Cast: Sandra Prinsloo, Alida Scheepers, Brittany Smith, Tylor Lamani and José Dias
Venue: Montecasino’s Pieter Toerien Theatre
Dates: Until April 2
THIS is Sandra Prinsloo’s time.
Having recently seen her performance in Florian Zeller’s Moeder and now this revival of Master Class as Maria Callas in a mentorship rather than singing role, her range is astounding. For the past few years, she has been touring mainly in solo shows and it’s been a joy to have her back with ensemble casts, still reigning supreme.
If you’re expecting a Callas double, you will be disappointed, it’s not that kind of performance even though there are hints and gestures to pay homage.
This one’s all about the process, how to become an artist and if you’re blessed by the theatre gods, you’re shown the finer points by La Divina. That’s where the focus lies, in the script and the performances.
Prinsloo turns into the fading yet never diminished star in front of your eyes. With a voice that’s dropped an octave, an attitude that displays both wisdom and wit and an accent to add to the theatricality of the piece, you’re swept into this world.
Alida Scheepers with Aandra Prinsloo in Master Class.
McNally cleverly fashioned a play that’s as much about becoming an artist as being on stage, and then he centred it around one of the world’s most dramatic divas, one who seemingly turns a master class into something that’s as much about her as it is about the students.
But in the process, she reveals as much about the artist as she does about the woman. Even at that time when social media wasn’t yet part of the publicity machine, the great ones couldn’t find anywhere to hide. Perhaps at a much slower pace, but eventually the stories would come out. This is why the reminders of her and Ari Onassis’s turbulent love life have impact.
And even if all of this adds flashy flesh to the McNally text, at its heart, it is a treatise on the making of a true artist. All the other shenanigans, as Callas implies, are mere sideshows. But you have to pay attention to making an entrance, having a look, to understanding and investing in every word you sing and more. Everything comes together in a performance that will have you holding the audience’s attention, which is exactly what Prinsloo does in the persona of Callas as she chastises her young students when they perform with what she perceives as too much charisma and not enough care.
They hardly have the chance to utter a note before she destroys what might have been the smallest sign of an ego with shattering disapproval and a sharp gesture to underline her disdain. And then comes the command to sing again. Those who can’t stand the pressure are bitingly rebuked and if they still have any aspiration left, the performance is less assured.
The supporting cast, from José Dias (also musical direction) as the unperturbed répétiteur to the three courageous singers brave enough to face the harsh sometimes hysterical disdain of the tempestuous tutor, are a good foil with McNally introducing a dash of diversity with a trio of types from the nervous ingénue (Scheepers) to the self-assured poseur (Smith) and the cheeky, almost dismissive tenor (Lamani). Their singing is another highlight of the performance.
I wasn’t sure of the flashing way the memory reels of Maria and Ari were introduced and found it quite disruptive. Perhaps loadshedding also had an impact. And perhaps Callas and Prinsloo would have been better served in another costume, one more suited to a master class.
But in the end, Prinsloo’s performance is the one that stuck as she made sure that the way Callas served her art was always at the forefront of her performance. Talent is obviously the X factor of great artists, but without blood, sweat and tears and an unwavering and selfish dedication to your art, few will achieve the ultimate prize.
That’s what Callas knew and delivered both on and off stage and what McNally so masterfully captures in Master Class with Prinsloo persistently reaching for perfection.
The dance conversation starts tomorrow at the Joburg Theatre with Joburg Ballet’s triple bill of ballets new to the company’s mainstream repertoire. Titled Dialogues, two dancers were invited to choreograph two new works while a third, Bruno Miranda, will stage the 1896 ballet BluebeardGrand Pas –
described as a glittering showcase for dancing in ballet’s finest classical tradition. Artistic director Iain MacDonald believes the programme exposes dancers and audiences to the diversity and versatility of the company. DIANE DE BEER talks to Joburg Ballet dancer Chloé Blair who has been invited to expand Table for Two (part of Joburg Ballet’s RAW programme for new choreographers in 2021) for this first season of 2023 and Roseline Wilkens of Vuyani Dance Theatre with her first for Joburg Ballet entitled Identity:
“My choreography philosophy comes from the extreme passion and love that I have for dancing, specifically ballet. I find dancing to be one of the most humble ways to tell a story as it’s very understated as opposed to other art forms, like singing or acting which are maybe more out there or confrontational in some way.”
Chloé Blair believes that dance is so special because it asks the audience to look at body language and interpret it for themselves and then to connect this body language to their own feelings in a way that’s not really conscious.
When she starts working on a piece, there’s her emotional response to music, which is always the starting point. “I find that music allows me to process ideas and memories and thoughts and there’s a lot of time that I spend by myself just listening to movie scores, orchestral music, classical music and just letting my mind wander into specific situations.”
In this instance she was sitting at the dining room table with a friend listening to music they both loved called Table for Two. It’s music she loves and she started thinking about how much of our relationships happen around a table: we celebrate, we eat together, we toast one another, we have fights, she says. “And I thought that would be such an interesting way to centre a specific relationship story. From there I took some of my own memories and own experiences I had which all felt quite universal.”
As a classical ballet dancer, it influences her choreography because it forces her to pay attention to the detail of body language. “In my dance life I’m bound to a classical repertoire, which has a very solid structure. The things that convey emotion are often in the detail, like a look, a head movement, the use of the fingers or a touch, detail orientated when it comes to body language, interpretation.” She tried to use that in the piece, to capture those detailed moments, the difference between emotions by using specific body language. “Being a classical dancer, the dance is very structured and I enjoy that. You find freedom in that structure.”
But after the initial discovery of the narrative, she finds music – which, incidentally, is not usually the music she has used to develop her narrative. “The music which I finally use for the piece, is something different which marries not just the feeling of the narrative, but the structure as well.
Excited to rework the piece, she is also intimidated because to expand everything would be quite a challenge. “I expanded the cast, because the first time it was just two men, but this time round there was a whole corps de ballet. I used the extra dancers as a tool to tell the story, giving a lot more thought to formations, movement and how to incorporate this into the structure,” she notes.
Using two men as main characters was determined by a desire for the relationship to be very interpretive. “I wanted the audience to view it as either a friendship, a romantic relationship, or a family dynamic without specifically dictating it,” she says. She also loves working with men, because they bring an energy and a freedom of movement which is very inspiring to work with.
Her narrative and thus choreography tells a story of how changes in thought and changes in feeling lead to changes in the dynamic between the two of them. While Table for Two follows one character’s narrative, she wanted to show a relationship in multi-dimensional way, not always as so often seen from our own perspective.
What Roseline Wilkens hopes to achieve with Identity is for the self to be comfortable in its own skin. She strongly believes that everything happens for a reason. “My identity was formed by my life stories. All the work I have created is very personal.”
It deals with the journeys she has made, things that have happened to her, and things that have formed her as the person she is today. “But things still keep happening and shaping my character,” she emphasises. “Whoever I meet, whether the person stays in my life or leaves, there’s always something that keeps forming you.”
But, importantly, she also holds onto her roots and where she came from, not forgetting what she stands for. She embraces change and carefully dissects wat she incorporates into her life and what she lets go. “That’s what identity is all about, finding your true self,” she says.
She was surprised by how much the dancers understood the storyline she presented them with. “It was more than I thought they would because it came from a personal perspective,” she explains. “Dealing with identity, everything had to be honest about some life-changing event.
She usually works in the field of African contemporary, sometimes classical and it would have been easier working with dancers she has worked with on a daily basis However, it was surprising working with classical contemporary ballerinas. “It was interesting how we influenced one another and the work. It came together as they made it their own and gave it their own flavour. I didn’t come with any expectations, so it was a work in progress and a work together.”
Having created the music in collaboration with Isaac Molelekoa, she doesn’t see herself as a composer, but she loves sound and working with what she feels. “I created the music with my own beats which was then transcribed as sheet music by my collaborator.” She feels blessed by this partnership which has been worked at through the years. “He gives life to the craziness in my head and the sounds I make during rehearsals.”
She doesn’t have to use any other sounds or music and this for her, truly represents her identity. “I chose the title, because it is about becoming one with self, learning to start over, relearning yourself in every way possible which means growth. I am in tune with myself,” she aptly concludes.
Joburg Ballet 2023 seasons at a glance:
Dialogues (Joburg Theatre): Friday 17 March – Sunday 26 March
Romeo and Juliet (Joburg Theatre): Friday 30 June – Sunday 9 July
La Traviata-The Ballet (Baxter Theatre, Cape Town): Wednesday 26 July – Saturday 29 July
Don Quixote (Joburg Theatre): Friday 29 September – Sunday 8 October
Dialogues: Booking Information
Standard Ticket Prices:
R475, R410, R375, R275, R200 (applicable to all performances except Wednesday 22 March for which all tickets are R100) Discounts:
Friends of the Ballet 35%; Pensioners 15%; Groups of 10+ 10%; Children 4-7 50% Where:
First off there was August Wilson’s Fences with an amazing, vibrant cast just right for the present time. As I have written in a previous post, there was nothing to fault. But what reminded me even more strongly what we missed during Covid, was a second show, this time contemporary dance with two of the best in the business and with the choreographers almost reaching the status of elder statesmen.
But let’s refer to them (Gregory Maqoma and Vincent Mantsoe) as the wise men of dance as they tap into the time in a way that elevates the show in so many ways.
What they presented with their specific talents and differing styles together, is so smart. I am not a dance critic, so I tread lightly when commenting on dance yet theatricality is much more universal and an easy one to asses.
While Mantsoe is much more the traditionalist, someone who time and again returns and robustly mines his roots, Maqoma bristles with contemporary energy and enthusiasm, which makes this the perfect pairing and shows the capacity and capability of the Vuyani dancers at their best.
It’s in the moves, but it’s also in the mood they create on stage as the interpret their different choreographers with a precision and passion that takes your breath away. And because of the temperature differences in the approach of the two choreographers, that’s what really gift wraps the entire production so stylishly and with such abundant generosity for the audience.
It’s the full spectrum of emotions which makes for the perfect experience in the theatre. And that’s what we missed, artists performing with a passion that comes across in every lift of a head and every tweak of a muscle.
From the costumes by Asex, which also marked the two presentations very specifically, to the exquisite music specially created for this presentation by Andrea Cera (for Mantsoe) and Elvis Sibeko (for Maqoma). Lighting by Wilhelm Disbergen, is again in a distinct language for the individual storytelling, and generously captures the atmosphere.
With the programme digitally set up in the foyer for everyone to access, it enhances the experience for each individual attending. They’ve leapt bravely into a new year, one still hanging by a thread with still so much uncertainty in the world.
But the artists understand. They know there’s no holding back. As long as there are audiences, they have to tell their stories in their own way – and when they do it with such confidence as these two do, the audiences are there .
That’s been amazing and exciting to see with both Fences and ZO!Mute, neither of which will necessarily appeal to the masses – and yet, both shows I attended were packed and with an audience who were there to watch and take on anything on offer from start to finish.
That’s not always a given in the arts. I have been in many theatre and dance shows where you wish there was an audience to witness the wonders on stage. But it seems, Covid has brought a new kind of awareness.
It happens too often. When we have shows in abundance, we don’t always pay attention. But take them away – at least the live ones – for a few years, and the value of artists and what they have to say and show us seems suddenly to be appreciated.
It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s life.
The Vuyani Dancers choreographed by Vincent Mantsoe.
Just becoming used to the idea again of live theatre returning to our lives in full splendour, I want to shine a light on how blessed we all are to have these artists around us who bring so much to our lives.
Sometimes it silly escapism, other times it’s the marvel of their artistry. Storytelling in some form is always part of the equation and if it is for that alone, the constant expansion of our minds, we should all appreciate the sparkle, the sublime and the sheer wonderment they bring to our lives.
The Vuyani dancers cvhoroegraphed by Gregory Maqoma.
Following sold-out performances in the 2022 singer Simphiwe Dana Announces the returns with Moya directed by the prolific Gregory Maqoma under the musical direction of the seasoned Titi Luzipho, which will be staged on the Mandela Stage at Joburg Theatre, from tomorrow (Friday) until Sunday (March 3 to 5).
It has been an incredible journey for Dana in the music business and her powerful and soulful voice has moved the hearts of fans across international stages. She was just a young girl from the Eastern Cape, who initially doubted the sound of her voice, before realising its strength through song. Her activist work has also allowed her voice to highlight serious social issues such as the discriminatory plight that women face.
Moya, is filled with themes of spirituality, and healing, which is inspired by the concept of loss and life. Simphiwe started writing the show after the passing of her mother, trying to find a way of understanding and healing from the loss.
Her music will be complimented by the creative fusion of contemporary African dance by the dynamic Vuyani dancers. Her story is told through the acapella roots of her music.
He is also part of the long-awaited The Head and the Load which due to Covid has been rescheduled from Friday April 21 to Saturday 6 May, also at the Joburg Theatre.
e is also part of With music composed and conceived by Philip Miller with Thuthuka Sibisi, this is William Kentridge’s exploration of Africa’s role in the First World War combining music, dance, film projections, mechanized sculptures and shadow play to illuminate the untold story of the millions of African porters and carriers who served- and in many cases died for- British, French and German battlefield forces.
Freighted with the weight of this little-examined history and quickened by Kentridge’s visionary theatrical alchemy, The Head & the Load has been described as an exceptionally ambitious work of performance.
And all of this is just the start of a momentous year for the monumental artist Gregory Maqoma.Watch this space in a year he celebrates his half century.
From the title of the book bottelnel breek bek, the warning signs are there — this is not going to be an easy read.
But because I have been following Dianne du Toit Albertze’s career for a long time, I knew this would be worth the battle.
In a digital interview, she tells me that the story found her rather than her discovering what she wanted to write about. “I needed to write about people who were braver than me because it was Covid and I needed something to save me,” she says.
That’s where she found Dora and Whashiela, who came with their own heaven-sent gifts. And their strong appearance was probably driven by the fact that “as a trans person, I don’t find many heroines in the books I read. I also don’t see them at festivals or on television. Especially not in my mother tongue,” she notes.
In her own way, she wanted to show Afrikaanse moffies that they shouldn’t let go of their dreams — “Moenie jou tong oppie highway verkoop nie” is how she says it bluntly and beautifully. “Nancy is waiting, we need to make and take our own space.”
Feeling and querying whether this is a very personal tale, she acknowledges that first novels are probably always close to the bone. “I wanted to push my high heels through the literary door with a story that feels close to me. I wanted to go as close to the edge as I could and much method writing followed,” she says. “I learnt about everything I wrote about and didn’t want to be a faker.
“Perhaps I listen to too much Tupac or hide too easily behind my pen … because the book also helped me recover from a poisonous addiction. Every day without drugs is a BIG day. And hopefully this full-frontal writing of mine will mean something to someone out there.”
We all know about method acting and what that has done to those taking it too far, and if you read the book without the hairs on your arms standing on edge you’re possibly not paying attention.
This is an artist who takes her art seriously and even if it meant she climbed a steep mountain with the language, it is what adds authenticity and soul to the characters and story.
“I wouldn’t have been true to my characters if they spoke the language of dubbed Turkish soapies,” explains Dianne about her choices. And acknowledges that she wanted to honour the colourful language of the trans community in Observatory and Matjieskloof. “A variant like Gayle (created by the queer coloured community in Cape Town) even has its own accents in specific regions.”
And then she’s not even referring to Sabela (a language flounced together from numerous local languages in local prisons for gangs to communicate) or those creative Cape expressions we’re all familiar with. This is completely different yet with distinct similarities – an anomaly in itself.
“I’ve always been fascinated by linguistics – to create different codes and to learn different expressions and idioms.”
On a language level, she embroiders, the tongues of the different characters metaphorically reflect their life paths – also pushed out and teetering on the periphery. “Those of us who have for so long been hiding in the shadows should move into the light and speak loudly.” Another incentive for telling her story the way she does – letting it all hang out … bravely.
Amen, say I, having read the book and also revelling in this particular interview/conversation, which was a written rather than a spoken one. “Steve Biko says I write what I like and perhaps I agree with him,” notes Dianne. “I write about shit that matters to me and what I believe will interest a broader audience.”
She also hopes that a trans child might read the book and realise that they too matter, perhaps influenced by her own struggles and lack of support.
For the writer personally, she has many dreams and desires: a musical, Medea in Namakwaland, staged in-between the koppies; and to write a few movie scripts. These are on the cards.
For her, writing plays is like breathing in and out. She’s been doing that from a very young age right through her drama studies. “Poetry and prose come from there, but to write for stage is my big love,” she says.
As for her activist stance, she took her queue from the Sestigers (a moniker for a group of dissident Afrikaans writers, including Breyten Breytenbach, André Brink, Ingrid Jonker, Elsa Joubert, Jan Rabie and Etienne le Roux) who believed that words carry weight and that we need the arts and artists to be our conscience. This would mean, to her mind, stories that free us from what is becoming a hopeless land with steadily growing layers and levels of suffering.
In the meantime she is working with actor/director Lee-Ann van Rooy on a season of her text Kaap, which was performed at the 2020 NATi Jong Sterre Suidoosterfees . And with her Namakwaland trans sisters, she is busy creating an NGO House of Influence with which they hope to establish safe houses as well as perform community theatre.
She’s a busy woman but for those of us lucky enough to witness her creativity, moving on the edges as she does, she draws a curtain on a hidden yet important world.
This is what makes our universe an interesting one. People are allowed if not encouraged to be themselves and for those who are open to the diversity and differences, it establishes a never-ending stage of wonder, wisdom and, of course, a wackiness without which life would be so much poorer and less colourful.
And as Dianne is so determined to bring to our attention, real people are living here.
CAST: Tumisho Masha (Troy, head of the family), Khutjo Green (his wife Rose), Atandwa Kani (their son Cory), Sbusiso Mamba (Troy’s brother Gabriel), Lunga Radebe (his best friend Jim Bono), Hlomla Dandala (Lyons, a son from a previous relationship) and Itumeleng Ngxakazi (daughter Raynell)
SET DESIGNER: Sarah Roberts
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Mannie Manim
COSTUME DESIGNER: Thando Lobese
DIALECT COACH: Ywande James
VENUE: Nelson Mandela at the Joburg Theatre
DATES: Until February 26
TIMES: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 11am; from Wednesday to Saturday at 7.30pm; and Sundays at 3pm
Many of us feel that every production we attend is an event. No one had any doubt about this at the Sunday afternoon opening of Fences with the theme on the invite stating retro ‘50s and the audience coming out to play – BIG TIME.
They were obviously in the mood and the foyer was buzzing. They had stepped delightfully into their magnificent 50-style glad rags and set the pace for what was about to unfold on stage.
And that’s part of the festivities with this kind of opening – the people. I’ve seen enough international productions to know that you probably won’t find our unique audiences anywhere else in the world. They’re there to listen but also to participate. In different parts of the auditorium, you will have your own special chorus who will usually add rather than detract from the production.
On this day, we were blessed with a sassy group of women who were happy to speak their minds, leaving no doubt about their feelings while warmly embracing what was happening on stage.
And with reason. There might have been hiccups with the initial casting, with Kani snr sadly having to step aside because of medical reasons from which he will recover, he says. Yet it is the strength of the ensemble that inhabits this Wilson play that takes your breath away.
You simply have to look at the cast or, if you’re unfamiliar with their names, check their credentials and experience, to know that they will pull it off. And they did and in this instance with no weak links. In the hands of an American director who is steeped in the August Wilson tradition, his intimate knowledge of the people, the time and the place, where and when Fences is set, is obvious.
Not only does the American accent lie gently on the cast’s tongues, they truly play as if to the manner born, which allows everything and everyone to concentrate on honouring this extraordinary play.
From the Roberts set (as the lights and multi-media come into play) – one that embraces and draws the audience into even this huge auditorium – to the lightness of touch when dealing with the complicated relationships in families, perfection is deftly accomplished.
Wilson often deals in dreams cherished and then dashed in a community that against all odds still has hope that its desires will be met. Here a father lashes out at his sons in a way that curtails and sometimes crushes their dreams, and plays fast and loose with those closest to him in a way that can only spell disaster.
And while this is a story set in the middle of the last century, it has as much relevance today (sadly) as it did then. Similar scenarios are still unravelling families and their hoped-for futures.
If all of this seems just too dire to witness, it is a grand celebration of performances from some of our best actors in a play that allows them to shine individually and as a group.
Starring Masha (who many might recognise as a past Top Billing presenter) as the central character of the father, a man so crippled by his past that he finds it difficult to encourage others to try for the best, he plays some of those long speeches with such a natural air it’s difficult not to engage with his plight, the way he has chosen to deal with it and destroy even more lives by his actions.
As the only woman, Green (looking on in above picture) has no problems establishing a presence as a woman of substance – someone you don’t want to mess with. She’s there for her men and, if allowed would probably get the family moving in spite of hardship.
Kani Jnr as the youthfull Cory, a son with stars in his eyes, has a bounce in his step and his delivery marvellously captures the energy of someone on the brink of a life, while Mamba as the hapless Grabriel probably has one of the toughest hurdles in a role that almost begs an actor to steal the show. But he plays with the necessary pathos to honour the man and the story being told.
Dandala and Radebe also make their moments count with the young Ngxakazi making an auspicious debut surrounded by this veteran cast.
It is a story that niggles and nourishes. With August Wilson described as the “theatre’s poet of black America”, director and cast have pulled together a production to remember while presenting a fantastic start to a season of Wilson plays in the coming years.
Next up is The Piano Lesson which recently had rave reviews for its revival with Samuel L Jackson and John David Washington.
Don’t miss out on our own fantastic revival with a cast that bristles.
Translated and adapted into Afrikaans from Duncan MacMillan’s Lungs by director Nico Scheepers
CAST: Cintaine Schutte and Albert Pretorius
VENUE: Mannie Manim at the Market
DATES: Until February 5 (Tuesday – Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 3pm)
It’s almost dizzying to keep up with the minds and meanderings of a young couple who start their conversation about having a child while shopping in Makro.
“Did you have to do it here?” asks the woman, who is obviously flustered by what she considers to be a full catastrophe, which has just been dropped into her world by her partner.
He on the other hand, calm and mostly collected, or probably simply laid-back, was making conversation.
But at breakneck speed they’re off, because having a baby when you’re dealing with two people who are also thinking about the world and their impact in and on it, clearly is no easy route to navigate.
And that’s precisely where the title slips into the equation. But between these two, it’s all about their conversation, the way they view the world and the way they present it to one another. He has an upfront approach, no frills, simply stated, almost matter of fact, whether its about his new corporate job, which boots him into adult life for the first time, or whether he should go for a run.
For her, it’s jump right in, talk before think and loudly put out every crazy thought that might pop into her head. Usually it’s those ideas that most people have, but never say for others to hear, while she just lets it all out and only when seeing the reaction, tries to smooth things over.
For her, it’s fine letting him know that she hates his parents. Doesn’t he? But when he talks about hers, she’s completely taken aback.
It’s a snapshot of the life of two human beings with similar hopes and dreams, yet no matter what the intent, their way of getting there is vastly different.
We all know love should be enough, but relationships are messy animals that have to be trained and exercised and even then, it’s a miracle if things work out.
What the playwright has done in the writing is set the tone for the piece as he jumps smartly with timelines while unfolding these lives. With director Scheepers perfectly picking up the pace, which is what really determines the ebb and flow of the piece, it’s an exhilarating experience for both players and audience.
Schutte is mesmerising in a magnetic performance that never lags and is constantly overwhelming in its intensity and innovative execution. She laughs, smiles, screams and cries in the matter of moments, because her world is driven by fiery emotions. Every arch of her eyes, sudden movement, a silence that is brought on unexpectedly, is carefully thought through and choreographed.
She has made the part her own and draws you into a life that is familiar but rarely plays out so publicly. Hers is the role of a lifetime and she’s embraced it with her whole being, magnificently.
But she needs Pretorius’s more gentle approach, his character’s humour and frailty, as the foil to her more explosive character for the whole to coalesce, which it does brilliantly.
It’s joyous and sad, witty yet wise, in your face yet delightfully wistful seemingly all at once and without labouring any points or pushing any agendas. It bears witness to two lives which have bumped into one another and are pushing for a conclusion which will make sense and hopefully bring happiness to the two souls so desperately trying to make things work.
The multi-award winning production Tien Duisend Ton is coming to the Market Theatre from 19 January to 5 February. Presented by Carel Nel, the SU Woordfees and the Market Theatre, Tien Duisend Ton has been translated into Afrikaans (from Lungs by Duncan MacMillan) and directed brilliantly by Nico Scheepers. Two of South Africa’s foremost young talents, Albert Pretorius and Cintaine Schutte, star as a couple seriously considering procreation in the face of imminent extinction. DIANE DE BEER finds out more about the production:
Tien Duisend Ton is an incredibly moving, funny and fast-paced production which was first staged at the SU Woordfees pre-Covid and now returns with a season which has been impacted by the pandemic in different ways.
Initially, producer Karel Nel was looking for a one- or two-hander and spoke to impressarios Hennie van Greunen and Pedro Kruger about possible plays. Hennie told him about Lungs. “I bought it online, read it and lost my heart to the story.”
He describes it as a universal love story about having children and the things you grapple with when thinking about having children. It all happened around his wedding to actress Cintaine Schutte, which made the play even more right. He immediately bought the Afrikaans rights.
The couple approached Nico Scheepers, a dear friend of theirs, and also a good director and translator. Carel and Cintaine had done a play called Fliek with Nico as director in 2017. “It didn’t feel like work,” explains Carel, “it was just like friends coming together, having fun and creating amazing theatre.”
At the start, Tien Duisend Ton was earmarked for Carel and Cintaine to give them both work. Their proposal was accepted by the Woordfees and starter money was given. Just before the beginning of the festival, Carel got a very big international television series and he had to pull out of his own play.
“I had no choice because of financial reasons.” And the irony of pulling out of his own play wasn’t lost on him, but he thought about his best actor choice to replace him and Albert Pretorius popped into his head.
“They always say plays cast themselves and this is exactly what happened in this case, it was actually meant to happen. They are both unbelievable actors, both have won many awards, and are two of our finest actors in any language.”
It was indeed a match made in heaven! They actually went to a matric dance together in 2007, so they’ve known each other since high school, and have been very good friends since then.
They both have experience across the board being regular stage performers as well as television and film actors, Cintaine regularly features on magazine covers, and both of them are audience favourites and considered of the most exciting talents in the business.
They are two of my favourite people and I am always excited to see them in new work. They come with unexpected performances, show constant growth, which is my benchmark and all an audience can wish for – to be constantly challenged.
The target audience for this play is anyone from the age of 16. Even if you don’t have children, the issues include grappling with climate change, whether it is ethically right to bring more kids into the world, what we as human beings are doing to the earth, is it sustainable and what life would be like for future generations.
All are universal themes and a question that any age group would tackle and as Carel argues, has become even more relevant following the Covid pandemic, which we’ve just been through. “We were doing the play before Covid and in just the past three years, see how the world has changed. Tien Duisend Ton looks at human behaviour. But more than anything, it’s a love story between a man and a woman going through the trials and tribulations of life, how they cope with work, the world, having children and all things that couples have to deal with.
The play opened at the US Woordfees in 2019, was well received with sold out performances and has won numerous nominations and prizes for the cast, director and production.
They started talking to James Ngcobo, the artistic director at The Market (now at Joburg Theatres) in 2019. The Woordfees asked them back in 2020, they had plans for The Market and were on their way to KKNK when Covid hit the world and everything came to a sudden halt.
But now they’re back, theatres have opened once again and their Market run has been reignited. “A play changes as everyone grows but because we’re dealing with people with much more life experience, and a world that has been turned on its head, this is almost a new beginning for Tien Duisend Ton,” says Carel.
It’s a thrill for everyone involved to work at the iconic Market Theatre, and everything has run smoothly. He is especially pleased that even with Ngcobo’s departure, the play still secured its season.
Carel who had performed at The Market can’t wait for the cast to experience the diverse audiences. “It is something to behold,” he emphasises.
or Albert Pretorius, Tien Duisend Ton is a lovely play to perform in. “It’s one of the finest texts I’ve ever worked with, so finely crafted, so exciting. You can’t relax for a moment, you’ve got to be present the whole time. The lines come quick and fast. One minute you’re laughing and the next you’re crying.”
He believes it challenges both actors and audiences in the best way. “You walk off and wonder what has just happened? It’s such a nice topic as well. I find it so full. We can have all these debates with big questions and it feels like human nature at work.
“The selfish self will always find its way into everything. we can have all the debates about pollutions and all of that, but we still buy plastic straws. The text shines a light on human nature.”
He views his character as an everyman. “What I love about him is that he doesn’t think everything through. He thinks he knows all the answers, and there are things he’s not willing to compromise on. But at the end of the day, he is so flawed and so human. We all make mistakes yet we all try to our best.
For Cintaine, the piece is close to her heart. “There’s something of everything, an unbelievable text, clever, brutally honest, and written with such strength, it challenges you as an actress to use your full toolkit.
Because of that, she is thrilled to have an actor opposite her whom she can fully trust. With Albert, a close friend, she allows herself to feel vulnerable, because she has no props, no tricks, no lighting, nowhere to hide. “It’s just you in the moment with honesty.”
But it’s also the issues and problems that are more relevant now than before. “Especially today, you’re looking at these two people who aren’t just in a relationship, but are trying to navigate their world, calm the storm so that they can get to their truths, what they really want and the way to go.
And then there’s director Nico Scheepers. They can play confidently because he has a stronmg and smart guiding hand.
“It is lovely to return to this piece which happened just before and in the early days of the pandemic, thrilled to return there, and it’s very special to do this with these special guys.”
Finding a character is determined by reflections and reconstructions in the liminal argues artist Fiona Ramsay in her creative project for her PhD. DIANE DE BEER attends the performance:
One of the most exciting components of the arts – live theatre specifically – is the surprises that pop up ever so often and which you might be privy to.
Recently I was invited to something titled Creative Project for PhD by actor/also head of department for Theatre and Performance at WITS, Fiona Ramsay, and immediately knew this was something not to miss.
She was going to tell a story on stage, be creative, in fact, to illustrate a point and she would be using her stage craft to do so.
Then she explains: “I have appeared in around 400 theatre productions over a career spanning four decades and so aptly I selected four characters for each decade from the archive of my work to detail my process or methodology and the primary question the of my research is: ‘Can I play characters outside my cultural frame, and, if so, how far outside that frame can they stretch?’
She further expands on her methodology, the process of creating the character: “Mia is a distilled creation from many research sources – we spent six weeks workshopping and devising the production with Barney – he coaxed, teased and often wheedled character out of one’s research.
Introducing the creative project, she starts off by doing an extract as Mia Steinman from Born in the RSA written by Barney Simon and cast in 1985.
“I had elected to play a character closer to me, a professional person, as many of the characters that emerged from that era were not. I spent a week in the office of three human rights lawyers and Mia emerged as a summation of these to form a single character.”
She also acknowledges the value of her own lived experience. “ I am not sure no matter how much research I had done – without my embodied experience. I grew up in a politically charged and issue driven environment and this undoubtedly contributed to my understanding of Mia.
“I don’t think I would have had the ability to fully grasp the complexity of the milieu the character lived in.”
But when it comes to finding a character, Fiona has always focused on the voice and her work as a dialogue coach underlines her belief. “I start with researching the voice. Broad strokes of vocal quality – light or dark, chest or head resonance, slow speaker or fast, any idiosyncratic vocal sounds or habits – coupled with more nuanced detail of accent and cadence of rhythm. This is suggested to me by the text, the context and the character,” she notes.
Discoveries made in relation to vocal choices are present in her performances she thinks, many of which have not been documented. “That’s why the archive and personal record becomes an essential component of reflection, revisiting and reconstruction of past performances. It can sit in a computer as a filmed version or reside inside your reservoir of embodied knowledge or in a memory that may be collective – that of the actor’s and audiences combined.
“This is why you will see Jurgen, who is documenting this performance as a component of my PhD research, and you will note he is definitely inhabiting liminal spaces all around me…
And then she goes on to explain how liminal spaces defined a character: there needs to be an experience of being nowhere, or being in between, on the threshold of discovery of these other selves, she suggests.
And right in front of her audience, she moves into a liminal space, the pause or in-between time, and in this space she attempts to become the German spy, Stella Goldschlag from the play Blonde Poison by Gail Louw. And after the performance, she explains her process of finding the character.
She very quickly realized that the final voice she found for Stella was that of her sister-in-law’s mother, Ruth. She was a survivor of the Holocaust who told Fiona stories of her parents being taken away on a train when she was just 14 years old, of how she felt speaking the German of the Nazis and how she came to be in South Africa.
“She seemed to have such resolve, such serenity and so much calmness in her voice – which belied the horrors of her experience. And although I must have ‘channeled Ruth’ and evoked her in the liminalities of the rehearsal rooms, when I watched the archived version of the performance, I heard only the cadence and lilt of her voice.”
She believes strongly that the actor’s creative process seems to require the ‘in between’, the ‘unresolved’, the ‘unknown’ – an open empty passage where one can explore en route to becoming other.
She notes that theorist Victor Turner described the transitional phase experienced by a person ‘during a rite of passage – going to the mountain to become a man’ of indigenous customs, a process of ‘leaving behind an old identity’ and ‘becoming something new and other’, as liminal.
“Neither here nor there, and not certain. It is a fearful and unnerving space – a place of not knowing or unknowing – of no certainty, often a place of discomfort where you are neither you nor not you yet, a space affording experimentation and discovery which Peter Brook calls the empty space – a space or time for magic to occur.
“So liminal spaces can be difficult – I wouldn’t call them fun places to be because these are experienced with intense feelings or qualities of ambiguity, instability and disorientation that are uncomfortable. But these allow for an exploration unquestioned.”
A selection of images from Delirium and If We Dig.
She does plays further characters to illustrate her points. And a reminder of the question she raises at the beginning: “I am not German nor Jewish, nor Greek nor Afrikaans, so how am I qualified to represent these characters – people or fictions – or am I?”
If cultural politics and correctness discourage or prohibit an actor from a particular culture – being only qualified to play another from your same cultural frame – what does the acting teacher need to alter in their teaching praxis and how, she asks?
“My teaching process focuses on the awareness of self, the neutral self and the transformed self – but would this be bound by culture or gender, or by ethnicity, bound by race and by language? What then of learning – does it limit or extend it? What of the perspective on that which is ‘other’ that sheds new light and encourages discovery to extend beyond personal limitations and public borders?”
As a vocal coach she teaches accents that require research and immersion into other cultures.
As an actor she embodies, plays or acts someone who is ‘other’ and requires research and immersion into the cultures of other.
“As a person,” she emphasises, “I am curious and interested in cultures other than my own and keen to unearth connections rather than disconnecting from these.”
And surely, that’s enough said.
Even though she suggests the following as a solution/option: “Perhaps a way forward might be to base all characters that are other in fictional worlds where allegory and metaphor are used to describe and denote a culture that is other with fictional countries and fictional languages so as to conform to political correctness in the hope of not offending anyone or appropriating any culture.”
And in the process I suggest, limit the imagination which goes against everything we want from theatre.
Fiona is currently in Salzburg directing Janna Ramos-Violante in the first production for the English speaking company at the Landestheater and part of the process is putting into practice whatb she has explored in this presentation.
She will also be doing the above presentation again on 22 January at 3pm with a view to having a Q & A with her supervisors and audience after the show.
When you are sitting in contemplation at the end of a year, your head packed full of memories of live festivals for the first time in 24 months, you realise the excitement, exuberance and energy live theatre brings to both performers and audiences. There’s simply nothing that compares DIANE DE BEER discovers. Here are just a few of those magical moments…:
There were many performances that I will hold onto for a lifetime, some that linger, others that were a fun watch, and one performance in particular that just made me senselessly happy.
(Pictures of Die Moeder by Emma Wiehman and top far right, Nardus Engelbrecht)
It was also the play, the director, and the rest of the cast, (Dawid Minnaar, Ludwig Binge, Ashley de Lange) , but Sandra Prinsloo was the star of Die Moeder, which had its debut at the Woordfees. It held all the potential of being something special, but what this actor brought to the role was spectacular. If this is how she dances into the twilight of her career, buckle up.
Director Christiaan Olwagen has been away playing successfully in television and movies, but it’s always on stage that he has been most impressive for me. It feels as if it is a medium he understands and where he feels at home and his vision translates magnificently.
With that driving her and a magnificent script, it was up to Prinsloo to plumb the depths of an ageing woman who has lost all sense of herself as the world (and her family) seems to have discarded her. Or that’s how she perceives it to be.
Prinsloo slips under her character’s skin (and yours) and more in a performance that simply surpasses everything she has done before (and there were some great ones). But this was next level and for this gracious actor, a just reward for years and years of hard work.
We all knew she was one of the greats and then she went one better! We’re blessed to have her.
The other magic Saartjie Botha created, with live performances allowing yet another experience of Sylvaine Strike and Andrew Buckland’s Ferine and Ferasse, was the breathtaking Firefly. A production I can see over and over again, each time reliving the complete and overwhelming embrace of old-fashioned storytelling.
But let’s start at the beginning. I have been to perhaps too many festivals in my time, but this was my first time at Cape Town’s Suidooster at the start of a new (and hopefully) live 2022 and I was surprised and impressed by Jana Hatting’s ingenuity. Some of the smaller festivals have tight budgets, audience complexities and artists who are all vying for a slice of the cake.
She introduced a brilliant mini season titled Voices/Stemme for which she invited seasoned and exciting younger talent to tell stories, short ones, and they hit all the right buttons. It’s good at a festival, where the menu is diverse, to have short interludes of dedicated excellence. And with performances by Chris van Niekerk, Devonecia Swartz, Buhle Ngaba and Elton Landrew, for example, with directors and writers like Amelda Brand, Wessel Pretorius, Dean Balie and Jemma Kahn for these 10-minute short pieces, it hit the sweet spot time and again. And the shows were all free … and packed.
Because of the Zap Zap Circus, also on the Artscape premises, they’re included as part of the festival and that’s another huge tick in the box. There’s nothing like a circus for the whole family and especially this one, where such amazing development work is being done, is worth promoting. It also meant that the venue was available for other shows.
It’s a great little festival with great vibes as it is all contained on the premises of Artscape. Watch out for this one with many hidden treasures including young talent showing off their best on many different platforms. They had some amazing jazz as well, with some literary excellence happening on the writing/authors side.
KKNK was back with a bang, a smaller and shorter festival, but one that packed a punch. Perhaps it was a case of old favourites back at their best, but with the long break, that’s exactly what we wanted. Marthinus Basson delivered a double whammy with a recharged Ek, Annavan Wyk and a play that crept up on me and is still at work, Terminaal 3, both with star casts and both lingering with obliterating impact.
For me it was also a renewed admiration of Frieda van den Heever, the director and compiler of Oerkluts Kwyt, a programme celebrating the poetry of Antjie Krog, and the performance brilliance of Antoinette Kellermann, both of whom turned 70. Van den Heever had previously created the perfect Die Poet Wie’s Hy with Dean Balie.
She has a wonderful sensibility, she knows how to pick them and then present a programme basically consisting of the spoken word and music, but the way she balances content and creativity is delicately stunning. For this one she also brought on board astonishing sounds, two women who sing under the Ancient Voices title, the duo Lungiswa Plaatjies and Nimapostile Nyiki, – extraordinary.
I was also reminded this year to watch out for producer/performer/writer Anna Davel (production manager for above mentioned show). She has turned into someone who seems to spot gold. She was also responsible (and part of performance) for Aardklop’s Mixtape van die Liefde where another new artist, Stephanie Baartman, made her mark. She has been part of the television soapie circuit for a few years, but she announced her presence on stage with poetry and song. And that, I suspect, is just a smidgeon of what she will show in the future.
Everyone was also raving about Davel’s exceptional 21, presented at KKNK. She has always shone on stagte, but her voice and her comfort levels on stage have matured magnificently.
Karatara, a production I’ve written about frequently, is one that honours the story which deals with the devastating Knysna fires. The performers (dancers Grant Van Ster and Shaun Oelf and Dean Balie, narrator) as well as the creative team, Wilken Calitz and Gideon Lombard created something extraordinary . It’s worth seeing again and again as it feeds the soul.
And who can forget the art of Karen Preller? Her mesmerising exhibiton took you back in time in an extraordinarily unique way.
Om Skoon Te Wees with Conradie van Heerden
And as an interlude there was the hugely successful Lucky Pakkies, an extension of the previously popular Uitkampteater, which created a stage for shorter if no less exciting work and some extraordinary performances.
It’s also a concept that allows performers to practise and hone their craft in different genres as well as roles. Writers are given a chance for short and sassy work, actors have a smaller if intimate and often vulnerable stage and directors are offered an opportunity to try different things in challenging spaces.
In the Free State, it is always the art that overwhelms and again they didn’t disappoint, one example being Pitika Ntuli’s Return To The Source (which can still be seen at the Oliewenhout Art Museum on your way to the coast), which is simply stunning and perfect for the space at that amazing institution, and they also have a provocative permanent exhibition worth viewing again and again. André Bezuidenhout’s unique photographs was another winner, with the subject well-chosen and then magnificently captured.
And then there was the welcome return of Elzabé Zietsman with the hard-hitting Femme is Fatale. This is someone who understands how to grab you by the throat when there’s no other way. Her intent is to violently if necessary showcase gender-based violence. We all know the scourge it is in this country and no one is listening.
She is going to try her best to make you listen. And with a script which is as blunt and blistering as it is determined, she hits where it hurts most. Being the veteran she is, there’s not a note, a line or a hair out of place and she shows what contemporary cabaret can achieve when done with heartfelt honesty. It’s a courageous and memorable performance.
Another standout and engaging performance was the dance production Blame It On the Algorithm by the Darkroom Contemporary Dance Theatre. It was mesmerising, memorable and something completely different, always a gift for a festival.
Finally it was with a new stance that Aardklop approached the 2022 live season. Instead of hosting a festival in Potchefstroom (it will be returning there in 2023), shows were also presented in Pretoria and Jozi. There are many differing opinions about the success, but for artistic director Alexa Strachan it is about survival.
They’re a small and possibly struggling yet determined artistic collective and they produced a few winners of which the standout was Nataniël’s Die Smitstraat Suite, an astonishing accomplishment.
It’s been a lifelong dream for this prolific artist/composer whom many simply know as a pop composer. Not being my field of expertise, he explained that the music was inspired by the classical oratorium with nine compositions sung in English and Latin (some of his songs not previously recorded combined with original music). He was accompanied by the excellent Akustika Choir led by Christo Burger.
And to add his trademark stamp, an original series of stories, which cleverly pulls the title and the full performance together.
This is what makes him so unique. Few people have the skill to come up with something as complicated as this music with choir and solo parts, accompanied by the Charl du Plessis Trio. And then to add some achingly funny stories that introduce an explosive touch before you lose yourself again in the exquisite music.
He also had two other performances at festivals during the year. First there was Moscow at the Suidooster at the beginning of the year and then Prima Donna at the KKNK. Both of these were innovative and unique in performance, scripts and music, all executed by the artist himself except for the musicans (Charl du Plessis Trio) and costume designer Floris Louw who all contributed with flourish.
Produced under the Aardklop Aubade flag, this classical season, introduced by Aardklop and led by Charl du Plessis presents Sunday morning classical concerts at Affies to re-introduce the classics to a previously enthusiastic audience as well as a stage for especially solo artists, but not exclusively so. It’s another great festival invention.
In similar vein, with the help of the KKNK, artists Neil Coppen and Vaughn Sadie established the ongoing Karoo Kaarte with the aim of promoting real change in communities. The idea was to use the arts in many different ways to change the narrative of the Oudtshoorn community to a more inclusive one.
These were early days, but the work which included fine art projects to navigate and explore identities as well as a theatre production which involved the community and workshopped a story to include all their lives and dreams.
Ownership has been activated, but this was simply the beginning and it is going to be hugely exciting to watch how this develops and how local artists are given wings.
CAST: Michelle Botha, Dylan du Plessis, David Arnold Johnson, Didintle Khunou, Ilse Klink, Hlengiwe Lushaba Madlala, Carmen Pretorius, Brenda Radloff, Justin Swartz, Grant Towers, Ben Voss and the rest of the ensemble
THE BAND: Dale Ray Scheepers (musical director and arranger/keyboards), Silas Naicker (assistant musical director/ keyboard), Redgardt de Bruin (guitar) , Viwe Mkizwana (Bass), Keith Marishen (drums).
CHOREOGRAPHER: Nicol Sheraton
PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Andrew Timm
COSTUME DESIGNER Bronwen Lovegrove
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Johan Ferreira
SOUND DESIGNER: Adriaan van der Walt
RESIDENT DIRECTOR: Timothy le Roux
VENUE: The Mandela at Joburg Theatre
DATES: Until December 24
There’s a reason the panto is billed as Janice Honeyman’s Adventures …
She is the one with the pocketful of fairy dust, bags of laughter, and the knowledge to strike a balance that has the kids captivated and the adults engaged.
That’s quite something in a world where they have everything at their fingertips with iPads and iPhones.
But Honeyman won’t be phased by any of this. She simply goes next level. She has a design master (Timm) who also flies even higher than last year. He takes the audience into a wonderland unimaginable with state-of-the-art LED screens which seemingly have unlimited qualities to transform the stage constantly in front of your eyes.
The explosion of colour and artistry bedazzles you, but with typical Honeyman ingenuity, she doesn’t allow the beating heart of her production to be overwhelmed. When picking her cast, she makes sure that these are performers who command the stage and bring mountains of personality to the two or three characters everyone on stage inhabits.
And even after 20 plus pantos, some of my favourites were unrecognisable and the newbies are rehearsed to operate like seasoned pros.
From Radloff’s wicked queen to Pretorius’s and Khunou’s enchanting Princess Aurora and Snow White, to Du Plessis’s and Justin Swartz’s charmers Aladdin and Jack the Joller, we’re completely hooked from the start.
And don’t dismiss the Good Fairy (Madlala) with a voice that is as commanding as her presence, which is precisely what you want. There are truly no standouts, they all sparkle.
This is not simply one pantomime, it’s a big bunch of them, all rolled in one. To tie it all together, Honeyman has picked Good vs Evil as her theme and there’s more than enough of that going round at the moment to keep it prescient and present. She has her finger on every pulse.
It’s all in the detail. So while the enormity of the stunning costumes and travelling sets envelops you, it also allows you to take in those winks and nudges with a picture of an oh-so-famous person displayed as Employee of the Month, or a sign pointing to the Doek Nook or simply the complexity of the costumes that tell a story all their own.
It’s bright buttons and sparkly shoes, a bright kopdoek or a fancy fan as we trip our way through the abundance of adventures in this pantoland – all on a quest to preserve goodness and kindness ̶Honeyman’s credo.
While pantomimes were very much a feature of my end-of-year planning in the past, I haven’t been for a few years. And having seen 20 plus, a break was necessary. But this one is truly special.
One can always bank on Honeyman’s super powers, but this time she had double the expectations. Not only is the Joburg Theatre celebrating 60 years, this is also her and producer Bernard Jay’s 21st end-of-year celebratory collaboration.
Not many would keep it as fresh and manage to tick all the boxes all of the time. Of course she does!
Fo0r her it is all about finding the angle, which she did, having audiences lean forward into the show – and with the explosion of colour and talent on stage how could they not, but then right at the top of her list is a show with a beating heart.
Finding and exploring new wow factors and selecting a cast that will deliver with energy and enthusiasm are where Honeyman excels. It is her inner child, that constant twinkle in her eye that creates the magic and keeps pulling the audiences in.
We’re blessed in Gauteng that we don’t have to imagine the festive season without the Honeyman pantomime adventure.
You go girl!
And as an incentive, they have a special on Black Friday (this week). Buy tickets for any of the panto shows at a mere R100. That’s a steal!