FOUR SOUTH AFRICAN ARCHITECTS ARE PROUDLY TELLING THE SOUTH AFRICAN STORY AT THE 2023 BIENNALE ARCHITECTURA IN VENICE

Meeting up with two of the four primary participants inthe South African Pavilion of the Biennale Architectura 2023 in Venice, it quickly becomes clear that it takes a village to raise a pavilion, as the pamphlet specially designed for visitors acknowledges. DIANE DE BEER talks to lecturer Stephen Steyn with Carla Spies (who is responsible for co-ordinating the whole project) about this year’s architectural adventure:

When the core group of Carla Spies (Spies Architects), Stephen Steyn (lecturer at the Department of Architecture and Industrial Design at TUT), Dr Sechaba Maape (senior lecturer at the Wits School of Architecture and Planning) and Dr Emmanuel Nkambule (senior lecturer at the Department of Architecture and Industrial Design at TUT) got together, they played with the idea that we live in a unique country and that being in this place affects how we live.

That is where they wanted their focus to be and what they hoped to visually explore and exhibit at the Biennale.

All in the field of architecture, their interest and research were aligned, which meant that each one brought something specific to the project.

Digital visuals as part of the South African Pavilion.

Stephen explains that we identify with things, creatures, ideas and, most significantly, other people. Identities, which are what drive this project, like walls, contain, convene and comfort us, but should they be too solid and too insistent, they imprison us. “It is something that defines you,” he explains, “but it shouldn’t be seen as just one thing.”

Between the abstract binary poles of ‘freedom’ and ‘containment’ there is architecture. By using our imaginations, we choose how we identify as active, conscious agents. He argues that while a space might define its occupants, it shouldn’t confine them.

Before the ‘primitive hut’, in fact, before the wall itself was conceived of as a construction, the natural world had supplied us with the architecture of the cave. The cave wall is simultaneously a containing element, and a surface of representation. Beyond this wall exists another world – intimately connected to our own, but with its own logics and forces.

The hanging ropes starting to take shape. The group from Kent&Lane who fastened the ropes to the tiles for the eventual hanging.

The future is unknown. From that darkness, full of both fears and hopes, architects pull images which, like self-fulfilling prophecies, become the future itself through construction.

 It is not fail proof; like any prophecy, it remains vague no matter how clearly articulated. And it is always subject to the influence of enormously varied and powerful forces as it travels from the world beyond the surface of representation – where the future and the past co-mingle – to our own.

And part of their quest was to reach out to the pre-colonial past, into the present post-colonial era to determine the future. Histories are alive and should constantly be revised, because so much has not been recorded in traditional ways.

The main pavilion structure (designed by Stephen and realised by Carla with the help of many others), invites visitors to a ritual performance of collective identification, community formation and initiation.

Then the exhibition unfolds and reveals itself  through three zones.

Zone I is titled The Past Is the Laboratory of the Future, and traces historical links to the architectural representation of social structures as documented in pre-colonial southern-African societies.

Scattered over 10 000 square kilometres of grassland in Mpumalanga lie the ruins of a vast civilization known as the Bokoni. The architecture of the Bokoni consisted primarily of two materials: permanent, dry-stacked stone, and ephemeral, hand-woven grass.

Rather than captured in books, the social structures (how they lived and functioned) of the Bokoni are preserved in the visible plan forms of their homesteads, and are represented by weaving practices, which can only be inferred from sub cultures still practising grass weaving today. For this element, five individual weavers were brought together to make woven artefacts that serve as scaffolding for another construction; that of a social as well as a professional network, and thus representing a community.

Part of Nkambule’s model which represents a “modern”Bokoni society.

They also found a digital way of showing the enduring solidity of the dry-stacked stone used in the construction of a Bokoni homestead, which can be accessed by a visitor to the pavilion on their smart phone.

This contemporary interpretation of traditional social practices, as they are manifested in spaces and thresholds still being built today, connects our distant history with our present and, through re-interpretation, sets new trajectories for the future.

Zone II is titled The Council of (non-human) Beings, and contains contemporary drawings on the topic of animism in architectural practice.

Here the work of Dr Maape is presented in a space inspired by the caves of Kuruman in South Africa — spaces that are dark and removed from day-to-day life, and primarily used for initiation rituals.

 In this setting, large digital prints of the living landscape, drawings that are themselves set in blackness, emphasise the value of dark and black spaces within the cultural practices of indigenous communities of South Africa.

Initiates are challenged to face their fears by facing the stereotypes of ‘dark/black as evil’, the ‘dark continent’ or ‘black magic’, inverting and exposing the false and sinister narrative of the metaphor of ‘light’ or ‘enlightenment’ in its colonial manifestation.

Part of Nkambule’s model which represents a “modern”Bokoni society.

Combining these influences with the indigenous knowledge of his home, Maape generates works that question the way we see the earth on which we design and build.

He proposes a practice that seeks the council of all beings, human and non-human, in the production of architecture, and suggests that it is in reframing concepts like ‘context’ or ‘site’ that we may be more responsive to our current planetary crises

 Zone III is titled Political Animals, and presents the organizational and curricular structures of South African architecture schools as architectural objects.

They invited students and staff from South African schools of architecture to construct sample representations of the Laboratories of the Future in which they are embedded and of which they are part. The competition format was adjusted to engage with Stephen’s research and curatorial project, resulting in six entries constructed with the assistance of Johannesburg-based ModelArt.

In the process of being transformed.

Most of this has been done in South Africa, because of the rand/euro exchange. Carla flew to Venice this a month ago to start co-ordinating the installation of the pavilion and the rest of the crew involved in the setting up, including the other three core members, followed a week later.

It is a major undertaking, but if one views their narrative (some of which I hopefully captured) with images of what’s to come, the intent and inclusive nature with which the project was put together and run, South Africans should be holding thumbs and be proud  of this young team of architects who have taken our architectural heritage with visions of the future to represent us at the prestigious 18th Biennale Architectura 2023.

 * The 18th International Architecture Exhibition, titled The Laboratory of the Future and curated by Lesley Lokko, will be open from 20 May to 26 November 2023.

FIREFLY GLOWS WITH WONDER AS A CLUTCH OF ARTISTS CELEBRATE THE MAGIC OF THEATRE

Pictures taken off the screen by directors Toni Morkel and Jaco Bouwer during the film shoot:

If you haven’t yet seen Sylvaine Strike’s wondrous Firefly, Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre is presenting another season from May 19 to June 11. It’s a once-in-lifetime theatrical experience with two seasoned artists stepping into the magical world of storytelling in a way that plays with your imagination in the best possible sense. If you want to know more, see below. This is the story written when they first stepped onto stage following covid:

The Countess Pafanesca in the Vodka Tango

When you are excited by the group of artists who have  come together to make theatre, sparks can fly. And that’s exactly what can happen with the first live run of Firefly, a production that was created to celebrate live theatre. DIANE DE BEER speaks to a few of the artists involved:

Theatre fans are blessed with the latest Sylvaine Strike, Andrew Buckland and Toni Morkel collaboration as they bring Ferine and Ferase (which was filmed by Jaco Bouwer for the Woordfees digital programme) to life on stage – as it was originally planned.

This is the second time this trio have combined their creative talents (the first was in the much lauded Tobacco and the Harmful Effects Thereof) even if the roles have been switched. Firefly was written by Sylvaine Strike and Andrew Buckland and devised for the stage by the full company (Andrew, Sylvaine Toni Morkel, Tony Bentel) and directed by Toni Morkel with Tony Bentel on piano..

Sylvaine Strike and Andrew Buckland at play.

The initial name was derived from two chemical components luciferin and luciferase, which exist in a firefly’s bum and make it glow, explained Sylvaine. “So one without the other can’t make light, they have to be together to glow. Lots of fireflies in this show.” And that is why it is now called the more familiar Firefly.

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. The idea was to create something that would show audiences why theatre is unique and exciting. Saartjie didn’t want a big set, she didn’t want audiovisuals, no multimedia, only pure theatre. “We want body and craft and what the actor is,” was the instruction.

Because of lockdown, they started writing remotely through October, November and December and in mid-January last year (2021) met in a rehearsal room with their director. With Tony Bentel on piano, they began to develop the story on their feet to find a common language between Sylvaine and Andrew, who both have very specific styles. But when this trio are tasked to make theatre, that’s exactly what they do.

It’s all in the telling of the tale.

They discovered and developed a mutual style for the two actors 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. They have a backstory of their own, which they tell as travelling players of Bucket’s End. It’s a time of magic and wonder which allows you to sit back, be transported and dream, a luxury in these times.

“It’s beautiful, it’s very physical, it’s gorgeously costumed with each a standard clowning costume that transforms into a couple of things,” Sylvaine embroiders.

Every detail tells a story.

From the start it was meant to play on stage and they had a short trial run with a 45-minute version. But this all had to take on a different hue when live changed to digital and they spread their special brand of fairy dust.

The full play was filmed with Sylvaine enchanted with Jaco’s extraordinary transformation from stage into film, shot in studio, all in black and white, inspired by old movies. And those of us lucky enough to have seen it, agree.

It was delightful to witness how they adopted and adapted for the new medium with all the elements colliding and fusing.

 And now they’re back on stage and it will be marvellous to be experience yet another transformation. Personally, I can’t wait!

Crafting a clutch of characters with craft and creativity.

Sylvaine and Andrew make perfect sense together and then to have the extraordinary Toni Morkel directing is genius.

As she has often been directed by Sylvaine and performed with Andrew, she was terrified yet thrilled when asked but she trusted her instincts because all three of them know one another well and understand each other’s particular theatre language.

“I’m very excited to do it live,” says Toni, who has just started with rehearsals again. These are two actors who know how to act with their whole being and she finds herself smiling as she watches them go through their moves. “I’m living my dream,” says this consummate theatre maker.

The great difference between the screen and stage version is most specifically the sets. The two actors with their costumes and imagination have to construct their world on stage. And while it is sometimes frustrating to remember what they could do on film, the stage version is what they envisioned from the start.

“We wanted to create a play that would travel easily and anywhere – whether we had lights, curtains, even a stage,” she says. And knowing what they have achieved in the past together and individually, this is not an impossible ask. It has always been part of their theatre ethos, and while it might have been initiated by a scarcity of funds, it also focused their imaginations magnificently.

Andrew Buckland and Sylvaine Strike in Firefly.

“I know their world, their physical ability and strength and how they work,” she says about the process. “What we are relying on is good old-fashioned storytelling.”

She does have two more aces up her sleeve with Wolf Britz again making magic with his wondrous lighting and he has a few more tricks in the bag. And there’s Tony Bentel’s wizardry on piano. “I can’t help but gush when speaking of his astonishing ability. He has a world of music in his body,” is how she explains this gifted musician who accompanies the two actors live.

“For any section of the play, he comes up with five or six different musical suggestions and because he is adept with improv, he can embellish what the actors are trying to express at any moment. I am constantly in awe of what he has arranged musically.

“I am blessed,” she says.

And so are we. With these dynamic artists, expect fireworks in Firefly!

THE KLEIN KAROO NATIONAL ART FESTIVAL SHOWS HOW THEY SPEAK IN PICTURES AND INSTALLATIONS

PICTURES: Fahiem Stellenboom

Liza Grobler Festival Artist and the winner of the art prize captures the essence of her Karoo which constantly changes.

Art has always played an important role at the festivals, with the Klein Karoo National Festival one of my favourite viewing venues. DIANE DE BEER tells you why:

It has to do with the place, because they have easy access to different venues and spaces, but perhaps because of the length of the festival, it has also meant that you have time to meander and really take note of the art.

Another reason might be the more recent introduction of curator Dineke van der Walt. Her choice of themes and artists has been unusual, varied and always presenting a large number of artists who I had no knowledge of.

That doesn’t necessarily mean anything except that I don’t pay enough attention during the year and the festivals mean that artists from around the country are on display.

Curator Dineke van der Walt on one of her many walk-abouts. Picture: Hans van der Veen.

This year was no exception and I was lucky enough to catch one of Van der Walt’s walk-abouts which for this art fan is always a bonus and a learning experience. Sometimes the artists or the curators are around and do the talking, but other times, Van der Walt told the story. Keep this one in mind for the future.

This year’s theme very aptly was Hide and Seek: Reimagined Histories. It’s about taking a much wider and more representative look at the world. For far too long, stories have been told from a specific vantage. It has long been time to fling open those doors and allow the light in. We all gain from a wider and more honest perspective – on every level.

There are too many artists and  venues to include here, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t many more worthy of a mention. Simply that I had to make a choice, and for the moment, these were my picks.

Two stood outside of the parameters of the St Vincent Building which exhibited most of the art. Another well-deserved extension of Karoo Kaarte, was yet again a fantastic example of how art can include a much wider audience as well as introduce participants to a new way of expressing themselves.

 Collages and narratives feature strongly in this project and this time they were displayed in full view of everyone in town because at some point they would have passed these beautifully illustrated windows and stopped by to see what was happening.

The pictures best tell the story that is one that should just keep on running. Here are some of the collages in the building where they presented daily workshops.They had many contributions and one they cleverly slipped into the exhibition space was the way they re-imagined children’s games from the past ,which some of us might remember like kennetjie, skaloeloe, drieblik and gaatjie. These were then explained in a pamphlet with instruction-driven drawings to show the way. It’s also another way of appealing to the youngsters attending the festival.

The other was a series of site specific installations which apparently were meant to be quite hidden, but for hurried festinos it might have been a hazard rather than an adventure.

Three derelict buildings were selected as the backdrop for Norman O’Flynn and ONE. with the trio of installations titled Transparent. The idea was to lift these structures, which have probably for many years gone unnoticed, out of their environment by applying a quite ordinary yet eye catching pattern.

What they were hoping to achieve was to show the way society deals with issues like poverty, inequality and violence in a community, by turning a blind eye.

It was a wonderful exercise apart from the difficulty in finding especially one of the installations. The point about hidden had already been drawn by picking these structures all on the edge of society.

Art is enough of a niche not to add obstacles to further shift it closer to the edge.

Kanna for Best Presentation – visual arts, sponsored by Absa: Liza Grobler – Inkommers, laatkommers & laatlammers, as well as the Droom installation”:

And then moving inside to be enveloped by the colourful explosion of the Festival Artist. Liza Grobler dabbles in many different ways of making art. With the title Inkommers, laatkommers en laatlammers, this recent Oudtshoorn inhabitant was clearly stating her case.

From her side, there’s an exuberance, an energy and enthusiasm that’s catching. She targets the imagination not only with her variety of work but also with the way she invites you to engage with her art.

Stringing along while playing with your mind.

There’s a playfulness that’s engaging and yet her work is loaded with meaning if you take the time to explore and engage. And here the title took you by the hand and pointed the way.

As did her outside installation with the word DROOM in eight different languages. She also encourages others to dream by having workshops and including other Oudtshoorn creatives to collaborate.

Another artist’s work that grabbed my heart was titled Untitled: the Dumisani Mabaso Retrospective. I was immediately bowled over by the work, the emotional impact, the diversity, the way Mabaso moved from one visual look to the next.

Only then did I wonder about the artist and why I had never seen or perhaps noticed his work before? He was a painter, a master printmaker and a jazz musician, and all of these influences played a role in his art.

His approach was gentle but, living from 1955 to 2013, his art spoke to the time and the conditions of the disenfranchised and disaffected. And he never stopped. His was always a fight for the poor and the working class and for their emancipation.

A trio of Mabaso sketches that reminds of costume portraits with their delicacy.

This retrospective resulted from consultations with the Mabaso family by the William Humphreys Gallery about the importance of underlining his importance and contribution to South African art.

We are the richer for this inheritance.

Two other notables include the work of Johan Stegman who was very articulate in explaining the title of his exhibition: ‘n Goeie dag vir ‘n Slag.

It’s all about the one who writes the history and from where it is interpreted. Rather than argue the facts, he  takes the battle of Blood River, the legendary fight between the Voortrekkers and the Zulus, and investigates it from different angles with the idea that this will offer different perspectives.

Included are other works which immediately point you to the way his mind works.

In another grouping, Is ons nog ‘n ding, he smartly invited Lawrence Lemaoana to co-curate with a title exploring the use of the term Afrikaner which can be used or abused by white Afrikaans artists to explore their shared needs and desires.

The white artists’ lager only gains huge perspective when the work of a few outsiders is included, in this instance that of Lemaoane and his wife, Mary Sibande. You cannot find a more powerful art couple to make this point.

The worth of any work only comes into play when it is compared with others.

As already said, there are many other exciting examples, and the engaging and provocative approach of the art at this year’s festival again contributed to many conversations, in general and in particular, that is what it is meant to evoke.

THERE’S ENOUGH FOR THE BIG BIRDS IN THE KAROO AND KKNK FESTIVAL DOES THE SAME FOR PEOPLE

Festivals, each one of them, are their own creatures. They’re put together in a way that hopes to attract audiences and once they’re there, will feed and nourish them in many different ways. That’s exactly what this year’s Klein  Karoo National Festival achieved and here are just a handful of reasons why. DIANE DE BEER gives her impressions of some of the best:

Pictures: Hans van der Veen

Picture (above) capturing the Karoo by Fahiem Stellenboom.

First the music productions:

Stylish simplicity of Woordmusiek staging.

Woordmusiek: One of the toughest  things is to keep a stage/performance career going. Coenie de Villiers knows this.

Stylish simplicity of Woordmusiek staging. (Van der Veen)

Especially on the music side. Even if someone like De Villiers is hugely popular, his music part of the Afrikaans lexicon, and his performance style slick and always smartly rehearsed.

It’s quite something to keep reinventing yourself, however. How long will an audience keep listening to the same songs done in exactly the same style and presentation?

Coenie de Villiers (Van der Veen)

De Villiers has always had the key to renewal: collaboration. And while that can also work against you because it can be seen as too gimmicky, he has the musical and performance nous to make it work – and in this instance, brilliantly.

With this one, he decided to focus on his lyrics. He cleverly invited three of our top actors, all with distinct voices – Jana Cilliers, Vinette Ebrahim and Antoinette Kellermann – to read his lyrics as if poems, which they are when done in this way. And in between, he performed his music, some with, and others without song.

Voices that opened vistas.

The staging was stylish without any frills, and guitar genius Mauritz Lotz provided another musical element – and voila, it was a sublime performance with not a note or sound out of place.

Anders/Eenders: a musical ensemble that sparkled. Each individual performer had his/her own style and together, they blend and cook musically.

There’s the superb songbird Sima Mashazi with the extraordinary voice and stage presence; African guitar genius Louis Mhlanga who is as gentle as his music is glorious; the exuberant Riaan van Rensburg on percussion; keyboard king Ramon Alexander; and brilliant producer/bass Schalk Joubert who always looks as if he is enjoying making music while finding the best sounds.

The fact that they all compose and perform their own music adds to the special sound they create as a group. It is the best of who we are, with music that covers the spectrum and tells stories that criss-crosses the country and holds us all together.

You walk out of there overwhelmed and bouncing with African rhythms. It’s a blast and so much part of the South African fabric.

Kanna for Best Presentation – music, sponsored by Castle Lager: Ver innie wêreld Kittie ; Kanna for Best Ensemble, sponsored by Kunste Onbeperk; Ver innie wêreld Kittie

Ver Innie Wêreld Kittie: It might be an intimate setting, but it’s a huge story with heart  – and one of David Kramer’s best. I loved the intimacy of the staging with only four dazzling actors/singers (Dean Balie, Rushney Ferguson, Jenny Stead and André Terblanche) and two musicians, Nick Turner and Yvan Potts.

In 1952, Doris Day and Frankie Lane had a hit with Sugarbush, which was apparently written by Josef Marais (the stage name of Joseph Pessach). Marais and his wife Rosa de Miranda became hugely successful in the US as a folk duo who sang Afrikaans songs translated by Marais into English.

Back home and much later, Kramer hears about Marais’s talent because these two musos both grew up in Worcester. But no one remembers Marais, except Renaye Kramer’s aunt Lily Lange who was courted in her youth by Pessach, who wasn’t considered a good enough catch by the family.

From left: , Jenny Stead , dean Balie, Rushney Ferguson, André Terblanche with David and KKNK Ce=EO Hugo Theart.

Weaving all these stories together, Kramer adds meat to the story by telling a tale of appropriation, something which has long been a problem on especially the African continent. The performers, the staging, the story, the words, used very sparsely but specifically, and the way Kramer tells the story, all contribute to a magical musical affair.

As usual, Kramer has excelled in the casting, with this quartet bursting with talent. And keeping it small, hopefully this one will travel far and wide. It’s a universal story told with heartiness and honesty by performers who are world class.

And then theatre:

Kanna for Best Interpretation, sponsored by Wicus Pretorius: Dawid Minnaar – Mirakel

Dawid Minnaar in a delicious performance with a brave Bettie Kemp who sailed through the play brilliantly as a last-minute replacement.

I have to start with Reza de Wet’s Mirakel ,directed by by her close friend Marthinus Basson. This has always been a stage match made in heaven.

But I hadn’t realised that this was a play I had never seen – and what a delight with a darkness captured in the script. De Wet can be quite melancholy with stories that tear you apart as she scratches around in the psyche of her people.

The cast of Mirakel with a fully cooked dinner including roast lamb … every performance!

But here she looks at a theatrical touring group with a much more gentle eye as she captures all the stereotypes in what can be a very melodramatic world. All the world’s a stage and nowhere is this more true than here.

And Basson’s first masterstroke was the casting. Dawid Minnaar’s performance sets the tone and gives free rein to the rest of the cast as they all swing into over-the-top storytelling that will have you in stitches.

But what lingers is the toughness that is here hidden by play, the struggle to practise something that brings pleasure. The way we regard and value our artists and allow them the space to breathe and to grow. All of which in the long run will bring huge rewards.

I hope this can travel all over and play as many runs as can possibly be imagined. If ever you want to flee the problems of the present, this is where you want to go. It’s fun, it sketches a world we are all familiar with but perhaps not often part of and it allows the actors to go at it full tilt – and no one does it quite as deliciously and with so much relish (one can almost see him smacking his lips as he enters the stage) as Minnaar.

This is one I will cherish for a long time as the depth of what De Wet wanted us to contemplate lingers.

Kanna for Best Design and Technical Contribution, sponsored by Herotel: Craig Leo and Neil Coppen for the concept and design of Droomkraan Kronieke; For a second year running and deservedly so Herrie Prize for innovation or ground-breaking work, sponsored by Kunste Onbeperk: Karoo Kaarte

The enchanting cast of Droomkraan Kronieke stole hearts and more.

And as with Mirakel, similar things can be said of Karoo Kaarte’s Droomkraan Kronieke.

If anyone were wondering about the viability and sustainability of this dream project driven by Neil Coppen and Vaughn Sadie, they simply had to witness the leap this team has made in just a year following last year’s Op Hierdie Dag, which also received much praise, seven nominations and a win for artist Marinda Ntantiso.

This time they were aided by internationally renowned puppet master Craig Leo as well as actor Carlo Daniels, and the full team of actors worked much more in a cohesive unit, than the previous time.

It was a fun, emotionally fulfilling and rewarding experience as the actors displayed their performance skills, exuberance and energy and their growth in professional approach and execution.

This is a production that will play anywhere without any explanation needed of where they come from and who they are. That’s simply embellishment and heightens the admiration one feels for what they have achieved and the lives that are changed. Both for those performing and watching.

I wrote a huge piece on Karoo Kaarte last year (check for it in my blog if you want background), but it should also stand as a blueprint of how to make a festival (or any event) inclusive in an attempt to upend the status quo.

What Droomkraan Kronieke achieves more than anything else is to show and point to the potential right in front of our eyes and what happens when two artists (with the help of gracious donors and many other hands) can achieve with a community that has previously been held back and not given the opportunities.

Kanna for Best Director, sponsored by the ATKV Nicola Hanekom – Mirre en aalwyn; Kanna for Best Presentation – theatre, sponsored by the Het Jan Marais Nationale FondsMirre en aalwyn; Kanna for Best Literary Contribution, sponsored by NATi; Nicola Hanekom – Mirre en aalwyn (original script).

Leading the way, a heartbreaking performance by Amalia Uys.

Finally, Nicola Hanekom is back with yet another of her shattering site-specific pieces Mirre en Aalwyn, and as always she’s tuned into the zeitgeist, with abuse the one issue that has for many years grabbed the headlines. More  than ever, it is critical in communities worldwide and in South Africa in particular.

There’s hardly a woman who reaches adulthood who cannot speak of an incident and often worse that can be ticked off as abuse. (If anyone heard Trump’s recent monstrous ramblings, that says it all). And instead of things improving and more people taking up the cause, it’s as if people turn their heads away and ignore those talking too loudly.

Elzabé Zietsman is doing the festival circuit with her devastating solo Femme is Fatale and now Hanekom has also stepped into the arena with a piece that doesn’t flinch as they go full on to investigate this scourge in especially women’s lives.

And in this instance where it besets families and the women have no protection, no one to turn to, no positive role models, it’s almost as if they turn on themselves. It’s the only thing of value they have to display and that’s where they go. And to add to the dilemma, they have found a voice in social media where everything is amplified, not always in especially the vicitms’s interest.

Oudtshoorn with its spectacular weather and environment offers the perfect canvas and Hanekom has refined this gloves-off type of approach when dealing with tough topics.

Her cast, always handpicked with great care, tell a story that audiences have to hear, and Hanekom introduces enough darkness and light to hold the attention and make the most explosive impact.

If you don’t leave this one shattered, think again.

And watch out, it might be difficult to play somewhere else because it is site-specific, but when there’s a will, there’s a way. And for this one, that’s how it should be.

Until next year, meanwhile there’s the Karoo Klassique from 4 to 7 August later this year. Also check the next story on the fabulous art.

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS, WE JUST LOVE WORDS SAYS THE VRYE WEEKBLAD WITH THEIR BOOK FESTIVALS

Book festivals are becoming more and more popular but if you think they’re easy to curate and organise, think again. You have to think about the where, when and who, what kind of topics you want to present, find a balance between light and weighty, none of which will give you a sure-fire result. Deborah Steinmair from Vrye Weekblad cooked with the right ingredients. DIANE DE BEER was there:

Pictures supplied by Vrye Weekblad

Cullinan was the chosen spot for Vrye Weekblad’s first Gauteng Boekefees following the success of the Cape equivalent in Stilbaai last year. They’re also following with a third one in the Free State’s Clarens in July and there is talk of another one in the Cape. (If you’re interested, follow their social media…)

But this time, book genius Deborah Steinmair was the one who had to get all her ducks in a row. First she found the perfect venue, a church with a large hall, all on one property with parking across the road and in walking distance from where most people would be staying during the weekend.

Architecturally, if that’s your thing, it also had the perfect look. It is a Herbert Baker design after all and that’s what these kinds of towns dotted all across the country offer. Think Dullstroom, Clarens, Tulbach, and more…

And as the visitors started arriving on the Friday afternoon for the editors’ launch Daar’s ‘n Mier in my Broek (There are ants in my pants) with Max du Preez, Anneliese Burgess and Piet Croucamp, it was obvious that the weekend would draw a crowd.

Anneliese Burgess (right) and Piet Croucamp talk SA politics.

Politics in this country is part of our daily bread – especially now – and if you have a few breakaway voices setting the tone, you’re getting it right. But then that’s been a Vrye Weekblad trademark. You had to be there to catch their drift but what really hit the mark for me was the collective decision that we need new ideas not new ideologies.

And then a few pointers. Watch out for distractions. From what did the media turn their gaze when they were so obsessed with the Thabo Bester saga? But there’s good news on that front as well. Who would have known that Parliament could do such a deep dive when investigating Bester’s miraculous escape?

Lientjie Wessels (left) with chicken croquettes and venison and miso bobotie.

This was followed by another Deborah brainwave: asking one of our most inventive chefs, Lientjie Wessels, to host an old-fashioned grand dinner in what was once a diamond town.

The menu and pictures do the talking: from tomato soup with togarashi, to squash hummus, chicken croquettes, roasted beetroot with feta and herb crumbs followed by a venison and miso bobotie with the traditional yellow rice and pear chutney, and concluding with a Persian love cake with lemon caramel.

And if you are wondering, like I did, about togarashi, it is described as a common Japanese spice mixture containing seven ingredients. It’s one of the things I love about Lientjie’s food, I always learn something. Also, you know that every meal by this creative genius will be something extraordinary, and I’m not exaggerating.

We stayed in the Cullinan Hotel and here I also have to give a plug, I was pleasantly surprised. Nothing fancy, but smartly yet simply renovated furnishings in the rooms turned this into a pleasant stay as well

Dinner by candlelight at the Boekefees.

The next morning kicked off with Renée Rautenbach Conradie’s discussion with author Willemien du Preez on her book described as autofiction, ‘n Plaas se Prys. And what that means is that the story is based on her life but interwoven with fictional elements. The talk was titled Futility farm and the Afrikaner’s farm gene. The drift of the story is a couple following their dream, buying a farm and then finding themselves literally and figuratively overwhelmed by the elements – with dust and flies dominating.

It’s a universal story of broken dreams … and yet she lives to tell the tale and probably another, and another.

A highlight was a collective group of feisty women authors who captured the imagination and the spirit of the book fest.

Borrel, gorrel, smoeg en wroeg (loosely translated à la Shakespeare: boil, bubble, toil and trouble) Women who write can bewitch: including Gerda Taljaard (Vier Vroue), Bettina Wyngaard (Lokval), Renée Rautenbach Conradie (Met die Vierkleur in Parys), Michèle Meyer (Moer), Celeste Theron (her first will be released in the next few months), Emma Bekker (Vel), and Marida Fitzpatrick (Mara).

Deborah took the reins: one needs her kind of wicked humour to get the sharp-tongued talk going and with these more recent than others, but all spending stolen or free time on words.

Asked about feminism, the responses varied from an aversion to labels to Wyngaard’s struggle with the basics. If people aren’t accepted as equal yet, how can we ignore the fight?

Feisty females: Back: Emma Bekker, Gerda Taljaard, Marida Fitzpatrick and Renée Rautenbach Conradie; Centre: Celeste Theron and Bettina Wyngaard; Front: Michèle Meyer and organiser Deborah Steinmair.

Some members of the panel are inspired to write by history, others want to investigate certain questions, yet another talks about fever dreams or even nightmares when awake. There are also those thoughts that burst through from the unconscious just before you nod off and another feels for her, writing is the only way to express herself.

And just to throw the cat amongst the pigeons, Deborah wanted to know whether women write better sex scenes than men.

For Gerda it was simple: The male gaze can be quite technical. Replace that with a woman’s perspective and it’s softer, more subtle.

And then I have to agree with Anneliese Burgess about the deeply serious closing  conversation of the day between editor Max du Preez and writers Johann van Loggerenberg (former head of the investigative unit at SARS) and Pieter du Toit discussing ANC Billionaires and Rogues.

It’s the kind of meaty discussion, “an in-depth analysis about the state of the nation”, is how Burgess describes is, you want to conclude with, even though I sadly had to leave after the cheerful chatter of the female authors.

Sunday suitably swung into a gathering of poets (Johan Myburg, Jolyn Phillips, Kirby van der Merwe, Eunice Basson, Martjie Bosman, Emma Bekker, Johann Lodewyk Marais, Pieter Odendaal and Jaco van der Merwe) who did their reading in the Baker church before a final meal with Frik de Jager whose selected dishes each told its own story.

And just like that, it was all finish and klaar. With the next one just around the corner.

I can’t wait.

KENTRIDGE WIELDS HIS ARTISTRY TO SHINE THE LIGHT MAGNIFICENTLY ON THE FORGOTTEN BLACK FOOT SOLDIERS WHO FOUGHT VALIANTLY BUT WERE IGNORED IN THE WRITTEN HISTORY OF WORLD WAR ONE

The Head and the Load is about Africa and Africans in the First World War.

That is to say about all the contradictions and paradoxes of colonialism that were heated and compressed by the circumstances of the war.

It is about historical incomprehension (and inaudibility and invisibility).

The colonial logic towards the black participants could be summed up:

“Lest their actions merit recognition,

Their deeds must not be recorded.”’

The Head and the Load aims to recognise and record.

           WILLIAM KENTRIDGE

Pictures supplied

SHOW: The Head and the Load

CONCEPT AND DIRECTOR: William Kentridge

COMPOSER: Phillip Miller

MUSIC DIRECTOR AND CO-COMPOSER: Thuthuka Sibisi

CHOREOGRAPHY: Gregory Maqoma

PROJECTION DESIGN: Catherine Meyburgh

COSTUME DESIGN: Greta Goiris

SET DESIGN: Sabine Theunissen

LIGHTING DESIGN: Urs Schönebaum

And the magnificent cast and musicians – with the African premiere dedicated to the original narrator Mncedisi Shabangu who sadly died last year.

DIANE DE BEER reviews:

And the top introduction by Kentridge gives you a pretty good idea of the load the artist, in many different disciplines, (and when not, he brings in others of his ilk) had in his head.

If you’re the one watching, it might just blow your mind. And if you’re familiar with his work, there’s much you will recognise as he often works with the same artists and combines original music with references to the period and composers of the time as well as texts, movement, shadow play and lighting.

You see a body marching in the distance (they use backstage for the performance because they need that length of space), and just the way he moves already tells you he is a dancer. But not any dancer, one of the best, Gregory Maqoma.

That’s how it runs all through the performers and the musicians. When I hear the brass sounds used in this specific way, it reminds me of the cacophony Emir Kusturica used in his war drama Underground to capture the sounds he associated with war.

And Philip Miller and Thuthuka Sibisi work similarly. They transformed traditional African songs as well as quotations from composers from the time of the war like Ravel, Hindeman, Satie and Schoenberg. It’s varied, as they mimic the different sections of the story, and the way the musicians and the singers use their voices is spectacular.

Just think of wind instruments. They’re used here in the true sense of the word. It’s as if the wind witnesses and blows silently through the space.

But let’s start at the beginning when the show starts. Performers have silently been slipping in and placing themselves inconspicuously in specific spots. And almost in one fell swoop, the giant screen, the lights and the cast come to life.

The audience, in touching distance, are instantly scooped up and almost thrown into the story and the action.

In one spot there’s the most exquisite Vermeer scene with bold Kentridge drawings and sketches, all heightened by the wonderful and magnified shadow play, while individual performers have all, as if magically wound up, started moving. And then the narrator starts with the tale.

Everything is part of the fabric, the texture, the mood and essence of the whole. It’s like a giant storytelling extravaganza yet this has no fairy-tale ending. There’s melancholia and war mania, and there’s the feasting on the foot soldiers as they are put to battle almost deliberately as war fodder. In one of the war reels, the African participants displayed in uniform are barefoot!

Kentridge puts the spotlight on World War One, but this time, he tells and shows it all. This he wants to record. And in full Kentridge splendour, he unravels and reveals everything he wants you to know. With this grand theatrical flourish he imprints the pictures and performances in your mind.

Having waited for Covid restrictions to be lifted to see the production, it has become even more relevant with first the Russian invasion of Ukraine and now also the frightening war in Sudan.

It’s impossible to take all the individual flourishes in and yet, it is an immersive theatrical experience which will linger and almost lay you low. But then the sense of wonder, the way of revealing the relentless horror and the sheer scale of the endeavour, are what keep swirling in your head.

Gauteng is blessed to have Kentridge in its midst and to witness this astounding theatrical avalanche so brilliantly composed and performed, which is – sadly –  as relevant today as it was in 1918.

FOR MARINDA DU TOIT HER ART IS A PLAYFUL PARADE, A CELEBRATION, A PERFORMANCE

It is the playfulness, the sense of joy in artist Marinda du Toit’s work that first captures the imagination. But there’s much more than just laughter involved in what she describes as sculptures. They’re unusual, have a life of their own and if you listen carefully, they will tell you a story. DIANE DE BEER takes a closer look:

A colourful bunch

I lost my heart to Marinda du Toit’s sculptures the first time I saw them. She started three- dimensional work 17 years ago and I have always known her work would evolve.

There have been small changes along the way, and my most recent addition was a big one, an   installation of a kind which features in my kitchen and brings me great joy.

Since she moved to the Cape a few years back with Covid thrown in-between, she has been missing from our galleries for some time. But she’s back with So gemaak en so gelaat staan (loosely translated as Was made like this, so stays like this) at the Association of Arts, Pretoria from tomorrow (Saturday, April 22) until May 6.

She describes the latest work as a stripped figure which can still read as a character, but it becomes a tree or a branch which is still in the process of growth.

“In 2019 I had an exhibition of heads and dolls (Poppe en Koppe). In my studio, I have a cupboard with drawers and in the one drawer, I keep the heads of dolls. I rarely use these heads, because there’s such a clichéd meaning to it with the Chucky dolls and the Walt Disney movies, but I kept them nevertheless.”

And she had a lot of sticks outside, because she is constantly making fences, working with sticks or harvesting sticks in Simonsberg amongst the alien growth. So she had a lot of sticks in stock.

She wanted something different (“go a little bit mad”, she says), so she put a lot of heads on sticks. “Some people thought it was extremely weird and some people loved it.”

 And personally, she started falling in love with the stripped figure and the stick in hand that becomes something else; a weapon, a symbol, a crutch or anything you want to imagine. “We use sticks all our life, daily – think of brooms,” she explains.

So she started exploring the stick stories.

The magic of Marinda du Toit’s work (Artistic Photography)

She had to develop a way of presenting them neatly, standing upright, but how to assemble them, how to transport them, all became part of the puzzle. After many tries with cement and other  methods, she developed the Escher-like leaf base, which also represents growth, or mulch and getting rid of aliens, and leaving it in the ground for new growth, “all these different metaphors,” she says.

“I can’t actually say what these sculptures mean, I just love them. I think it’s an ode to old toys, the era of plastic that’s gone, but we sit with it now, so let’s play. It’s playful, it’s a parade, a performance dance and celebration. It’s simply play, play, play!

Marinda wearing her heart on her sleeve (Picture: Artistic Photography)

“I just want to have fun and joy, there’s so much trouble and sadness.”

The new work differs from her previous, mostly individual pieces in that the pieces are stripped with no arms and legs, no recognisable figure, and she views it as much more of an installation than before, as well as more abstract.

The use of multiple colours is new and vibrant and personally I feel it has a stronger fairy-tale quality than before. It draws you into a narrative with storytelling becoming an active invitation.

She explains her desire to be joyous. “It happened within myself after recovering from cancer, many issues followed by therapy, troubles, a rocky road and healing. Then came Covid and no money.”

The pandemic was a major turning point for her. She and fellow artist Diek Grobler commented on  the first 100 days of lockdown with postcards and multimedia, which was fun and gave them a voice. They found a way to engage the support of people who still buy and love art. And, she feels their success also followed because what they did was accessible and affordable.

Those first 100 postcards saved her life. “I then used all my savings, did one or two commissions, had fantastic clients who took care of me, and that was when all the paraphernalia and the fluff got stripped from my work.”

She discovered the essence of living and the essence of her art, which was how it manifested in the new work.

“It was all about being simplistic, being honest, being playful, being stripped, being real.”

She was also bored with the “poppe” which she felt she was almost turning into a mass-producing exercise and she became dissatisfied with the quality of her work. She felt driven by her monthly budget, what she needed to sell rather than inspiration.
 “Then you become flat, there’s no meaning, you’re just a machine.” It’s something I think every artist has to battle, with Covid heightening that kind of hysteria.

Pocket-sized poppets. (Artistic Photography)

Her response was to challenge herself with other projects and proposals and her work again started growing and evolving, but it was a difficult time.

Now she’s lost her heart and she can’t wait to show the new work. “It creates a challenge to look differently at objects and find new meaning in objects I selected or adapted,” she notes.

What she did was change the application rather than the object, which means she had to find meaningful objects.

And voilà!

 It’s not as if fans of her work will not recognise and find some familiar figures at the exhibition. They can still construct and put together their own stories as they gather the Du Toit characters in a way that makes sense individually.

Who can resist an invitation to have fun?

LOCAL HEROES WITH WINGS CAN EASILY ADD SMILES AND SUNSHINE TO YOUR DAY

Sketches by Dries de Beer

Dealing with bureaucracy is often challenging on any level or front. So when during some of our most stressful times, you happen to bump into individuals who not only do their work well but seem to make the effort to help you as best they can, it changes the nature of how you view the world. Often they aren’t in top positions so they cannot make all the decisions, but they will make sure that the path is smooth for you to achieve whatever you need to get done. DIANE DE BEER highlights some of her personal heroes of the past few months:

My sister who lives   London and left the country in 1975 was back home for a three month visit. One of our first tasks was a visit to Home Affairs with a request for a new South African passport and ID.

I knew that this would be no small ask and was gritting my teeth from the start, but also determined that we would see this through and that there would be a way.

She has American citizenship, but didn’t want to relinquish her South African links. Dual citizenship was also necessary for certain practicalities.

We arrived early at Home Affairs, which I was already familiar with because I have been helping one of my employees, who we discovered to our dismay, doesn’t have any documentation. Yes, he is a South African and has been working for us for a long, long time, but my husband and I were both working all our lives and were unaware that he didn’t have any documentation … don’t ask. I was given a severe public scrubbing by a Home Affairs official.

Nevertheless, I was hopeful. Our first encounter was short and sweet in the sense that we were given the name of a head office employee and a phone number.

Just a little background. My sister had been to the South African equivalent in London and her ID and passport applications had been handed in a few years back. Regular visits to check on progress offered no hope and this is why she decided to return to source.

As we started our journey back home, we immediately phoned the number we were given to get the process started. This was in the first week of December last year. Her details were again taken with promises that the matter would be taken up with the London offices.

There was much toing and froing, too much detail to bore you with, but all of it seemed very hopeful. Phones were always answered and slowly the case was making progress. One of these was the information that her new ID had been processed and was waiting for collection at the London offices. Why she wasn’t told this or given the document at her last visit was unclear and we let it go. She will collect the ID now that she is back in London.

In the meantime, the passport became the priority and one of the issues was a visit we were planning in the new year to Mozambique. A South African rather than an American passport would mean no visa and we had also discovered that these would only be given when making the crossing into Mozambique, which could mean hours wasted. We couldn’t simply get it at their Pretoria offices. It seemed a very random decision, but they were very clear that it was the only way.

So our journey continued. In the meantime Christmas arrived and I decided not to bother our contact in the week before New Year. It just didn’t seem likely to my mind that anything would happen.

Instead she phoned us, reporting progress! To make a long story short. Our interaction and the progress with our Home Affairs contact was miraculous. From the start, our feelings were positive. It just seemed that this was an individual who was going to make this happen – and she did.

There were a few requests like filling in a new passport, for example, and writing a few notes so that our request for her to collect her passport at the local Home Affairs rather than in London was explained. The letter was even dictated, so that we would get all the wording right!

And never was any favour asked. And the only reason I am saying this is that stories abound how ordinary work only gets done in certain public and private enterprises if the worker is compensated in some way.

Not here. There was such fear from her side of any impropriety that we haven’t yet met her just to say thank-you in person. In the end, my sister collected her passport which she duly used in her crossing to Mozambique and we both lost our hearts to our Home Affairs saviour.

The only reason I am not using her name is to save her any embarrassment or long lines forming in front of her office with others lodging complaints.

Whenever I tell the story, I am inundated with cries of help from others who want their passport or ID problems resolved.

We struck it lucky, I know. But I also know that she cannot be the only one. And in a time when everyone is complaining about everything that goes wrong, she restored our faith in the civil service and the many gems that might be hidden in those government offices.

The fact that they are there was also confirmed when a friend and I did our regular renewal of driving licences, also in December. And this time I will give the name.

On a previous occasion, my husband had renewed his driver’s licence in the Cape because Gauteng’s system was in such disarray. But this time I was getting good reports about the offices in Echo Park, Centurion. This was the route we decided to go.

I made my appointment, but my friend decided to tag along, not having managed a booking. The building was in one of those office developments one sees from the highway between Tshwane and Joburg, not knowing who works there.

We found our way there with some directions, and once parked, we wound our way to what we expected would be a long queue. Not so.

Our police service was employed here and they were working according to a streamlined plan which had everyone smiling as they left the offices and again when they came to collect their licences. Not only did these young policemen all smile magnificently as they helped some of us less efficient with forms on our way, it took less time to get in and out than it took us to get there.

Some time ago this particular service was in a shambles and I can remember reports of corruption even about getting appointments. That isn’t happening anymore. I cannot vouch for any of the other offices in Gauteng but I do know that on two occasions – both of them huge – my faith in our country and the way things could and should be run, was restored.

I have never paid a bribe and I hope never to be in a situation where I feel there’s no other option. And with these two encounters, I know it is possible to make what could have been really tough situations (if not impossible), joyous.

Just keep looking, you will find someone who will help when they should.

PS: Following this writing, I had two more service hero encounters!

They might seem small in comparison, yet they added a sparkle and a huge smile to my day. The first was a grocery shopping trip to my local grocery store Uitkyk in Silverton Pretoria.

Frans Madula diligently at his post.

I have become accustomed to their custom of having two employees checking slips and groceries every time you purchase anything, but this time something was different. Having bought only a few items, I was surprised that the bill was more than R600, but I was distracted and didn’t complete the thought in my head. It was only when my trolley and purchases were checked by the alert Frans Madula, that my suspicions were confirmed. But for his quick eye, I would have paid double the amount my groceries cost!

It was a simple error, 22 rather than two tins of sardines were charged to my account but luckily for me, it was spotted and caught.

At a different store, Builders Express at Gift Acres, I found some swimming pool floaters at the best price I could find. When I got to the till where I was helped by a friendly employee whose nametag aptly read Queen. She pointed out that I could only get that specific special price if I owned a loyalty card.

No problem, she said, she would quickly register me. It was a tedious process, but she had no problem doing what she felt was her job.

And while people were piling into the queue behind me where my purchases were prolonging the process, two women slipped in behind two empty tills to prevent everyone’s impatience.

I didn’t notice anyone guiding this process in any way. These were simply employees who were well trained and who knew how to make the shopping process a smooth one – for everyone.

THE STARS ALIGNED FOR THIS ONE TO CRUISE ITS WAY INTO THE HEARTS OF ACTORS AND AUDIENCES

Daniel Geddes Pictures: Odette Putzier

After much acclaim, following it’s London debut with Jack Holden, and then a Joburg run starring local actor Daniel Geddes, Cruise, heads for Cape Town for a short season (April 12 to 30) at the Homecoming Centre (formerly The Fugard Theatre). DIANE DE BEER chatted to the British playwright/actor about the play and the handing over of this his first stage-produced play, which he had both written and starred in back home:

It was as if all the stars aligned for actor/playwright Jack Holden with the creative processes surrounding his first play Cruise, which is having its second local run in Cape Town this month.

Jack Holden in Cruise

“I had the idea of the show for a while, for many years actually. It was based on a phone call I heard while I was volunteering for Switchboard, an LGB+ helpline here in the UK. I took that call in 2013. 

“The story struck me as so moving and powerful and life-affirming that I knew I needed to tell it someday, somehow, and it was only in the pandemic when I was locked down at home with nothing else to do, I finally got on and did it. So in that sense it saved me because it really gave me a focus during the first lockdown here,” he explained.

But the writing only started in 2020. He thinks that it might have had something to do with the context of sitting with another epidemic, Covid, that made him reflect upon the sort of fear and terror that the gay community must have gone through in the UK especially, with the 1980’s HIV and AIDS. (It was more widespread in South Africa, affecting more communities).

A lot of the research about Soho where the play is set was quite easy to do online. But, he explains, “the stuff that gave the show the texture that I think makes it sing, are the interviews I did with some older gay friends that I’m lucky to have. I asked them about their time in Soho in the 1980s. Neither of them claimed to be seen kids, but they had memories which were incredibly useful, and gave so much texture to the piece. “

Initially he thought it might be a short film, but then he thought, no, be ambitious. “I also predicted that when theatres reopen after the pandemic, they are probably not going to put on massive shows, so if I can make it a solo show, that would be great. I’d performed a few monologues of other people’s writing previously in my career, so I knew I could do it and I wanted to do a show with John Patrick Elliott doing the music again.”

Daniel Geddes in Cruise.

They had worked together before and again with great foresight, Jack’s thinking was about producing a show that would land with a huge bang.

“I have a very strange relationship with the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, I thought my career was over and at the end of it, my career was better than it had ever been, so it was a weird time.”

Theirs was the first play to open in the West End and the first new play as well. “I think people were so hungry for the live experience and Cruise is loud and brash and all of those things. I think because it’s such an ultra-high-octane live experience, people were so receptive to it, so emotional behind their medical masks, that it landed well,” which was also the intent.

From the start, the writing of it, once he got in a room with John, was actually very quick, because it was always going to be only one actor (Jack) with the DJ (John), which meant he would be playing all the parts, which also provided certain limitations. They knew it would be roughly 90 minutes straight through and he wanted it to be an odyssey that bounces around all the bars and clubs and pubs of Soho. “It’s quite a classic hero’s journey that he had to go on,” he says.

Primarily he was trying to  create something that would entertain people and he doesn’t think entertainment has to be light all the time. In fact, he argues that entertainment is better if there’s a bit of darkness, a bit of sadness mixed in there, a bit of humanity that lifts the lightness and makes it even more delicious.

“I was hoping to entertain people and as I was taking on the subject of HIV and AIDS in the 1980’s, I obviously wanted the piece to feel authentic. And that was the scariest thing which only surfaced when I got to performances. I suddenly thought this could be high risk, I could have judged this wrong.”

But he had gone about the whole process in a very thoughtful way. His research was thorough and he talked to the right people with good people surrounding him who told him if something wasn’t ringing true. “And indeed, in rehearsals we had several changes and bits to cut.”

 He also wanted to dive into the music of the era which hugely adds to the entertainment element of the piece. “I love ’80s music. It can be really, really good and it can also be really, really bad and I wanted to play with that. There’s been a real moment of ‘80s nostalgia, so I thought it would do really well.

“I wanted the music to be in the DNA of the play and that‘s why I worked so closely with John. I brought a few pages of text to our first workshop and he brought samples of ‘80s music. And we started mixing it together. That means the show has musicality in its veins. I love traditional shows and when it works it absolutely blows me away, but there’s no shame in putting on a show and entertaining people.

“We have so many tools at our disposal in theatre; sound, light, music, smoke, movement. And especially with a solo show, you don’t have to use all of those, but I really wanted to. I never dared to hope that the show would get as big as it did.”

Because he is dealing with something in the past, yet in a strange way linked to our present circumstances, the content has huge impact. It’s obviously been written with performance and watchability in mind. Jack has a great way with words with the text written as a kind of rhythmic monologue interspersed with music, which also passes on the message. It holds your attention throughout.

And then there’s Daniel  and the local production. Jack was surprised that South Africa was the first outside of the UK to stage Cruise, “but I was also cheered by it and love it. Obviously South Africa’s history with HIV and AIDS is well known, so on that front it struck me as completely logical.

“I loved watching the South African production. It was surreal watching someone else performing Jack (me) performing the show. It was quite a mind-bending experience and really informative to see how the show can be interpreted in different ways.

“And yes, humbling. It’s not just me who can do this, other actors can do this, so I’m really thrilled that it’s getting another life. I’m so pleased about the Cape Town run, because they really deserve another go at it,” he concludes.

TWO OF THE BEST CHEFS IN THE BUSINESS MAKE MY HEART SING WITH THEIR ARDENT APPROACH

It’s a blessing to have had meals cooked by two of my favourite chefs recently, not having been at their tables for quite some time and as always, their food was simply the best. DIANE DE BEER pays tribute to two of the best:

Enchanted garden.

I have been a Lientjie Wessels fan forever – of her food, her art, her writing and more. Having tried for quite some time to go to one of her Cullinan long tables, I was excited when finally I could go with a group of foodie friends for one of her delightfully quirky meals.

Lientjie Wessels.
Portrait: Hennie Fisher

That has always been part of her charm for me. She makes the kind of food with ingredients I really love. A long time ago she told me that for her mother, who passed on her love of food to her daughter, it was all about taste. I think she also taught her about unusual flavours and combinations.

Right from the start, my chef consort Hennie Fisher was just blown away by her very first dish of the day: Japanese-style pancakes, homemade mayo (and she was heard murmuring as an aside that she had put this together incidentally but would include it in her repertoire, it was that good!), bonito, lowveld wild honey and spekboom.

Japanese style starter.

What Hennie loved about the dish was once again her creative playfulness. “It’s the clever way she emulated bonito with the fine powder biltong, almost turning the biltong into a kind of ‘land’ bonito,” he explains. “But also because she so cleverly combines meat and fish (even if both are dried), because it is so often a combination used in Asian cuisine. And how brilliant to make that connection with biltong and bonito!”

Just listing the ingredients should inform anyone about her innovative choices. But she’s not just throwing things together. Her cooking is instinctive yet thoughtful and she knows her customers. In her kitchen, she is always at play. And for diners, this is a fun adventure if you’re up for it.

Miso and peri-peri prawns.

The next one stuck to the Asian theme and clever combo with peri-peri prawns and miso with sesame coleslaw. It was just a dream and perfectly cooked. She seamlessly ticks all the boxes.

A Lientjie meal is possibly the only time I won’t shy away from krummelpap (maize, polenta), not one of my favourite foods but I knew if anyone could, she would convert me. She won me over with her specific buttermilk version served with Koji beef rump, a ginger steakhouse sauce (how can you not fall in love with that choice!) and pickled cucumber. It’s in the detail and the combinations, everything contributes to that single spoonful taste explosion.

And to perfectly conclude in Japanese style, the dessert, a cotton cheesecake with cinnamon syrup and tennis biscuit crumbs, sealed the deal, which I proclaimed perfection. Even as a cheesecake fanatic and two visits to Japan, I had never encountered a Japanese cheesecake before.

And blessings to the internet, which explained that this version is also known as a soufflé-style cheesecake, usually lighter in texture and less sweet than the more traditional version. But then also to serve it with Tennis biscuit crumbs! How could she not?

It’s not only the food that’s spectacular – the fact that Lientjie no longer has a restaurant in Cullinan hasn’t deterred her one bit. She simply commands the kitchens of friends in venues that contribute to the ambience of the event. And this one certainly did as I’m sure each one will. The walk up to the house was like stepping into a fairy tale.

Lientjie has recently bought a house in Richmond (Cape), a town that is fast becoming yet another food destination but with added interests like Die Karoo Padstal, Richmond Rooms and Café, MAP gallery with one of the best local art collections you will find anywhere, a bookshop to keep you busy for days and much more. It’s the perfect halfway stop.

And in future, when she’s in town, she will also be doing lunch in Richmond, like on April 9 when she is presenting a fantastic feast. If you’re passing through or sleeping over, book a table. She’s also doing a dinner in Cullinan at the Vrye Weekblad Boeke Fees, which promises to be spectacular.

Check her out on Facebook and Instagram for information. And whatsapp her on 082 531 6141 for bookings.

But while in Richmond, that’s also the location of my other much loved chef, Klaradyn Grobler of Richmond Café and Rooms and Die Karoo Padstal fame, who is also back in business. Yet she is still arguably the hardest booking to pin down.

I was thrilled when on our last trip to Cape Town, to show the London family the best of the best, we could manage to secure a booking for dinner while sleeping over at another guesthouse, one with an attached gallery – it is that kind of town, one with many hidden gems.

We had the best of all worlds to show off this spectacular landscape with a dinner celebrating Karoo lamb included. On our journey that morning we were sent the menu on our phones with three of us opting for lamb chops with roasted vegetables, while I couldn’t resist the lamb curry and one of the diners who couldn’t eat lamb, had a bacon pizza.

As with Lientjie, the venue is just as important as the food. In fact, I recognised Klaradyn’s style (having seen it in the Free State) when I first had a meal at her Richmond Café and Rooms. It’s unmistakable, buzzing with creativity and  probably complemented by her husband Nicol’s architectural skills.

And with both these chefs, their style enhances the full experience. On the night, we had two charming women in the kitchen, and as they had our choice of meals ahead of time, everything ran very smoothly.

Fresh home-baked bread and home-grown tomatoes.

We sat down at 6 pm because the kitchen closed at 7 (one listens to their commands!) and were presented with what was the perfect starter, home-baked bread (deliciously thick slices) with farm butter and fresh tomatoes from the garden. We had to battle not to indulge to the point of messing with our mains.

And then the main attraction. I absolutely lost my heart to Simon’s lamb curry with flatbread even though the lamb chops (I had a taste) were fantastic. For me the curry had just the right flavours to celebrate the lamb and after a long day’s travel, it was the best comfort food.

The chops were served with roasted vegetables in just the right mix. It is a skill to present a simple meal to perfection. There’s nowhere to hide so everything has to work. And it does!

On the counter was the night’s dessert, a bumper milktart, which had us licking our lips. At R250 a meal, it’s a steal.

Both these chefs, Lientjie and Klaradyn, popped in to discuss their food and acknowledge that they were dealing with diners who are devotees of their special way with food. We appreciated that.

It’s not difficult to understand these two spectacular women, the way they cook and how in different ways they celebrate their strengths. For me part of the charm is their similar ethos, presenting diners with food to die for and yet, their menus are so different. It’s about how they go about it and what they come up with – and in the end, as they say, the proof is in the pudding!

For bookings and info: Richmond Café and Rooms 079 755 8285.