about food, it always makes you smile.

Such is his passion, one that was cultivated by his mother from an early age, that his stories and his obsession – the best kind – have that effect. In fact, he says he is motivated to cook for others because it puts a smile on their face. And he certainly does that – in conversation or with his cuisine.


He was raised in a family where food played a key role. His love of cooking was encouraged by his mother while his father loved tasty food. Once he got married, his passion for cooking became even stronger because as his family grew, he always had an audience and they kept smiling.

Not only is he an extraordinary cook, but in Africa, Japanese cuisine (perhaps sushi aside) is not that familiar and as he cooks with a French and Japanese flair combined, the results are quite stunning.

Speaking to him recently about his latest mission, it didn’t take long before I was completely hooked. This time his fancy is butternut. “I was motivated by a Japanese friend during a Facebook conversation when they insisted butternut didn’t taste good.” That’s his explanation and he is sticking to that.


He wanted to prove that she was wrong, and he knew with the specific qualities of butternut – sweet, creamy and rich – he had more than enough to work with.

It’s not that butternuts aren’t cultivated in Japan, but they’re not as good as what he has found here and they’re very expensive. He can talk with authority, because for the past year starting on July 24 last year, he has invented a new recipe with butternut as the star, daily, and has up to now, collected more than 230 recipes.

He has taken inspiration from others, but when he works from a recipe, and that’s not often, he makes it his own.

And when you ask him about the length of time this fancy is going to last, he smiles and says, as long as it takes.

Japanese Flavoured Mousse
Japanese Flavoured Mousse

He reminded me of Faust’s pact with the devil and says that he will go up to 800 or the perfect tasting dish, whichever comes first. Only then will he consider publishing a book of butternut recipes and turn his food flavours in a different direction.

He and his wife have five children, two whom are currently with them in Tshwane, and he concedes that they might be bored with butternut, but he hasn’t quite achieved the brilliance he is hoping will conclude this project.

It started with the ubiquitous butternut soup and his version persuaded him to keep going. “I started really liking the taste and was determined to prove my point,” he explains.

All his experiments have detailed recipes as well as pictures of the process concluding with the finished dish. The quality is fine dining and his family don’t have much to complain about. Few of us would argue if this is the quality of food placed in front of us – even if all of it has butternut at its centre.

Mock Deep-fried Carp
Mock deep-fried Carp

Talk to him about the diversity of the dishes and he shows a picture of butternut cookies and talks about pickled butternut which has a sweet and sour taste. Every dish is given a name like (the Munch) Scream or Flower World, Self-Portrait or Sunset in Pretoria, the names as imaginative as the project.

He has also after the number of recipes cooked, become the authority on butternut. He buys in bulk at his local greengrocer because it’s so much cheaper and prefers a young squash because it is less sweet and the texture much more flexible. The more mature the butternut, the sweeter the flesh and the more fragile, which is also useful for specific recipes.

You can even eat it fresh, he says. What he does is slice it very thinly and then dips it into salt. He also likes baking it whole, almost char-grilling at a high temperature, which results in deliciously soft butternut which he eats simply with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Because it’s not a vegetable with a strong taste, salt should be used sparingly, but that also means that it adapts easily to different taste experiments.

He has no problems inventing new recipes because his years of cooking have provided a great memory bank on which to draw and he does grocery shopping on an almost daily basis which further invigorates his imagination.

On previous postings, when he was in Tanzania, he had his own television cooking programme and in Finland he cooked for a Finnish/Japanese society to further expose them to Japanese cuisine and extend his own cooking experiences.

Having been a guest at an eight-course dining extravaganza at his home, it is evident that this is his life’s mission. “It’s like a music concert,” says the Minister who is also an accomplished violinist, “only, I entertain with food.”

If you want to try one of Kawaguchi recipes, here’s a simple but delicious sample:

Almond Butternut Cake
Almond Butternut Cake

Almond Butternut Cake:


1 Cup Butternut puree
Almond flour  200g
Sugar  200g
Wheat Flour    150g
Eggs   8
Butter  250g
A few drops of Almond essence




1: Pre-heat the oven at 170℃.
2: Combine all the ingredient except butter together and mix well, then add melted butter and mix well.
3: Put the dough into a cake pan with a bake sheet on the bottom.
4: Bake for about 45 minutes until done.
5: Serve with whipped cream or ice-cream

Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking With Dorothy Ann Gould and Mark Graham Wilson

Pictures: Lungelo Mbulwana


Dorothy Ann1
Dorothy Ann Gould as Joan Didion

It took someone the quality of writer Joan Didion to get actor Dorothy Ann Gould and director Mark Graham Wilson together for a stage production following their much-acclaimed Hello and Goodbye with her husband Michael Maxwell, a decade ago. They speak to DIANE DE BEER about The Year of Magical Thinking that opens on March 9 and runs until April 1 at The Market’s Barney Simon Theatre in Joburg:


Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

Thus begins the American writer Joan Didion’s haunting memoir of the year following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. The unexpected event ended a partnership of 40 years in a second, just days after their only child, Quintana, had fallen dangerously ill and slipped into a coma.

During Didion’s New York promotion of the recently published memoir, Quintana became seriously ill again. Following massive brain surgery, she died. She was 39.

Following these catastrophic events, it was the famed director David Hare who asked Didion to change her memoir into a play and six months after her second tragedy, the death of her daughter, she began working on the play. This time she was dealing with both the death of her partner and her daughter – a double tragedy.

Both director and actor knew this was the play that would embolden their stage partnership. It is said that The Year of Magical Thinking is a journey through that most universal experience of human pain: bereavement. And while it is frequently harrowing, it is also often amusing and, ultimately has been described as an expression of the power love has to give life meaning. All of that describes the remarkable writer Joan Didion and that is what struck both Graham Wilson and Gould.

How much can one person take? That’s the question Gould asked herself when reading the memoir. “We all cope differently,” she acknowledges but we all encounter these kinds of tragedies at some point in our lives.

It is the way Didion thinks, the way she escapes, the way she writes that makes this such a harrowing yet healing experience and just thinking about Gould and Graham Wilson tackling this depth of feeling is exciting. Watching them work, the detail and thought that goes into every breath, the way they battle one another to get to the truth, is extraordinary and the stuff theatre is made of.

“It’s the scale of the mountain of loss that’s daunting,” says Gould as she wonders about Didion’s husband’s death who she believes just “let go of the fence,” because he couldn’t cope with the sadness of his daughter’s coma. “Some people do that, and I think he told Joan that he was going, he warned her. But she wasn’t listening.” Gould was also affected by the ordinary circumstances in which tragedy occurs hence the opening stanzas of this marvelous text.

“She goes on a big journey with this lament but because she’s deprecating and wry, it is bearable to witness,” is how Gould explains it. She talks for example about the games Didion plays with her mind to cope, something we will all recognize.

How often do we not wish for a different outcome when we go to sleep and hoping for comfort when we wake up? “Joan wills things to turn around, believes she can shift reality with her strong will,” says Gould. We all recognise those games we play with the universe.

For Graham Wilson, one of the joys of the text is the perfection. “There’s not a word you want to cut, not a word out of place,” he says. Gould at the time we were speaking was still worried about remembering her words because we are speaking solo performance and 62 pages of monologue.

But we’re also dealing with someone who knows how to work through tough situations. She started memorizing the text earlier than she would have normally because she knew how important it was to get this one to a point where she didn’t even have to think about what she was saying.

It’s all in the text. The tension is held in what is being said, notes Graham Wilson, and as importantly being left unsaid. That was why every word is so important. “It isn’t a conventional play,” he acknowledges, but that is why this pairing is so valuable. Both these artists are risk takers, daring with their art and pushing the boundaries. Gould feels safe with Graham Wilson because they have worked successfully together before and that allows her to step beyond her comfort zone – to the benefit of audiences.

For Graham Wilson returning to stage after many years in the television world of soapies where he has been in the writing side because of family commitments and financial stability, this project is terrifying – but in the best sense of the word. “It’s such an exposed world,” he says of the stage. And he regards himself as very private. He likes being out of sight, but working in live theatre changes that.

To watch these two experienced artists work, delve into the work, manage every movement, every thought, how something should be placed, when she should turn and how to connect with her audience, is quite something. It’s an exciting and beautiful play written by a woman who has an extraordinary ability to express her deepest feelings in a most unusual fashion.

Gould in her own way has all those qualities on a different level and that’s why this is such a heavenly match. With Graham Wilson as her guide, her star gazer, the two of them will make theatre magic. All the ingredients are there – and this is not above expectation.

“I have to channel her energy of thought,” says Gould about the process.

This is only the second day of rehearsal and already they’re grappling with meaning and movement – the words flowing as if they come from the actress herself.

And she takes flight.



Sylvaine Strike and Jenine Collocott – Homage to Inspired and Inspiring Artists


Artists are the people I love writing about most.

They’re creative, think out of the box, live to entertain and make people smile, think, dream, cry and much more – all at the same time.  They teach, learn, tell stories, show us how to view the world differently, how to admire and accept or simply entertain to take us away from a harsh world – if only for a moment.

Talking to two remarkable women artists recently, I was reminded of the privilege to be given access to their work but also to the magic they achieve through blood, sweat and tears. And in the artistic world, especially at this moment in time, stage is probably bottom of the rung. Not for those of us who love theatre but for the multitudes who haven’t discovered it yet.

Jenine Collocott
Jenine Collocott

Jenine Collocott, artist extraordinaire and director, most recently formed a new theatre company Contagious with actors James Cairns and Tarryn Bennett as well as long-time Fringe producers Simon and Helen Cooper with the aim of “producing independent fringe theatre that brings the creative freedom, simplicity and energy of the festival circuit to mainstream audiences” – so wherever you are in South Africa, watch out for them on their current rounds with their much loved The Snow Goose.

She’s currently rehearsing for a clowning show for the annual Oudtshoorn-based Klein Karoo National Arts Festival at the end of March (29 until April 4). Even though she trained for this specifically in Italy, it is her biggest venture in clowning with a cast of seven, most of whom she hasn’t worked with before and most of whom haven’t done any clowning before, even though you can see why they were picked.

Included are actors Jemma Kahn, Roberto Pombo and actor/producer De Klerk Oelofse who got the whole thing off the ground as the producer.

Speaking to a terrified Collocott is what got me excited. Even though what she was doing was mammoth, she was as excited as fearful in what can be said was a healthy balance.

Not only did she have to take her cast through what could be a painstaking process of becoming a clown, once there and only then, could they start to workshop the performance. Fortunately, she is working with a bunch of actors who know how to create their own work and with her as the gentle yet guiding teacher, the results will be something awesome to witness whether they pull it off or not.

“I’ve never seen anyone be as caring with a cast as Jenine was throughout this challenging process and she didn’t know us. I will never forget it,” says Oelofse who is on a mission to develop a skill set that is as broad as it is empowering.

They are at play in full swing as I write and few shows at this year’s Klein Karoo National Arts Festival excite me more than this novel attempt at a family show with something completely different. Titled Babbelagtig (which means something like chatterbox-ing) the idea was also fuelled by Oelofse’s response to the recent Slava Snow Show.

As with most things Collocott tackles, it’s innovative, imaginative and invigorating. Can it go wrong? Of course, but that’s how artists grow their craft – by pushing those boundaries and taking leaps not of faith but of grandeur and bravery because they’ve worked their way towards this.

Sylvaine Strike
Sylvaine Strike Photohraphed by Suzy Bernstein

No one works harder and with more precision than Sylvaine Strike, director extraordinaire, who has built a reputation for her unique work which is remarkable in its individuality. And she’s constantly changing like a chameleon the work she chooses – and then she makes it her own. It’s her particular Strike style that can be adapted to work with any play she selects in a way that’s quite astonishing.

From her standout The Travellers and Coupe in which she also played, the recently revived Black and Blue in which she recast  Atandwa Kani opposite herself to the two Molière plays The Miser followed by Tartuffe and now making a U-turn with Sam Shepard’s The Curse of the Starving Class, the road she travels allows her fans to jog along with excitement.

What will she do next and how is she going to approach this? Casting on its own is an art as she turns to Andrew Buckland for the extraordinary Tobacco and the Harmful Effects Thereoff and then adds extra bang with the exceptional Toni Morkel.

Gerard Bester, Brian Webber, Daniel Buckland and now Neil McCarthy have all taken on a special Strike hew when working with her. It’s as if her visual acuity allows her to use these actors, formidable as they usually are, in a completely new light.

With Buckland in Tobacco for example, she didn’t simply apply his amazing mime and clowning skills, she allowed the actor in him to flourish with accents of his many skills popping up to accentuate certain points she wanted to make.

If you watch her work, she plunges to a depth with detail that is quite exhausting but triumphs in the final production. Nothing escapes her eye which is both a visual and a visceral one and with her current Shepard production, she used music to tap out the rhythms for the actors to give their characters grounding.

“Shepard can be quite messy and chaotic,” she says, but in that is where you find the meaning and the magic of his message.

It is both what she brings and the way she does it that has netted her such a strong following. They know whatever she does, it will have intent and innovation. From the visual spectacle to the quirky casting, nothing is done without juggling many different balls to find the exact formation for this specific production.

That’s why a Strike show will sweep you off your feet – and then it lingers and plays with your mind.

Sylvaine Strike Pays Homage to Sam Shepard in Curse of the Starving Class

Pictures: Antoine de Ras

Sylvaine Strike is presenting her latest work, Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class, at this year’s Stellenbosch-based Woordfees (March 2 to 11). She tells DIANE DE BEER about her connection with the late playwright Sam Shepard, this specific play which is perfect for this time, and how she works with her merry band of actors to establish her Fortune Cookie Theatre Company brand:


Curse Poster

“We meet the Tate Family at their worst.”

That’s director Sylvaine Strike speaking about her latest work, Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class, which will premiere at the Stellenbosch-based Woordfees (March 2 to 11) before returning to Gauteng and hopefully seasons around the country.

“I’ve always felt that I completely get him,” she says about the American playwright who died last year and whose work is being looked at again as a result, with a few local productions planned.

When Strike was asked by Saartjie Botha, director of the Woordfees, to do something for this year’s festival, she suggested a Shepard play and together they decided that they wouldn’t adapt but put on the play as is. Strike giggles at the synchronicity when she points out that their first performance is scheduled – to the day – 40 years after it was first performed on Friday March 2.

This is Shepard’s most autobiographical work about his father, someone who features in different variations in many of his plays. Writing was the way he described dealing with his despairing childhood. “Part of him was growing on me. I could feel him taking over me. I could feel myself retreating,” says the son in Curse of the Starving Class. The father might be at the centre but the playwright is reaching wide, as he deals with the little people, those targeted most cruelly by the greed of the day, people who feel they have nowhere to turn.

Sound familiar? Think of the poverty numbers in our country, those targeted most brutally by the greed of the ruling classes. Even when written more than 40 years ago, it plays perfectly for our times and not only because of Donald Trump. Curse of the Starving Class circles around a dysfunctional family fighting the financial hardships, the disintegration of their family farm.

“It’s the perfect nucleus family, a mother, father and two children, a son and a daughter. And they’re completely dysfunctional,” says the director, conceding that this is all right up her street – especially on stage. How did they get there? What has happened to them? These are all questions she investigates. Even the door to their home is broken down and the father feels he can’t protect his family. That kind of desperation and neediness comes with its own set of intruders, waiting for easy prey.

For Strike, it was also time to walk a different road and the way her mind works, moving from Molière (The Miser and Tartuffe in the past few years) to Shepard makes complete sense – the choice seeming almost as dysfunctional as the family in the play. But it’s Strike and watching her work is a theatrical experience – completely magical.

But don’t let the title of the play mislead you. It’s not all about the horror of the hardship, there’s always hope and with Strike and Shepard, there’s always a smile. Even though Sherpard is scratching around in a family’s wounds, he never loses his sense of humour and Strike makes light of things where she can with movement and certain characters who in their lewdness are also laughable in a good way. It’s part of her branding, a hopefulness with something mystical hovering.

Neil McCarthy and Leila Henriques in Curse
Neil McCarthy and Leila Henriques in Curse of the Starving Class

Her cast is an indication of her intent. It’s a wildly talented bunch, including Neil McCarthy, Rob van Vuuren, Leila Henriques, Roberto Pombo, Anthony Coleman, Inge Crafford-Lazarus and Damon Berry, some of whom might strike a certain comical chord.

Playing the father is McCarthy, who returned to the stage with a flamboyant flourish for Tartuffe and asked Strike, following the hugely successful season and his reconnection with live performance, to consider him for her next work. She did, hence his casting as the father in a completely different role to his previous outing. And this time opposite Henriques, also someone who will hopefully be seen on stage more regularly. With her unique qualities, including a heart-wrenching vulnerability required for the mother in this particular story, it’s another casting coup.

The two children – 17 and 15 – are played by relative newbies for this type of play, Pombo and Crafford-Lazarus, who were both put through strenuous auditions because of their pivotal part in the play which they passed with flying colours; with Van Vuuren, Coleman and Berry completing the cast with their own specific talents.

Nothing is ever random for this director and that’s what makes the casting so exciting and intriguing.

There’s something messy and chaotic about a Shepard play which is why the rhythms of these characters are so important. “It also gives the actors a sense of safety,” Strike says assuredly.

Music looms large in the rehearsal room. Shepard was as much a musician in his early days as a writer. It has been recorded that rhythm led him to character and with that in mind, Strike, always unique in her acting and performance methods, uses music to get her actors marching to the right beat. It’s extraordinary to watch as they work their way through a scene musically before they do it with dialogue. There’s as much meaning in the movement as there is in the text and that is as much Strike as it is Shepard.

Roberto Pombo and Inge Crafford-Lazarus
Roberto Pombo and Inge Crafford-Lazarus as the children of the family in Strike’s  Sam Shepard play

“I adore bluegrass music,” she says about her choices of Canadian band The Dead South and Australian Paul Kelly. “It is often profound,” she says about the genre, “despite its joviality and upbeat rhythms. Shepard’s writing is musical, he himself was a percussionist, and adored music, from Dixieland to Dizzy Gillespie – he was a great lover of jazz, and his work in many ways reminds one of jazz compositions. It is unpredictable, and yet impeccably structured.”

It is exactly the way she thinks about theatre and why she feels this bond. Listening and watching just a few scenes in early rehearsals, already it is the emotions that come pouring out and engulf you. That’s where the heart of this work is going to lie – or so it seems.

Other influences include the paintings of Edward Hopper and the photographs of Gregory Crewdson, both of whom hold a certain desolation and deep feelings of loss.

Holding all of this together is her trademark and where Strike’s genius comes into play.



Check Him Out On M-Net’s Masterchef, But Yotam Ottolenghi Is All About The Sweet Stuff With His Book Sweet

The three Masterchef judges with Yotam Ottolenghi

IF  you’re a Yotam Ottolenghi fan, switch on your TV tonight, tomorrow and Wednesday (February 26,27 and 28) and watch M-Net. The chef of the moment on local screens, DIANE DE BEER spotlights his latest book Sweet by Ottolenghi and Helen Goh (Edbury Press):



If you haven’t heard of Yotam Ottolengi yet, now’s your chance.  He is currently the inspiring celebrity chef on the Australian Masterchef season being broadcast on DStv’s M-Net and should be there until mid-week.

He’s an amazing chef and first caught the world’s attention with his first cookbook, Ottolenghi, which he did together with Sami Tamimi.  Jewish from Italian and German descent, he met Tamimi, an Arab-Palestinian at a London artisanal pastry shop where the two of them worked together discovering that they had grown up in Jerusalem only a few miles apart – naturally on opposite sides of the conflict which makes their (in-the-kitchen) coming together all the more special.

It is an intriguing tale of these two men who had to travel all the way to London and meet at their place of work, in a kitchen, after which they opened their first deli together. In their book Jerusalem, they tell the story of how the flavours and smells of the city is “their mother tongue. Everything we cook and everything we taste is filtered through the prism of our childhood experiences: foods our mothers fed us, wild herbs picked on school trips, days spent in markets, the smell of soil on a summer’s day, goat and sheep roaming the hills, fresh pitas with minced lamb, chopped parsley, chopped liver, black figs, smoky chops, syrupy cakes crumbly cookies.”

Their books tell you everything about the chefs and in his latest Sweet, Ottolenghi has teamed up with Helen Goh, someone he has come to appreciate for the finest qualities she brought with her all the way from Australia where she had a professional history as a pastry chef and a psychotherapist. “What we shared,” he writes in Sweet’s introduction is “this kind of intensity and commitment that has been a constant throughout Helen’s different roles in Ottolenghi.”

While she I accomplished and has many talents, more than anything else, it is with her cakes – and, he says, he uses the term very loosely here, to mean anything from “a dreamy chocolate chip cookie, to a light-as-a-feather meringue roulade, to a rum and raisin bundt with caramel dripping down its sides – that Helen carved her inspired mark on our food.”

He also makes it clear that Sweet as the title suggests is a book filled with sugar. “There’s so much sugar in this book that we thought about calling it, well, Sugar. It’s all about celebrating the sweet things in life. Even though they are aware of the current concerns about the adverse effects of sugar, this is a recipe book full of over 110 wonderful sweet things.”

If you want to know how to slip into Ottollenghi’s heart, it’s around a spread of food. “I bonded with Sami in this way all those years ago, then with Ramael Scully, co-author of Nopi: The Cookbook, who taught me to love miso and appreciate a few new cooking techniques. My friendship with Helen was formed mostly around a piece of cake.”

If sweet things are your passion, there can be no better test than this one. Flipping through the pictures featured are enough to get those juices flowing and when you realise how passionate the two pastry specialists are about cakes and anything sweet, that has to be your ultimate yardstick. You cannot take sweet advice from someone who doesn’t completely buy into the celebratory confection of it all. It’s easy to see that these two do.

And if you haven’t met Ottolenghi and his amazing recipes yet, first catch him on M-Net tonight, tomorrow and possibly Wednesday as well (they did say all week and the first one was last Thursday), turn on the TV at 5.45pm and see this amazing man in action.

He says this is the first time he has agreed to participate in this kind of competition, because he felt that this Masterchef was more about the personal development of the contestants than the competition.

You will lose your heart to the chef and his food.

Unique Stories Told With Exuberance Delightfully Dominate 2018 Oscars


The big thing about this year’s Oscar movies is their individuality – the way they have taken sometimes obvious themes and done something quite unique and extraordinary with them.


When I first saw an interview with director/writer Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell on the now disgraced Charlie Rose show, I knew this gloriously named movie, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was going to be a movie to watch.

South Africans who haven’t caught a streamed version yet, will have the chance to see it now and glory in everything this movie manages to capture – from innovation to creativity to acting excellence. It’s something to revel in.

Take McDormand in two of her biggest roles, Fargo and Olive Kitteridge, two completely different women both perfectly portrayed by this amazing actress who just gets the idiosyncrasies of her characters. And she does it again with this fierce and forceful woman who is not going to stand on the side-lines while the bumbling police force try and catch her daughter’s rapist-killer.

It’s her little girl and she will get her day in court, it’s the only way she knows how to deal with her grief. It’s the time for women and this film is feverishly pitched even though it came into being before the Weinstein fiasco exploded like a tsunami around the world.

Bolster McDormand’s performance with that of Sam Rockwell, Woody Harreslon and Caleb Landry Jones as well as a full cast of delicious minor characters and you’ve hit pay dirt.

McDonagh has already proved he is someone special and once again he shows that he tells unusual stories in unexpected fashion completely in touch with the zeitgeist. How could you not truimph with this story and these actors? It’s almost a no-brainer and fortunately worked out that way. The uniquely voiced McDonagh knows how to pull it all together magnificently.

That’s true about a whole clutch of movies marching to the Oscars with loud and amazing fanfare this year.

Such a pity that Sally Hawkins is matched with McDormand this particular year. Guillermo del Toro has created a fantastically fey female for this appealing actress with eyes that speak volumes – and they have to in this one. What perfect casting!

It’s also a perfect match teamed as she is with Octavia Spencer, the fiery protector of her whimsical colleague. This all plays out in a setting that the visionary director has masterfully carved out in colours that slip out of a storybook.

It has a monster, magic and a musical sequence that truly sings as does most of the movie in memory mode á la Del Torro who is finally receiving the credit he is supposed to. If you want to be transported into another world and time far away and beyond, don’t miss The Shape of Water.

Get Out

Paying tribute to horror movies but with a specific message in mind, Jordan Peele’s Get Out cleverly and with cunning finds a way to get the masses going to the movies for a sharp critique on racism. They did this without broadcasting it – and once they’re in the cinemas, it’s too late to get out!

It’s masterful with a great performance by the latest young, black lead Daniel Kaluuya (he with the eyes to match those of Hawkins). He innocently marches into a swamp of whiteness that has found its own methods to completely enslave those who are unwilling. It’s smart stuff as it plays with a world in denial even when confronted with #BlackLivesMatter.

Lady Bird

And while I didn’t think Lady Bird has quite the smarts that Juno had a few years back – it plays it a little safer –  it has opened the door for the well-deserved Greta Gerwig. She should approach it more boldly the next time now that she has been given the keys.

This is a homage to her hometown and a time viewed with nostalgia. Kudos to Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf who know how to tell the story of the wilful daughter and determined mother who attempt to allay each other’s fears of stepping into new lives.

I, Tonia is another unexpected take as you are invited to recall the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan tale of competitive ice skating gone terribly wrong. Instead you’re confronted with a story of class and how certain people are not allowed through the door when they live on the wrong side of the track.

Not only was Harding the first woman to complete a triple axel in competition (something we understand now with the Winter Olympics in full swing), she was also a skater with individual flair precisely because she didn’t have all the normal accoutrements so part of this icy world. Figure skating was not meant to be for this young girl, it didn’t matter how good she was.

Margot Robbie as Tanya Harding and Allison Janney as her chilling mother have both received Oscar nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, which are well deserved. It is the way they tell the story of the two people who most ruffle the feathers of those who reign supreme in the ice rink.

These are but a few of the best examples of how movies compete with what is currently out there. At no time previously has the scope of those watching been this extravagant and exuberant and if you want to find an audience in today’s noisy entertainment space, it had better have a strong hook.

Stories still matter and the way they are told is what has the most impact and will find an audience. Check these out whether they’re Oscar winners or not.

  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri opens at Ster Kinekor today while I, Tonya, Shape of Water and Lady Bird are all still playing in their cinemas.

Why Marvel’s Long Awaited Black Panther Is A Movement

Kgomotso Moncho-Maripane

(Guest Writer)


Okoye (Danai Gurira), the General of the Dora Milaje, the all female army of Wakanda, who are personal protectors of the Black Panther. ©Marvel Studios 2018

My black people and I had been eagerly waiting for February 16, 2018 since the trailer for Marvel’s Black Panther and the date for its world premiere were released last year. I’d even prayed that I don’t die before then, that’s how epic this film is to us.

Since then Black twitter had been planning their African futuristic outfits for the premiere and went as far as to warn that we would be loud in the cinemas.

South Africans especially would not be able to contain their excitement due to the presence of local hero, Dr John Kani, his son Atandwa and fellow local actress, Connie Chiume in this blockbuster film.

Kani is responsible for isiXhosa being adopted as the official language of Wakanda, the fictional home of the Black Panther and a country in Africa. Adding to the nostalgic, novel delight is seeing the Basotho blanket of neighbouring Lesotho forming part of the vibrant costumes which also draw from Zulu and Maasai traditional wear.

And then there’s the inclusion of South African artists such as Babes Wodumo; Yugen Blakrok and Sjava in the Black Panther soundtrack, produced by rapper Kendrick Lamar.

Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba) with the Dora Milaje, the all female army of Wakanda. ©Marvel Studios 2018

One of the main things that Black Panther gets right is the representation of Africa in an authentic way and it’s clear how South Africa had a hand in making that possible. Where a Hollywood film like Coming To America failed in its stereotypical view of the continent that perpetuates the ignorance and the single story of Africa, Black Panther makes up for in its research and consultation. It thus captures subtle nuances without trying too hard and imagines a futuristic African country that is not far-fetched.

Wakanda is a self-reliant, technologically advanced African country that has not been colonized and if you consider the iron mining technologies of Southern Africa’s Iron Age in Mapungubwe, this may not be so hard to imagine.

Kani, who’s been the African mouthpiece for the film leading up to its worldwide release, captures beautifully the impact of the vision of this film below:

“The movie is going to deal with the myth that if the white colonialist did not land in Africa, we’d still be walking in skins with spears chasing each other. It’ll prove we built the pyramids in Egypt….that the Zimbabwe ruins were built by us and that the cradle of human kind is in Southern Africa. So this is one time where African people are shown at their fullest potential – where they’re able to travel to space and back with incredible technology. So for us, there’s a bit of seriousness about this movie.”

And even though in reality there’s no way Africans can go back to a pre-colonial state as Frantz Fanon said, Wakanda represents the Africa of the future and of our dreams.

There’s a global shift that is happening right now spearheaded by creatives that addresses issues of representation, looking at the black experience and how it’s portrayed; to stories of marginalized communities such as the LGBTIQ. This movement can be seen in brilliant films such as Jordan Peele’s Get Out; Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight and a series like Oprah and Ava Duvernay’s Queen Sugar.

Locally there’s the powerful film, Inxeba; the indigenous language plays that the Market Theatre commissions and the black casts we’re starting to see more of in musicals, telling black stories like The Color Purple on right now at the Joburg Theatre and Tsotsi the Musical.

T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).©Marvel Studios 2018

Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther fits into this movement because it’s about a black superhero. That’s a big deal to any black person, hence this huge excitement globally. There’s so much joy, fulfillment and validation that comes with seeing yourself represented. And this speaks to the power in being seen.

That the Black Panther is black American has helped build a bridge between African Americans and Africans in the continent and the diaspora that brings us closer on a spiritual level. Kendrick Lamar’s seminal album, To Pimp a Butterfly – which made him a voice of a generation due to how lyrically he encapsulates the black American experience – was inspired by his South African tour.

Lamar said that being in South Africa made him realize how black Americans don’t aspire to Africa when being here gave him his “I made it” moment and more. In the film the battle between Black Panther and the villain, Killmonger, plays to that dynamic where it is in fact black America that needs Africa and not the other way round.

It’s a powerful idea that connects us and it’s perhaps no coincidence that Black Panther premiered in Black History Month.

Art has the power to change perceptions. In this case it is perhaps Hollywood’s own perception of Africa that needed to be altered. Black Panther is not just a movie, it’s a cultural, political moment.

I’m going to see it again and a few more times.

  • Black Panther is showing at Ster Kinekor cinemas.







One Night In Miami Not Explosive Enough In Text But Play Delivers in Exposition

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David Johnson in Nadya Cohen’s world in A Night in Miami.

Pictures: Iris Dawn Parker




DIRECTOR: James Ngcobo


VOICE COACH: Iris Dawn Parker


SET DESIGN: Nadya Cohen

COSTUME DESIGN: Nthabiseng Makone

CAST: David Johnson (Malcolm X), Richard Lukunku (Jim Brown), Lemogang Tsipa (Cassius Clay), Seneliso (Sne) Dladla (Sam Cooke), Nyaniso Dzedze, Sipho Zakwe

VENUE: John Kani at The Market Theatre

DATES: Until February 25

SPONSORED: American Embassy in SA


This one is much more about the people on stage than the script. It’s how they bring everything to life, the way the play has been staged and the opportunity for this young cast to test their skills and grow wings – which they will do.

The premise is that four iconic African American men, namely Malcolm X, Cassius Clay (soon to become Muhammad Ali), Sam Cooke and Jim Brown, meet in a hotel room just after Clay had won the heavyweight boxing crown from Sonny Lister.

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Malcolm X (Johnson), Sam Cooke (Dladla) and Jim Brown (Lukunku) in conversation.

Already famous to the outside world, these four friends feel safe in the privacy of the room as they take the gloves off to have some heated conversations. And all of that, who they are and their conversations, is what the playwright imagined would have played out – and more potently, would still be playing out today. That’s the nub of it.

With the two countries having such similar racial track records still today, it has always made sense that especially the race-driven stories play so poignantly here. There’s very little explanation necessary and perhaps that’s the problem with One Night in Miami. It’s just too familiar with very little new, unfolding. It’s almost too predictable, as you know where the conversations are going and how it will develop.

What would have been more exciting in these circumstances and what the director alludes to with the visuals, is the kneeling by NFL players during the American anthem. It’s a play that is screaming to go somewhere explosive. We’re talking of events that took place in 1964, half a century ago for goodness’ sake – and for these men living in the world today, not much has changed. They are still fighting for their lives in many circumstances – daily. Think of the current court case where two white men are charged with forcing a black man into a coffin. Or in the US, #BlackLivesMatter. Really, that still needs saying in 2018?

We’re living in a mad and chaotic world where what is flying around us has overtaken most of what we could possibly imagine – and that makes it tough for works of fiction – (and perhaps why something like Inxeba – The Wound has had such impact. While watching it, it is as if your skin has been turned inside out because of the emotions swirling about.). That’s what the play needs – to make your flesh crawl. The topic in 2018 and the fact that we’re still talking race, demands that.

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Cassius Clay (Lemogang Tsipa) and Malcolm X (David Johnson) in prayer.

But the familiarity of the play aside, what isn’t familiar is the cast, who sets this one alight. It’s a young ensemble with weight, given a chance to test and grow their abilities (especially on stage) and they will. From Johnson, perhaps the more experienced on-stage actor as a quiet yet determined Malcolm X who is dealing with his own demons, and the silky-voiced Dladla as soul singer Sam Cooke who is struggling to make a particular impact on his people, to Lukunku as the imposing Jim Brown who is fighting his own battles for a future when his sporting career comes to an end and Tsipa as the naive and excitable Clay on the eve of change and massive celebrity, they are an imposing bunch – both the characters and the actors who bring them to life.

Add the two sidekicks (Dzedze and Zakwe), playing characters that ostensibly guard the four chums while they chat. Dzedze informs us of what’s to come from the Nation of Islam; and his naïve underling (Zakwe), an excitable and enthusiastic disciple in the making.

It’s all about undertones – where they find themselves at and how to manage their lives, the little they have control over. There’s much jousting, as there would be between vibrant young men, but it takes a while to get to the heart of what Kemp wants to focus on. Because what he’s dealing with is out there, he could have jumped right in rather than crawl. It takes concentration to stay with the conversation.

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Crooner Sam Cooke (Sne Dladla)

But the music alone, magically rendered by Dladla, the performances with heart and an inspired yet subtle staging, all contribute to a play that might not be explosive in text but delivers in exposition.

It could, though, have been so much more.

One Night in Miami Captures Iconic Moments With Vibrant Young Cast

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Sne Dladla, Sipho Zakwe, Richard Lukunku, Lemogang Tsipa, Nyaniso Dzedze and David Johnson.

Pictures: Iris Dawn Parker

February is Black History Month in the US, Canada and the UK for the remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. One Night In Miami by Kemp Powers, directed by artistic director James Ngcobo, is The Market’s way of honouring this observance. The play is based on the fictional retelling of a night shared by four iconic men including Cassius Clay on the verge of converting to Islam and becoming Muhammad Ali; Malcolm X who was at odds with the Nation of Islam; soul singer Sam Cooke; and famous footballer Jim Brown. DIANE DE BEER speaks to the director about his choice:


It’s what the play represents and speaks about and addresses that so excited James Ngcobo. “The meeting is in what has become the iconic Hampton House Motel on February 25 1964. Cassius has just beat Sonny Liston to become the new and youngest world heavyweight champion. In the room are four hugely successful men but in their own country and with all their success, they’re still negroes.  It’s a time of madness,” he says.

And from where he is looking now, not much has changed. The similarities between the US and here are obvious he believes and that’s why for example a musical like The Color Purple slots so easily into this timeframe.

Selecting this play while honouring Black History Month is obvious to him. “It’s a new play, was performed in London to great acclaim last year and is a first for the continent. The playwright will be attending a performance during the run,” he says quite nervously about that expectation. For him as a director, it’s also about growth. He talks about a basket of diversity which is what his programming is all about. “We can’t just be one voice.”

What he loves about the play, which is based on a real meeting at the time but is a fictional account of what happened, is that you have four famous black men who would have felt safe in this private space allowing them to speak freely.  They love each other and thus spoke frankly, starting out quite jovially yet becoming more confrontational as the night wore on.

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David Johnson (Malcolm X), Richard Lukunku (Jim Brown) and Sne Dladla (Sam Cooke).

There are quite a few tensions in the room between these friends because of the four, Sam Cooke was the one they all believed had a crossover voice – because of the music. “He is the one who would have been heard by everyone,” explains Ngcobo. But he was singing gospel and soul, and according to Malcolm X, not using his power to progress his people. Clay, on the other hand, was having his own struggle and the feelings in the room about especially the Muslim faith, were also bumping against one another.

Ngcobo also talks about the playwright’s ability to play with the celebrity status but also the concerns of the civil rights movement at the time in which this is set and how these famous men were being pulled this way and that – not always in their own interest but because of their popularity pulling power.

These are four men sitting with their own dreams – on the cusp of something we know about but they still have to live through. It’s intriguing stuff and with a powerful cast of young actors, all of them drama graduates, who have been put on this one stage.

In the course of rehearsals, Ngcobo brought in different specialists – Iris Dawn Parker and Dorothy Ann Gould for example – to help with the American accents as well as Gregory Maqoma to choreograph the fights as well as guide them with their movement. “I have never believed that a director can work in isolation,” he says as he  points to long-time collaborators Nadya Cohen (design) and Wesley France (lighting).

What he wishes for the Market Theatre it is that it should be the destination of storytelling. “It’s never been about black or white or particular constituencies. I curate with my patron’s eyes. Some they will love and others not and that’s how it should be. We can’t please everyone and do everything.”

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Sne Dladla as Sam Cooke.

“I’m so excited about this new generation of leading men,” he says about the young actors he is working with for this one. From David Johnson (perhaps best known for his role in local soapie 7de Laan) to Sne Dladla (most recently seen as Pop in King Kong), Sipho Zakwe (who wrote and starred in Isithunzi), Richard Lukunku (popular TV and film actor) and Lemogang Tsipa (starred in Craig Freimond’s Beyond the River), these are all young men building their careers and eager to be on stage.

“It’s great to be in the room with such dedication and determination,” says their director. “I know they will honour the work every night and that’s what I’m looking for. The Market is one of the stops in their acting journey and that’s as it should be.”

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Nyaniso Dzedze as a Nation of Islam disciple.

Part of his mission is to mentor young people as well as doing work which allows them to test new skills and sharpen others.

The Market Theatre Foundation’s Sophie Mgcina Emerging Voice Award is barely five years old and already all its winners are making their mark as they continue to celebrate the indomitable spirit of the late artist, teacher and cultural activist, Sophie Mgcina.

The inaugural winner in 2014, Lulu Mlangeni has just performed in her new production Confined at the Market Theatre. Khayelihle Dominique Gumede, winner in 2015 is currently working in Cape Town as co-director with Neil Coppen in his first opera, Tsotsi, based on Athol Fugard’s work of the same title. Tsotsi which plays at Artscape from February 8 to 17 and will move to the Soweto Theatre at a future date.

The 2016 winner Thandazile Sonia Radebe, is also part of creative team of Tsotsi as the choreographer.

The latest winner, Lesedi Job who made her directorial debut with Mike van Graan’s When Swallows Cry at the Market Theatre in 2017, is currently reviving a new production of the work at the Baxter Theatre and will be directing at the Market Theatre soon.


  • One Night in Miami runs at The Market’s John Kani Theatre until February 25.



Some of James Ngcobo’s basket of diversity at The Market this coming year:

  • Winner of the 2017 Zwakala Theatre Festival and the 2017 Standard Bank Fringe Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival, the political thriller Dikapapa shines the spotlight on a struggle stalwart who becomes a traitor but is hailed as a hero in a democracy. Dikakapa is co–written by Teboho Serapelo, Isaac Sithole and Lebeko Nketu mentored by Kgafela oa Magogodi starring Karabelo Khaalo, Kholisile Dlamini, Mdengase Govuzela, Mduduzi Mdabuli, Mojabeng Rasenyalo and Thembi Qobo.  (February 9 to 25).
  • Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking with Dorothy Ann Gould directed by Matthew Graham Wilson. (March 9 to April 1). Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. So begins American writer Joan Didion’s memoir. *
  • Lesedi Job directs Meet Me at Dawn by Zinnie Harris starring Pamela Nomvete and Natasha Sutherland. It is a modern fable that explores the triumph of everyday love, the mystery of grief, and the temptation to become lost in a fantasy future  in March.
  • The Gibson Kente Musical  13 – 29 April 2018 ( the one that was staged at the Soweto Theatre) honours the father of  township theatre, who will be remembered in song and dance by a remarkable cast under the direction of Makhaola Ndebele.
  • Athol Fugard’s Train Driver which has never been staged at The Market starring John Kani and Albert Pretorius from May 16 to 31. Kani has also written a new play with Michael Richard which will be staged with the two of them later this year.*
  • A return of Nongogo directed by James Ngcobo five years ago is restaged from June 15 to July 15.*
  • The acclaimed Die Reuk van die Appels based on the Mark Behr award-winning book, starring Gideon Lombard, directed by Lara Bye will run from June 13 to 24.*
  • Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love will have a female director and will run from July 8 to 29. (There’s a sudden interest in this late US playwright’s work with Sylvaine Strike directing Curse of the Starving Class for this year’s Woordfees which will hopefully travel to Joburg for a later run.)





The Colour Purple is Bold, Black and Beautiful

Pictures: @enroCpics




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Shug Avery (Lerato Mvelase) leads the pack in The Color Purple




DIRECTOR: Janice Honeyman

CAST: Didintle Khunou (Celie), Lerato Mvelase (Shug Avery), Aubrey Poo (Mister), Neo Motaung (Sofia), Sebe Leotlela (Nettie), Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri (Harpo) and the rest of the 20-strong ensemble






MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Rowan Bakker (and part of an orchestra of 8)

CHORO0EGRAPHER: Oscar Buthelezi

VENUE: Nelson Mandela at the Joburg Theatre

DATES: Until March 4


It’s always a gamble these huge musical productions but following Dream Girls and King Kong specifically, we have built up enough of a track record to understand that we can pull it off.

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Didintle Khunou as the indomitable Celie in The Color Purple.

And as this one proves incontrovertibly, we easily have the depth of performance talent. This is BIG music, but what that means is that it gives a musical veteran like Aubrey Poo an opportunity to sing a number like Celie’s Curse as he has never sung before – and he has had many amazing moments on stage in the past, but here he lets rip with an emotional heft that is completely in sync with the character. On the other side of the spectrum, it gives a solo newcomer like Didintle Khunou the chance to shine as she takes Celie and gives the character life. Both make these moments majestically their own – again and again.

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Aubrey Poo as Mister opting for change in Celie’s Curse.

As a musical, it is the perfect storm for right now. Based on the acclaimed Alice Walker story, the reach is wide and covers a multitude of sins, including substance, gender and domestic abuse so dominant in our current world which is what makes this such a relevant piece.

In our country with so much strife, a celebration of especially black talent in a world where the stories are still told from a predominantly white point of view is important and poignant, hence the magical reaction and participation of the audience. There was no doubt about their appreciation of what they were encountering on stage.

And rightly so. For audiences, this is a musical to get stuck into. It’s not about pretty songs and lively dancing. It’s grappling with intense emotions while telling a story of a young girl who after being raped by her father resulting in two pregnancies, is given to a brutal man who treats her in similar fashion. She’s his to look after and he can do with her as he wishes. She has absolutely no say in the matter.

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Didintle Khunou as Celie (front) with Lerato Mvelase as Shug Avery.

Anyone who could bring some light into her days is banished, like her sister Nettie, with Mister (her husband) making sure she never hears from her again. It’s a miserable life still experienced by so many voiceless in this world.

While abuse tops the list, many other issues are dealt with, including refugees – a problem of our time, but as this one shows, nothing new. But even in the worst of times, redemption is a possibility and that is what gives this musical its power. People can step up and change and others can embrace the moment in all its authenticity. It’s a musical with quite a few teary moments – which is not the norm with these kinds of spectacles.

Speaking to some of the soloists beforehand, all of them commented on the music and how tough these songs are to sing. But they have stepped up and inhabited the music – all of them, soloists and ensembles included.

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From the chorus of three women (Lelo Ramasimong, Dolly Louw, Ayanda Sibisi) who throughout comment sharply on what is on their mind, to Khunou as the earnest Celie and Mvelase as the flamboyant Shug Avery, the show-stopping Any Little Thing by Sofia (Motaung) and Harpo (Mahaka-Phiri), which brings much needed light relief, while Leotlela taps into her emotions as Nettie when she tells her sister about her children, it’s musical heaven.

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Harpo (Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri) and Sofia (Neo Motaung) performing the glorious Any Little Thing.

With a stunning set design, which is uncluttered and allows the lighting to tell magnificent tales, to the choreography that pushes boundaries, underpinned by the Honeyman staging which pulls the story together – which is no easy task – this is a sublime coming together of all the elements.

It is a musical where you have to engage, you have to listen to the lyrics and allow the performers to take over with their emotions in full flow. It’s high notes and low in both song and understanding, it’s detailed with heaps of humanity first trampled on and then celebrated.

And in the South African context, it’s about time. We have so many stories to tell and with our diversity at the forefront, it should cover the full spectrum and allow everyone to shine as they do on that stage.

It’s truly glorious to experience how we take a universal story and make it our own.