DIRECTOR SYLVAINE STRIKE CELEBRATES 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ICONIC EDWARD ALBEE SHOWPIECE, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

PICTURES: Jesse Kramer

Edward Albee’s iconic play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf celebrates its 60th anniversary. But this didn’t scare seasoned director Sylvaine Strike, who jumped at the chance even if she knew it would be tough. She spoke to DIANE DE BEER about the process:

Alan Committie (George), Robyn Scott (Martha), Berenice Barbier (Honey) and Sanda Shandu (Nick).

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf runs at Cape Town’s Theatre on The Bay until Saturday 8 October with performances every Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm and a Saturday matinee at 4pm.  It then moves to Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre in Fourways, where it will run from 14 October to 6 November with performances Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm and matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3pm.

An age appropriate restriction of no under 13’s apply.

Tickets are available through Computicket

“Where does one begin?

“A 60-year-old iconic play, a great classic known all over the world and translated into many languages. The first time I came across Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was at university when I was in first year and the play at the time was 30 years old and that seemed ancient! And now, it’s 60 years old and I’m doing it. So do the maths!”

But this is Sylvaine, someone who understands the pitfalls and go for it anyway. It’s been mammoth, far harder than she could imagine. And it started with the casting. The ensemble includes Alan Committie (George), Robyn Scott (Martha), Sanda Shandu (Nick) and newcomer Berenice Barbier (Honey).

Committie initially approached her with the project, asking if she would direct him and Robyn in those roles, she explains. “And quite frankly, even though the roles seemed so ancient when I attempted them in first year (I attempted to play Martha at 19, in an exercise of course when we were studying texts!), but now I realise that they weren’t that old at all.”

En famille in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

 Albee specifies that Martha is 52 and George is 48, so she’s gone with the original ages. “Robyn is a little younger, but it feels completely right so I immediately said yes, jumped at the chance of directing an Albee play. With him there’s always the circularity, the nonsensical, as each character exists in their own private ego, their own private silo, as we try and make meaning out of nothing for a night of absolute debauchery, madness, game playing and relationship thrashing.”

With her two leads in hand, it was time to turn her attention to the younger players. The chemistry between the couples as well as that between the younger and older couple, is what makes the play soar. That’s why, Alan and Robyn were both in attendance with the extensive auditions.

Post-covid, a lot of amazing young actors turned up  and much brilliance presented itself, but Sylvaine had to find the right match and chemistry. “It was also important to redefine the casting, to challenge Albee’s instructions, to challenge what an all-American couple looks like now, but it was finally determined by Berenice and Sanda, who are just exceptional together and have the most fantastic funny bones, and perfect chemistry.”

While it was written and produced as an all American play and Albee’s description of Nick is a blond, good-looking, all American boy,  the times determined those norms. “It’s a typical American look, but that’s changed 60 years down the line and about time,” says the director.

Sanda Shandu (Nick) and Berenice Barbier (Honey).

Once she had cast the production, she realised that hers would be a very new take on this play. And that’s the honest way to treat these classic productions – honour the writing yet adapt to the times.

As always, she did blind casting, but a very distinctive voice in her started asking questions. What would it look like, a Black man in the role of Nick? How will it be and what changes will occur in Albee’s writing that will hit home that haven’t hit home before in other productions all over the world?

And it came down to Berenice and Sanda who are just exceptional together. He isn’t new to the scene and people might recognise him from King Kong, but this is Berenice’s debut.

Sylvaine Strike pictured by Martin Kluge.

In the final analysis according to Strike, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf has hardly ever been done any other way than with two white couples and that’s missing out on numerous opportunities, because the text lends itself to how much and how little has changed in the US. And that especially is thrown into sharper focus.

She got together with her set designer Wolf Britz very early on to discuss what the template would be. She reminds me that she works with her set before anything else and both of them were completely in agreement that Albee’s words are enough and very little else is needed to support this particular story, this particular night in these people’s lives.

“So we haven’t gone with the clutter and the realism of an academic’s house. It is quite stark and very inviting in the sense that it is all in plush pink. But I actually don’t want to give too much away. It’s a perfect setting for things to go absolutely wrong and dark.

General chaos with the full cast.

“We basically have sofas and curtains and that’s to be used in ways that haven’t been used before, as usual,” she says with hints of Sylvaine secrecy and surprise.

To get the orchestration of this world, she’s using a world of ice and of liquor, tinkling of bottles and even more. And that, she says is just a tiny bit of it all, but it needs massive orchestration.

She chose to go with the American version of the play, because of the 60th celebration, and the cast underwent serious dialect coaching under Robyn, who is a prolific dialogue coach in Cape Town.

“They are speaking with an American accent, but that’s really all that lends from an American world, the rest is left to interpretation. Sando playing opposite Alan will resonate on a local level because there’s very much a boss and an underdog relationship that forms purely from the hierarchy that George imposes on Nick as a young academic new to the university and George having been there forever.

“And suddenly Albee’s words are revisited in a light that is really painful, very incisive and quite brutal. When George says to Nick, ‘I wish you wouldn’t say the word sir like that, you always call me sir with a little question mark at the end’, things like that suddenly resonate so much deeper. The words do all the work”

And, she notes, Nick has some amazing retorts back at George in which he claims the space and the future as the young man on the scene, so it speaks for itself, and speaks volumes.

Those in Gauteng might have missed the fact that Sylvaine has swapped her home in Joburg and moved to Cape Town.

Her son is starting university and it made a lot of sense for her to move, but she had been toying with it a long time since she was spending most of her working time there; making work, taking work or filming there.

“It meant I was away from the family more and more and more, longer days, longer months,” she says.

She also needed to be in a place that inspired her because she was battling to be in Johannesburg, to live there as an artist. “It had fuelled my fire for so long, but in the last five years, it’s been very hard.”

This is the change she needed, in the future she will continue to make work, collaborate with the festivals, The Baxter and this is her first play ever for Theatre on the Bay.

And good news for Gauteng, the Cape Town run is being followed by a season at the Pieter Toerien Theatre in Montecasino.

HANSARD IS A GLORIOUS SALUTE TO LIVE THEATRE WITH FIONA RAMSAY AND GRAHAM HOPKINS IN SPECTACULAR FORM

Hansard with Graham Hopkins and Fiona Ramsay as Robin and Diana Hesketh.

Theatre on the Square, Sandton is presenting a joyous celebration of brilliant theatre with two of our star actors. DIANE DE BEER reviews:

HANSARD BY SIMON WOODS

PRESENTED BY TROUPE THEATRE COMPANY IN ASSOCIATION WITH DAPHNE KUHN

VENUE: THEATRE ON THE SQUARE, SANDTON

CAST; FIONA RAMSAY AND GRAHAM HOPKINS

DIRECTOR: ROBERT WHITEHEAD

DATES: UNTIL AUGUST 28 with two matinee shows added to the evening shows
on the 21st and 28th August at 3pm

PICTURES: Philip Kuhn

What a thrill to witness powerhouse acting duo Fiona Ramsay and Gerald Hopkins on stage again  ̶ . together.

From the moment they step on stage, you’re immediately in their cottage in the Cotswolds in the English countryside with a carefully manicured lawn destroyed by English perhaps French foxes just beyond our gaze.

Not exactly completing each others thoughts…

It’s huge fun as the script draws you immediately into the action and you’d better have your wits about you if you want to catch all the references. We might be in the middle of Margaret Thatcher madness, but you’re never without the backdrop of not only British politics as we’re experiencing it now, but also the American disaster unfolding on the other side of the pond.

The text is the first play by Simon Woods, who started as an actor but became disillusioned and turned to writing. It was his own same-sex marriage and the arrival of two children that had him meditating on the state of the world he is sending them into.

He hangs Hansard, as the title suggests, on legislation  – very specifically Section 28 of 1988, the local government act that prohibited the teaching “in any mainland school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”

Now, where have we heard that before? Do I hear Florida, 2022? The play might be set in the restrictive Margaret Thatcher era and the act might have been scrapped in 2003 after much protesting, but to name just a few, think Ron DeSantis and his “Don’t Say Gay” laws aimed at Florida schools and Clarence Thomas’s ramblings following the scrapping of Roe vs Wade about same-sex marriage and contraception that should be reviewed by the US Supreme Court.

The Hesketh couple in all sincerity

But let the fun begin, as this married couple is the perfect combo: Robin Hesketh is a proudly right-wing Tory politician with abominable attitudes on identity politics while his left-wing wife Diana is enthusiastically critical of Tory politics (especially out of touch white male dominated rules) and extremely unhappy with the governing party’s shameful performance in most areas.

It is an explosive torrent of toxic yet hysterically hilarious verbiage that flies between them. It is immediately clear that this is their battleground and has been in the making for decades. It is reminiscent of the sparring in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, now celebrating its 60th anniversary, but here we’re dealing in the politics of morals and mores, which is very much what dominates the rapidly changing political scenario we are experiencing in Britain and the US today.

It’s delicious from every angle  ̶  the pithy and speed-driven script, Whitehead’s concise direction and the glorious acting gymnastics delivered with artistic aplomb by these two theatre aristocrats. With all three having grown up in the theatre together, there’s an understanding between them that serves the play magnificently.

Hansard with Robin and Diane Hesketh, proof that opposites attract.

With all of us deprived of live theatre for so long, seeing these two revelling in the text, the characters and the way they can play off one another, was just delightful. They know when to turn up the volume, to glance meaningfully or arch an eyebrow, to add to the sassiness of the text. And as they shamelessly speed through their lines, we tune in and become part of this political brawl, which touches all of our lives no matter where we live.

These aren’t easy times for theatre and producer Daphne Kuhn has a tough ask keeping the lights on without any funding. She loves sneaking in these brilliant plays that don’t always find their audience, but if you have a theatrical bone in your body, go and see this spectacular brilliance on stage.

From start to (almost) finish (would have liked a tougher finalé), it’s sheer pleasure and overwhelming joy to wallow in everything on that stage. I didn’t expect anything less from these two astonishing actors and yet, I was still caught off guard by their deliciously delicate performances and a story that might be scary but is a helluva rollercoaster ride!

KLEIN KAROO NASIONALE KUNSTEFEES PROVES THERE’S NOTHING TO MATCH LIVE THEATRE

The youthful purity of innocence with Wilhelm van der Walt in Ek, Anna van Wyk.

What joy to attend the first of the arts festivals with the re-opening of the annual Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) on 29 March 2022. The programme was fantastic in spite of short notice with the pandemic holding everyone to ransom and artists and audiences alike seemed to trip the light fantastic in what felt like new-found freedom. DIANE DE BEER reviews her best of the best  ̶  because of course, there was more…

PICTURES: HANS VAN DER VEEN

Dancers Grant Van Ster (left) and Shaun Oelf (right) with (centre) Dean Balie (narrator).

It was when watching the magnificent Karatara that I truly realised the impact of the past couple of years without live theatre.

Personally, live theatre is where the emotional impact of a performance can truly take me to another place – and that’s magical. Karatara is one of those, a production of the KKNK.

It is all about the feeling and the way the story about the catastrophic fire in Knysna in 2018 is told. In this instance, artist Wilken Calitz came up with the concept and handed that to actor/director Gideon Lombard. They have  a strong working relationship, and it shows.

It’s the choice of performers (dancers Shaun Oelf and Grant Van Ster and actor Dean Balie, all who show their versatility brilliantly), the soundscape put together by Lombard that envelops and tosses you this way and that, and the combination of the powerful choreography, text and lighting.

The versatility and vitality of Karatara.

The devastation of a fire that completely destroyed communities had huge impact at the time – and then disappeared like  lightning from the consciousness. Not only does the piece play critically with the way the powerful manipulate the limitations of the powerless, but it also reaches back into the past to tell a very particular tale about the grotesque greed that determined and devastated the lives of others, and which still has consequences today –  as was so damagingly laid bare by this particular catastrophe.

Terminaal 3 with (left) Edwin van der Walt and Carla Smith and (right) Anna-Mart van der Merwe and Stian Bam.

As we have come to expect, director Marthinus Basson produced two very different plays, both with extraordinary theatrical reach. Terminaal 3 would have played at the cancelled 2020 KKNK and was revived with Basson introducing us to the Swedish playwright Lars Noren.

It’s the originality of the piece that delivers the knockout blow. It takes a while to get to the crux of what is happening in this particular waiting room with two couples, one young (Carla Smith and Edwin van der Walt) and waiting to deliver their first baby, the other older (Anna-Mart van der Merwe and Stian Bam) waiting to confirm that it’s their son who has died.

The couples don’t interact, but their stories hauntingly reflect and bounce off one another. The puzzle is revealed as the four individuals all seem to be fighting for their particular  lives – not in unison but uniquely alone.

Again it is the way the story is told and played with remarkable aplomb, the discomfort of the viewer as specific dilemmas are discussed and discarded, and the almost clinical way in which life and death are juggled. It’s the way we think we can plan our lives, the curve balls that have to be manoeuvred and manipulated, and in particular how both writer and director scramble our thought processes.

The visual splendour of Ek, Anna van Wyk.

And then there’s the homage to Pieter Fourie, a founding member of the KKNK with Ek, Anna van Wyk. This is Basson’s second time round with this play and as someone who celebrates the courage that Fourie displayed with his writing, which first appeared in the darkest days of apartheid, he also acknowledges the durability of the work, which is as relevant today as it was then.

Carlo Daniels and Wilhelm van der Walt are part of an exciting ensemble.

A fearless Tinarie van Wyk Loots plays the title character surrounded by a fantastic cast starting with Carlo Daniels,  Dawid Minnaar, Geon Nel, Wilhelm van der Walt, Gideon Lombard, René Cloete and Albert Pretorius as the interrogator.

Patriarchy is being explored and exposed, something that hasn’t shifted all that much since the play was written – and not because many of us haven’t tried. In this instance, Anna has no choice  –  and we can point to many examples in our daily lives that show similar patterns.

It happens to be the horror of the Afrikaner male in this instance, but we all know this is a universal issue and many of the ills in today’s world are the result of those previously all-powerful men refusing to let go – and whom the world enables … still.

The emotional breadth of Tinarie van Wyk Loots.

It’s a magnificent production from the Basson vision, the performances led by a heart-wrenching display by Van Wyk Loots and valiantly supported by the rest of the cast. I could watch it on a loop … over and over again.

As she always does, Antoinette Kellermann enchanted with Antjie Krog’s engaging poetry in die oerkluts kwyt. Compiled and directed by Frieda van den Heever who previously had such success with Die Poet, Wie’s Hy?, and again showed her delightful sensibility and approach, which seems to hold everyone on stage as well as the content in the most delicate balance.

Kellerman and Krog both celebrate their threescore years and ten in 2022 and this is not their first coming together on stage. Krog has translated a couple of texts with Kellermann in the lead, Koningin Lear being the last. But these are truly her own thoughts and words as she describes a life lived in a topsy-turvy world. She is a woman from this harsh but fabulous continent and she speaks her mind, yet often in jest even when speaking hard truths.

Kellermann shifts all the theatrics aside as she engages with the text in almost conversational tone. She allows the words to drive the performance with Krog’s poetry taking centre stage.

With what is fast becoming her trademark ingenuity, Van den Heever added a musical element and one that magnificently enhanced rather than detracted. Ancient Voices, consisting of the duo Lungiswa Plaatjies and Nimapostile  Nyiki, was one of my discoveries of the Festival. They also participated in the experimental Lucky Pakkie (Lucky Packet) with music and instruments that are from Africa, and with content that is performed in a way where meaning is self-explanatory.

But also their presentation and personalities are reflected in their performance and colourful presence.

The stylish Dineke van der Walt at the Opening of the Visual Arts at the Festival.

On the art side, curator Dineke van der Walt has become hot property for the festivals and it is easy to see why. She has a contemporary touch and is innovative with her presentations, which offer a wide range of art often unfamiliar even to those of us who try to keep in touch.

Two installations by the towering Mary Sibande as the Festival Artist set the bar high, but exhibitions like that of Karin Preller’s Beyond Memory (in which she uses family movies and portraits as her starting point), the fabulous use of fabric in the Van der Walt curated Rich in Fibre and Nkensani Rihlampfu’s magnificent display of An Orchestrated Reality (with ropes made from canvases) all held their own.

It also proved Van der Walt’s majestically illustrated point that art can emerge in many different ways and mediums – quite extraordinary.

Though very different in style and performance, Nataniël and Emo Adams both soared in their professional approach not often achievable when presenting musical shows on this grand scale at festivals.

Stories and  songs combined powerfully in the fabulously sparkling showman’s Prima Donna, the KKNK’s celebratory opening production showcasing Nataniël’s wit often laced with wisdom and some of his favourite songs with his original arrangements.

The Adams onslaught comes in silky-smooth style with music through the ages as he captures and gently spoofs musical favourites in cunning combinations to capture a real South African flavour – with a huge wink at everyone.

Both of these acts – pure class!

Sima Mashazi in full swing in Afrika Blues.

And staying with stylish voices, if you ever spot the name Sima Mashazi on a musical programme, catch this woman with the spectacular voice. She brings emotional depth to music sung in a local language you might not understand but the feelings tell it all.

I haven’t even touched on the hugely successful Lucky Pakkies which was an extension of the previously popular Uitkampteater. In similar fashion, these short experimental plays gave especially young artists the chance to play and audiences the opportunity to fast-track if they wanted to see a selection in different variations. It can easily be extended for a few years.

And watch this space in the not too distant future for more on Karoo Kaarte, which is a fascinating exploration of Oudtshoorn and its people … one that could and should be replicated around the country.

Here are this year’s nominees for the Kanna Awards which will :

Best debut production (music or theatre)

  • Die halwe huis
  • Karatara
  • Ek, Anna van Wyk
  • Terminaal 3

Best theatre production

Op Hierie Dag
  • Karatara
  • Ek, Anna van Wyk
  • Op hierie dag
  • Terminaal 3

Best music production

  • Emo Adams and Take Note
  • Nataniël: PRIMA DONNA
  • Anna Davel: 21

Best contribution to the visual arts

  • Karin Preller for the exhibition Beyond Memory
  • Dineke van der Walt as curator of Rich in Fibre
  • The artist Nkensani Rihlampfu for the exhibition An Orchestrated Reality

Slurpie Prize: best upcoming artist

Marinda Ntantiso in Op hierie dag
  • Janion Kennedy for his performance in Op hierie dag
  • Marinda Ntantiso for her performance in Op hierie dag
  • Conradie van Heerden for his performance in the short-piece Om skoon te wees
  • Adriaan Havenga for his performance and text in the short-piece Om skoon te wees

Best actress

  • Antoinette Kellermann for die oerkluts kwyt
  • Tinarie van Wyk Loots for Ek, Anna van Wyk
  • Carla Smith for Terminaal 3
  • Anna-Mart van der Merwe for Terminaal 3
Marlo Minnaar in Die Halwe Huis

Best actor

  • Marlo Minnaar for Die halwe huis
  • Wessel Pretorius for Kiss of the Spiderwoman
  • Stian Bam for Terminaal 3
  • Edwin van der Walt for Terminaal 3

Best supporting actor

  • Carlo Daniels for Ek, Anna van Wyk
  • Wilhelm van der Walt for Ek, Anna van Wyk
  • Geon Nel for Ek, Anna van Wyk
  • Albert Pretorius for Ek, Anna van Wyk

Best supporting actress

Nomapostile Nyiti and Lungiswa Plaatjies in die oerkluts kwyt
  • The Ancient Voices: Nomapostile Nyiti and Lungiswa Plaatjies for die oerkluts kwyt
  • René Cloete for Ek, Anna van Wyk
  • Marinda Ntantiso for Op hierie dag

Best director

  • Neil Coppen and Tiffany Saterdaght for Op hierie dag
  • Marthinus Basson for Ek, Anna van Wyk
  • Gideon Lombard for Karatara
  • Marthinus Basson for Terminaal 3

Best theatre design

  • Op hierie dag – Zietske Zaaiman, supported by the company
  • Ek, Anna van Wyk – Marthinus Basson
  • Karatara – soundtrack and design by Gideon Lombard

Excellent literary contribution

  • Frieda van den Heever for adaptation of die oerkluts kwyt from the work of Antjie Krog
  • Ricardo Arendse for the newly written text Die halwe huis
  • Tiffany Saterdaght and Neil Coppen, with contributions from Janion Kennedy, Hannes Visser, Theo Witbooi and Danny B, for the text of Op hierie dag

Best children’s or youth theatre

  • Pietersielie en Roosmaryn vertel stories
  • Liewe Heksie en die rolskaatse

Coligny Laer Om Skoon Te Wees

Best Lucky Pakkie production

  • Coligny Laer
  • Ruby en Roach – ’n animasieprent
  • Om skoon te wees
  • Onder in die bad

SYLVAINE STRIKE’S FIREFLY AND KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN MARK STUNNING RETURN TO LIVE THEATRE

Sylvaine Strike, director/actor/playwright and any other creative word one can dream up, currently has two major plays running – the one, Firefly,  at The Baxter’s Flip Side Theatre until April 9 and the other, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees with the last show on April 1. DIANE DE BEER reviews: 

I was blessed to see both productions with the one at the start and the other at the end of a run. Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre heralded a strong emergence of theatre in this period where many of us are still holding our breath, and the Strike double whammy is a theatre-starved public’s salvation.

The bewitching Firefly, which as one of the first Covid-19 impacted productions saw light of day as a Woordfees digital production, made a magically mesmerising transition. I had lost my heart earlier to the filmed production and was excitedly inquisitive at how that particular story – with many filmic tricks up its sleeve – would translate and transform on stage.

But this particular creative quartet (Strike, Andrew Buckland, Toni Morkel as director and Tony Bentel on piano) are the perfect combo. This is their theatrical landscape. Give them a stage and they will start telling stories in such an imaginative way, it becomes a visual feast.

Firefly with Sylvaine Strike and Andrew Buckland. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht

Because they have all worked together, they understand each other’s strengths, and Morkel could stretch that piece of string intuitively with fantastically imaginative and explosive pyrotechnics.

Buckland and Strike are a brilliant blend of artistry with an instinct for detail that holds your attention gently yet persistently. Storytelling is their forte, aided by the fact that they have an endless supply of tools to draw on to embellish a wink or the final lift of a foot to express and underline the tiniest emotion.

It is theatre at its best when it has you smiling from start to finish because of the artistry, the wizardry of the production, the perfection of the coupling, and just the sheer audacity of the storytelling.

Firefly with Sylvaine Strike and Andrew Buckland. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht

No matter how or why, just immerse yourself and see what happens when Saartjie Botha commands two artists to give her a production in the purest style of theatre.

If you have seen the digital version that’s  a bonus, because to witness how one story can be told in such magnificent splendour in two completely different approaches is truly special and quite rare. The one had all the bells and whistles and worked like a charm. But here, with Strike and Buckland live on stage with just themselves to grab hold of their audience and cast that spell, the essence of theatre comes into play – and again I willingly lost my heart.

Add to the two artists on stage, the magnificence of Wolf Britz’s set and props as well as starstruck-inducing lighting and the keyboard genius of Bentel’s soundtrack that holds every emotion so thrillingly in a familiar yet completely Bentel-constructed composition.

If you want to see how the best make theatre with their instincts, intuition and imagination, don’t miss the sparkling Firefly. Yet don’t think for one second that the miracle unfolding on stage didn’t come with buckets of blood, sweat, tears and ENDLESS talent. Part of the theatrical trickery of this foursome is to present something that is this skilled as seemingly effortless.

It’s brilliant and personally I hope to see this travel around the country casting its spell throughout. We are desperately in need of this kind of adult fairy tale in these tumultuous times.

And then there’s Strike the director in Kiss of the Spider Woman, a play she has always wanted to do and again, perfect for these times.

Casting the vibrant acting duo Wessel Pretorius and Mbulelo Grootboom was genius in itself and created fireworks from the start. Their styles suit the different characters of the two men trapped in a confined space which doesn’t only inhibit their bodies and movement, but also their minds.

And with the same impact that theatre has on our welcome release from the strictest lockdown rules, these two escape into an imaginary world to release their anguish, which is difficult to avoid in this cruelly confined and claustrophobic space. If they want to survive this ordeal, they have to find a way to caress their minds in a mindful yet almost mysterious and magical way. Storytelling is the obvious solution and with Pretorius’s Molina someone who has long ago created a world where he can live out his fantasies, he is the perfect conduit for playwright Manuel Puig’s escapist fantasy.

Watching these two men in a dance of deliverance in a fight for a freedom that can only be obtained through their imagination is enchanting and with these past few years still part of our daily minds, we understand what is missing in our lives with the total absence of this kind of artistry. Puig’s Kiss masterfully underlines the impact of the theatrical when lives could become meaningless.

Molina has a few props as he cunningly fabricates feminine style with anything he can find but more than anything, it is his feline movements and the visual aphrodisiac that in this instance is the result not only of their imprisonment but also the way that Molina penetrates the more stoic Valentin’s being.

How could they not turn to one another, reach out and finally hold and nurture the other’s vulnerability in a space that is relentlessly cold? Nothing matters, our prejudices dissipate and the only thing that gives meaning is the humanity of the other.

With Strike’s razor-sharp eye and precise direction, Mbulelo and Pretorius’s complementing acting styles as well as their individually contrasting physical presence hit all the right boxes.

While the play runs without interval for two hours, it is mesmerising, never letting go.

I was transfixed.

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

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

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 last year’s 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. In the newly named Firefly, Sylvaine and Andrew are acting together with Toni directing for a run at the Baxter Flipside from 24 March to 9 April  at 7.30pm nightly, with Saturday matinees at 2.30pm.

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 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!

Strike is currently receiving great praise for her direction of the modern classic, Kiss of the Spider Woman, currently on stage at The Baxter. (see in another story on the blog)

Presented by the Baxter Theatre and Toyota SU Woordfees, in association with The Fortune Cookie Company, Firefly runs at the Baxter Flipside from 24 March to 9 April 2022. Ticket prices range from R150 (during the week) to R170 (on weekends) and can be bought online through Webtickets or at Pick n Pay stores.

For discounted block or schools booking, charities and fundraisers, contact Carmen Kearns on carmen.kearns@uct.ac.za or call her on 021 680 3993.

THE KLEIN KAROO NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL IS CELEBRATING ITS RETURN WITH DIVERSITY

With Covid-19 still a part of our lives, the uncertainty of live events is constantly hovering. Will it or won’t it? That’s the question on everyone’s mind as each event or festival comes into play. And while dates have to be juggled and last-minute plans put into play, this year’s Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees has come up with an exceptional programme in any circumstances – but especially now. DIANE DE BEER spotlights some highlights of this year’s KKNK which starts at the end of the month:

I can still remember hearing the news about the first Covid-19 lockdown at the 2020 Woordfees and while all of us were devastated and slightly bewildered, none of us realised quite the impact it would have on our lives – and the arts.

This was to be our last arts festival in a couple of years and the effect of that on the lives of artists who need live audiences has been disastrous.

Nataniël’s Prima Donna opens the festival.

There have been brilliant innovations in the intervening years and the word hybrid will fortunately become part of the festival landscape to broaden their audiences as well as capturing theatre on film for those who cannot attend a festival but would love to see productions.

And yet, nothing will compare with the real thing, which is why the announcement that 2022’s Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) will be happening from 29 March to 3 April was received with such joy.

Not only are they back, but the programme is something to cherish, especially in these haphazard times where everything has to happen almost on the trot. But as they suggest in their big reveal, “even in its slightly smaller format, the festival acts as a fuse for the explosion of productions and experiences to be presented by heavyweights in the South African arts industry!”

“This year’s festival is truly overflowing with exceptional programming in celebration of the KKNK’s return to Oudtshoorn, while retaining the quality that makes festivalgoers get in their cars and drive to Oudtshoorn annually,” says Hugo Theart, Artistic Director of the KKNK.

He isn’t just boasting  –  two of my personal favourites, Nataniël and director Marthinus Basson, are leading the way with their productions.

Nataniël’s Prima Donna, a debut show, will be opening the festival on Monday evening (March 28) and part of the excitement of the production is that he will sing a bunch of his favourite covers, all of which he has arranged himself. Add to that a collection of his fantastical tales, and those attending will be starting their festival with a bang.

Basson will be presenting two plays, Ek, Anna van Wyk, in memory of, and to honour Pieter Fourie (the first CEO of the KKNK), who recently passed away, starring Tinarie van Wyk Loots and Dawid Minnaar, Albert Pretorius, Carlo Daniels, Wilhelm van der Walt, Geon Nel, Gideon Lombard and René Cloete, and internationally acclaimed playwright Lars Norén’s Terminaal 3 with Anna-Mart van der Merwe, André Roothman, Edwin van der Walt, Carla Smith and Stian Bam. Both will delight festival connoisseurs.

Three iconic female artists further enhance the star line-up with the internationally acclaimed Mary Sibande this year’s Festival Artist and the double celebration of Antoinette Kellermann and Antjie Krog’s 70th birthdays in 2022 with Kellermann creating magic in the words of Krog in die oerkluts kwyt.

The picture tells its own story of Neil Coppen’s storytelling in Op Hierdie Dag

Other new scripts at the festival include Die halwe huis, a one-man show written by Oudtshoorn resident Ricardo Arendse, with another Klein Karoo local, Marlo Minnaar, in the lead, with Lee-Ann van Rooi as director; the promising Agulhasvlakte by young playwright Herschelle Benjamin with Kanya Viljoen as director and Wilhelm van der Walt, René Cloete and Kay Smith on stage; while another Oudtshoorn production Op hierie dag forms part of the KKNK Karoo Kaarte project, which will be the heart of the festival this year, showcasing Oudtshoorn residents’ various talents. Theatre couple Lida Botha and Johan Botha, who have relocated to this region, will be directed by the exciting playwright/director Neil Coppen and visual arts curator and facilitator Vaughn Sadie.

Mbulelo Grootboom and Wessel Pretorius in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Picture Fiona McPherson

Nêrens Noord-Kaap, following its success on television, returns with Geon Nel, Albert Pretorius, and De Klerk Oelofse; while the Sylvaine Strike production Kiss of the Spiderwoman featuring Wessel Pretorius and Mbulelo Grootboom; Spertyd honouring deceased Elsa Joubert, with the phenomenal Sandra Prinsloo in the lead and the return of Oscar en die pienk tannie, directed by Lara Bye, complete a very strong line-up.

Looking for something unusual, dance enthusiasts can book for Karatara with dance group Figure of 8 – the 2020 KKNK Young Voice Prize recipient, who joins forces with Dean Balie and director Gideon Lombard.

If you’re in the mood for something light, comedies include Transpirant with Bennie Fourie and Schalk Bezuidenhout – who can also be seen in Schalk sing sleg; motormouth Marc Lottering in his stand-up comedy show Uncle Marc; Adriaan Alfred in Adriaan Alfred Live; Lizz Meiring in her solo show Kameras, konserte en kleedkamers; Marion Holm returns with Holmruggery; while Koos Kombuis, Dana Snyman and Erns Grundling, as well as Pietman Geldenhuys and Lyntjie Jaars from the Oppiestoep TV series, entertain audiences with their storytelling ingenuity.

Making music, David Kramer Vanaand, a solo show for Kramer, and Amanda Strydom with Nostalgie are the two evergreen performers who have performed at every KKNK.

Kombuis, Dana Snyman and Erns Grundling, as well as Pietman Geldenhuys and Lyntjie Jaars from the Oppiestoep TV series, entertain audiences with their storytelling originality.

Coenie de Villiers and André Schwartz

Coenie de Villilers and André Schwartz, both on piano, team up for a celebration of their work. Karen Zoid followers will be thrilled that she performs in an acoustic and more intimate show, and Emo Adams and Take Note bring the flavour of Cape Town entertainment to the Klein Karoo.

Six of the country’s well-known guitarists will be together on one stage in Kitaarkonings, with the  gentle muso Louis Mhlanga playing in Afrika Blues.

Another highlight is The Music of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber with Lynelle Kenned, André Schwartz and the Stellenbosch Symphony Orchestra presented on the Celebratio pomegranate farm outside Oudtshoorn, where Spoegwolf 10 Jaar also takes place. Other contemporary shows include Elvis Blue, Luna Paige, Rocco de Villiers, and Anna Davel.

For classical music enthusiasts a special recital of Beethoven and Beyond with the well-known American pianist Gustavo Romero is included on the programme.

Those familiar with the “out of the box” theatre concept will know that this is something to watch. This time it is called Lucky Pakkie Theatre, which means you will be going for a lucky packet stage version of the popular musical chairs game… Be ready for loads of fun. Three Lucky Pakkie packages will cater for all ages, from younger viewers (Melkbaarde) to older viewers (Sagtebaarde), and adult viewers (Hardebaarde). Each mystery round of entertainment will last 15 minutes.

Last but not least is the Visual Arts programme, curated by the innovative Dineke van der Walt, which for example includes the colourful Mapula creations, all of which can be viewed in the familiar  Prince Vincent building.

Joylyn Phillips (second from right) in Bientang also rewarded with Kunste Onbeperk Young Voice award.

The festival has honoured individuals in the industry since its inception, and this year’s four exceptional people include playwright Jolyn Phillips receiving the Kunste Onbeperk Prize for a Young Voice (she can be seen in the debut production Bientang); Nic Barrow, one of the founders of the KKNK and the individual who planted the seed for a festival in Oudtshoorn, is honoured for his contribution to the KKNK; and the ever-popular and exceptional Frank Opperman (to be seen in Ek Wens, ek wens) who is awarded the Kunste Onbeperk Prize for Interpretation.

Frank Opperman in Ek wens, ek wens, also honoured for interpretation with Kunste Onbeperk prize.

Ticket sales are open and accommodation can be booked through LekkeSlaap at www.lekkeslaap.co.za/akkommodasie-naby/kknk, or kknk.co.za/verblyf-lekkeslaap/.

Interested festivalgoers can get more information by subscribing to the KKNK newsletter, following the KKNK on social media, or visiting www.kknk.co.za. Feel free to contact the festival office on 044 203 8600 or send a WhatsApp message to 065 285 2337.

The KKNK will follow a vaccination mandate, but terms and conditions for exclusions apply. More information is available at www.kknk.co.za.

SYLVAINE STRIKE REIMAGINES KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN, A STORY SHE HOLDS DEAR

PICTURES: Fiona McPherson

Togetherness.

Returning to the theatre after such barren and isolated times with Kiss of the Spider Woman  ̶  to spark conversation is a great gift, Sylvaine Strike tells DIANE DE BEER. It has been a troubled ride for the proposed run of this play which was cancelled on the eve of their opening in June 2021 when the 3rd wave of Covid hit. But now they’re ready to go with a run at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre until March 26:

“It felt so terribly hard to abandon the work when we were closed down,”  says director Sylvaine Strike.

In full-blown artist mode she expands: “It felt deadly. Where does one put all the adrenalin, all the emotive impulses so necessary to tell this story in all its noble truth? My heart broke for my actors who were about to fly. Hibernation of the artistic soul has been one of the most challenging realities we have had to face as live performers,” she explains.

But now, just short of a year, they’re back again to hopefully complete a run. Kiss of the Spider Woman is a story she has always wanted to tell. “It is first and foremost, an inmate and delicate study of human behaviour. It is a testimony to our ability to escape our reality through the imagination, a triumph in the battle to defeat prejudice; it is a poem about learning to love all that one hates about oneself, all that one fears in the other; it is about accepting difference through tenderness.”

Embracing what is too often labelled as other has become crucial, urgent, she argues and she simply loved the humanity of the work.

Ironically she had been booked to direct Kiss at the Baxter in mid-2019, long before Covid became a reality. “I am often asked if I chose this piece because of the pandemic since it speaks of confinement, seeking escape though retelling of stories from the silver screen (think of what Netflix meant to us all during this confinement!) but ultimately it is also a play about isolation from society.

Mbulelo Grootboom and Wessel Pretorius in Kiss of the Spider Woman

“It is in fact Covid that helped me understand this piece on a cellular level, our human need for contact, for connection, for escapism, for understanding.”

Discussing her casting, she notes that our immediate assumption as South Africans, when we see a black Xhosa male (Mbulelo Grootboom) and white Afrikaans male (Wessel Pretorius) sharing a prison cell, is likely that this story will be about racial tension.

So to her mind, it seemed crucial to shatter this preconception and challenge viewers to engage with the piece on a very different level.

“As humans we are so quick to other in so many ways. Wessel and Mbulelo are both remarkably in touch with who they are as men, embracing both the positive and negative aspects of their masculine and feminine halves, and highlighting the necessity for Valentin and Molina’s story to be shared with all audiences, guarding in turn against prejudice, sexual preference or political ideology.

“Ultimately, this story is about survival, betrayal, regret and our need for connection. Whatever preconception audiences may have will gently be turned on its head,” she predicts.

“The playwright Manuel Puig had staggering courage for his time. I hope that we too have shown courage in this rendition, exactly 50 years after it was penned, it is very much a classic of gay literature  ̶  but we hope to contribute to it being seen as a great classic  ̶  eternally relevant to human nature.”

Fantasy at Play.

Design has always played a huge role in her productions and collaborating with Wolf Britz was a real treat.

“We both agreed that we needed to set it somewhere neutral,  that it could be a prison cell anywhere as the location of Buenos Aires Argentina is never referred to by the characters. This enabled us to build on the theme of imprisonment as a metaphor of the mind, while also being a very literal prison.

“We researched Argentinian prisons, and Wolf was inspired to thread colours, textures and the feel of the them into the fabric of the piece. I really wanted to get a sense of the cell being one of many, positioned above a cell and below another, with only wrought iron grids separating them. I wanted the characters to be lit from below and above too, through these grids,” she explains.

As with all her work, she wanted the actors to be rehearsing on the set – a very small restricted square, with an oppressively low ceiling above it- from as early as possible in the process. She knew that by the time they had mastered their space it would feel huge. And that is what happened.

She details thus: “Molina sets up home, plays housewife, remembers movies; Valentin reads, studies Marx, pines for his girlfriend while their lives intersect and become entangled on levels they never dreamed were possible.”

Lighting design also took on huge significance. “Light plays a huge part in confined spaces like prisons,” she notes. “Time is indicated through natural and synthetic light. Mannie Manim has evoked both perfectly with his wizardry,” she says.

The serious side of play.

In conclusion she stresses that gender politics are a necessary conversation in our times, more so than ever in societies that are seeking to be inclusive and illuminated.

“Returning to the theatre after such barren and isolated times with Kiss to spark conversation is a great gift, I believe. We cannot wait to share the sacred ritual of the collective experience with our audiences once again. This is our place of worship. It is here that it all makes sense.”

And as if this Kiss season isn’t enough, she will also be at The Baxter together with Andrew Buckland in the stage version of Ferine and Ferase titled Firefly from March 24 until April .

The play runs nightly from Mondays to Saturdays starting at 7.30pm; with matinées on Saturdays at 2.30pm.  Bookings at Webticket.

Those attending this year’s Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) from 29 March to 3 April, will also have the opportunity to catch the play there.

JM COETZEE’S LIFE AND TIMES OF MICHAEL K IS A STORY THAT RESONATES

PICTURES: Fiona McPherson

Craig Leo and Carlo Daniels in Life and Times of Michael K

DIANE DE BEER

JM COETZEE’S LIFE AND TIMES OF MICHAEL K

ADAPTED AND DIRECTED by Lara Foot

CAST: Sandra Prinsloo, Andrew Buckland, Faniswa Yisa, Craig Leo, Roshina Ratnam, Carlo Daniels, Marty Kintu, Billy Langa and Nolufefe Ntshuntshe with the Handspring Puppet Company

CO-PRODUCTION: Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus (Germany) and Baxter Theatre

SET DESIGN: Patrick Curtis

LIGHTING DESIGN: Joshua Cutts

ORIGINAL MUSIC COMPOSITION: Kyle Shephard

DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY AND FILM: Fiona McPherson and Barrett de Kock

VIDEOGRAPHY AND EDITING: Yoav Dagan

PROJECTION DESIGN: Kirsti Cumming

COSTUMES: Phyllis Midlane

 SOUND DESIGN: Simon Kohler

VENUE: Baxter Theatre

DATES AND TIMES:  7pm nightly until 19 March with Saturday matinees at 2pm on 5, 12 and 19 March

Craig Leo, Nolufefe Ntshuntshe, Carlo Daniels, Faniswa Yisa, Billy Langa in Life and Times of Michael K

It is quite astonishing with the Russian invasion of Ukraine as the backdrop on most minds, how the horror in JM Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K is amplified.

Written in 1983 in Coetzee’s sparse yet startling style, the story shines a powerful light on the life of a simple man, afflicted by a disfigurement, standing out without being someone, and being in the world not to engage, but rather flee from others.

That’s where he finds his freedom – in the wild, desolate landscape of a country that doesn’t want him and yet pursues him for crimes not committed or even imagined.

Both Michael K and his mother have lived honourable lives in service of others, he as a gardener and she as a domestic worker who lives under the stairs in an apartment block, like her son, unseen and unheard.

When she falls ill, with war raging around them, she turns to her son to take her “home”, there where she was born and raised, where she believes she once found happiness. And so their harrowing journey begins.

Sandra Prinsloo, Faniswa Yisa, Craig Leo, Roshina Ratnam in Life and Times Of Micheal K

Because of where we find ourselves right now, and looking back through the history of these past 30 years, both nationally and internationally, Michael K’s story hasn’t changed. That’s why it is such a brilliant choice to herald what we are hoping beyond hope, might be better times.

There was a buzzy anticipation on opening night as people moved into the Baxter Theatre for the Lara Foot-adapted and -directed Life and Times of Michael K, a production cleverly staged with the Handspring Puppet Company in a multi-dimensional fashion including performance, film and music – all on a grand scale.

And with a magnificent set which constantly changes with moving as well as still images and lighting that astounds, we’re off into the story and running with the narrative from the start. It’s quite overwhelming as Michael K’s story is told from many different angles and voices with different landscapes as he goes on his long and winding journey. Visually it is spectacular and achieves a moving world that is both elaborate and evocative.

Telling the story, there’s an ensemble playing different characters; the physical Michael K, exquisitely crafted by the Handspring masters happily accompanied by his equally statured mother; the voices and puppeteers; as well as the film, which simply because of scale could be jarring at times rather than just slipping in and out of the narrative – yet all of these combined make it quite difficult to get to the beating heart of the story.

Nolufefe Ntshuntshe, Craig Leo, Carlo Daniels, Roshina Ratnam and Andrew Buckland in Life and Times of Michael K

As the name suggests, this is Michael K’s story. While the character himself can be seen as an insignificant man, that is the point and what Coetzee hopes to uncover in his desolate and desperately haunting tale of a man who is struggling to find and cling to his freedom. Gardening is what moves his world, something that adds rather than detracts from our physical place on this earth.

But even that is not good enough. Somehow it is twisted into an act of terrorism as he is accused of feeding a guerrilla army. He is simply never allowed to be.

Coetzee’s descriptive and detailed telling of Michael K’s battle to survive on this arid land, the way he works with the earth to both feed the soil and his soul, nourishing his freedom, his sole means of survival, doesn’t quite have the impact on stage as it does on the page. The exquisite existential rendering which won Coetzee such applause is somehow missed.

His is a harsh world in which there is mistrust all round. Who is Michael K? Even though he is described as someone who cannot organise a dart game, he is still seen as a threat by those who feel they are in command and have to lead the way.

No one can be left to their own devices. And it is this stranglehold, a man’s desperate struggle to hold on to his freedom, that disappears under the weight of the production, one where the true horror of being Michael K struggles to break through.

Foot has thrown all her energy and skill into this one and there are many memorable moments to witness and remember. It is a worthy production that captures the zeitgeist – a time of pandemics and panicked, power-driven presidents.

What you don’t get is the bewilderment of a man who has found himself in a world that prohibits him from finding his own way and making a life unaffected by those around him. The only way he knows how to breathe and survive.

Thát is the life and times of Michael K.

BROTHERS IN ARMS AT JOBURG’S MARKET THEATRE

Katlego Chale and Nhlakanipho Manqele in Brothers Size.

Photographer: Lungelo Mbulwana

DIANE DE BEER

DIANE DE BEER

THE BROTHERS SIZE by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Director: James Ngcobo

Cast: Katlego Chale, Nhlakanipho Manqele and Marlo Minnaar

Lighting Designer: Simon King

Set and Props Designer: Nadya Cohen

Costume Designer: Nthabiseng Makone

Sound Designer: Mandla Mkaba

Choreographer: Lulu Mlangeni

VENUE: Mannie Mannim at the Market Theatre

For the past few years artistic director of the Market James Ngcobo has been exploring especially themes of brotherhood when selecting their Black History Month production – and 2022 is no different.

This time he has opted for a revival of The Brothers Size by award winning playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney for a limited season until February 28 . It was first presented here with an American cast and Ngcobo was keen to try his own hand with local actors because of the universal theme and the excellence of the play.

And last time, he explains, it was a week run only with not too many theatregoers able to attend.

He is also excited because he is working with three actors he has never worked with before. “It’s been a hands-on and collaborative effort,” he notes and he was thrilled by their response to the play.

, Nhlakanipho Manqele

It’s the story of two brothers, one of whom has been incarcerated and just returned to normal life. Ogun Size played by Nhlakanipho Manqele is named after the spirit of iron and labour. Oshoosi Size, played by Katlego Chale, is the younger brother named after the spirit of the forest and a wanderer.

Elegba, played by Cape Town actor Marlo Minnaar, who arrives as a friend of the brothers who comes to stir the pot and provoke additional discord between the them, is named after the spirit of chaos and the god of the crossroad.

Pointing to the names, Ngcobo liked the fact that the playwright used Yoruba names, which in typical African fashion, give some of the character of each of the men.

Together the two brothers and a friend start the conversation about prison and the rest develops from there.

For those who don’t recognise the playwright’s name, he was also involved with the film Moonlight’s script, which received so much Oscar buzz and awards a few years ago.

If you saw the film, you would have recognised the sensitivity with which the story was told. It was also refreshing at the time that this was a Black voice telling their own stories. It has fortunately become more commonplace now with the Black Lives Matter movement which adds a much more personal dimension to these stories.

It is set in Louisiana which, according to Ngcobo, is also the prison capital of the world  ̶  not a title that many world cities want to claim. Especially in the past decade, much has become more public about the imprisonment of especially Black men with the numbers suggesting that not many of them escape this horrific punishment. This plays a huge role in this particular story.

 As they start their conversation it is clear that the younger brother feels a certain entitlement because he has just left prison and is perhaps in need of some pampering from his perfect older bro.

There’s also a friend who is obviously not the influence needed in the vulnerable convict’s life at that exact time.

With all our knowledge about the African American male and his precarious position in American life, one cannot but experience the play through that prism. It’s like navigating a slippery ledge throughout.

As the older and wiser brother, Manqele is the one who holds all the cards. His character is the one who opens his heart and allows the story to shine through in full colour. The strength of both his words and his action leads the way, with Minnaar’s cool cat someone who could lead those with less backbone astray. And his slippery Elegba is in it only for himself. What happens to those around him is only a concern when it affects him and his wellbeing.

Magical moves.

The younger Size is perhaps the most difficult role to play. He needs to generate some sympathy from the audience to get them engaged. But because Chale starts on such a climatic note, he has nowhere to go as the play builds towards a climax. From start to finish his bravado never lets up to allow for some compassion.

Yet his sensitive moves in a few passages throughout show a side of the actor which could have been harnessed more effectively throughout.

This is a play that relies heavily on performance, and a wrong step upsets the rhythm. We don’t want to see any of the work as we step into the story.

The music and the visuals could also have more impact if they land at exactly the right time with precision.

Nonetheless, it is a courageous play to stage, with more than enough to grapple with  ̶ including the performances.

McCraney is regarded as one of the most talented and significant writers in the US. He is the Chair, and Professor in the Practice of Playwriting at the Yale School of Drama; and is the Yale Repertory Theatre Playwright-in-Residence. He is also a member of Teo Castellanos/D-Projects Theater Company in Miami, a member of Chicago’s highly regarded Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble, and 2016’s  Moonlight is based on his own work In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. With his co-writer, director Barry Jenkins, they received the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Age Recommendation:16 (L)            

Season: until Sunday 28 February 2022

Venue: Mannie Manim at the Market

Performance times:     Tuesday – Saturday @7pm and Sunday @3.15 pm.

LOVESICK IS THE MAGIC WORD THAT GOT HIS MIND WANDERING FOR HIS LATEST SHOW, LOVESICK TIM

The fun of a Nataniël interview is always the unexpected.

PICTURES: NICOLAAS SWART

THE fun of a Nataniël interview is always the unexpected. DIANE DE BEER shares some of the fairy dust he always has in his pocket:

Being the journalist, one would expect that I would come up with some surprises when doing yet another interview, especially as we have had to do so many through the years.

But Nataniël is so entertaining – whether on stage in a packed hall or with an audience of one – it never occurs to me.

Of course, I always forget about the masses of creativity coursing through his veins, and his ability to turn anything into a moment of magic – both for himself and those he has to entertain.

So this time, when discussing the time and place to chat about his latest show, he suggested we dress up and meet in one of his wardrobes where he stores only a fraction of his costumes and accessories from decades gone by.

It’s an apartment now packed with Nataniël costumes and other valuable mementoes from his unimaginably busy life.

Always in the mood for play, I selected one of my brightest outfits, sent through the colour scheme so that he could clash or subtly enhance the picture we were planning to produce from this working meeting – not party mind you, even if you see tea and cakes!

It’s a new time for an artist who has been producing his life on and off stage, mostly very publicly but with a private side that is fiercely guarded.

As for many around the globe, his world was flung into orbit with the pandemic and everything that came tumbling down around our well-ordered lives.

Nataniël with one of his many detailed costumes I covet!

Especially as he marches to what many might see as the latter stages of his career, there had to be a quick turnaround to adjust expectations and to reset future plans from those that had become improbable.

Re-ordering and remaking his world started with scaling down, which meant, amongst other things, cleaning up both his personal space and, as is his wont, also the greater planet out there.

Nataniël has been stripping his life for quite some time, but now there is an urgency which doesn’t allow for single-purpose plastic̶ –  ̶̶ or over-used costumes for that matter.

Repurpose and recycle is what drives him today and as far as he goes, he spreads the message. None of his disciples would dare venture on a shopping trip without their personal shopping bags and everyone who watches his lifestyle programmes on kykNET will be aware that this is someone who as much as he loves food, has also trained his body and mind into a healthy way of being – to his and the planet’s benefit.

With his costumes sorted for the moment, in a place that allows for all the right conditions, he visits this apartment high up (“so that no insects can get to them”) making new plans. For the future, he dreams about a fashion museum and a setup that allows for art installations.

“We don’t have a culture that cares for the past,” he muses, but what he wants to display is the artistry of true technicians trained in fields that are hardly nurtured anymore and might disappear in the future.

And when I start looking through the costumes, most of them still trigger memories of past shows. At the same time, their details are overwhelming and were rarely seen from the auditorium. And still, not a sequin or button was left out because it was all part of the bigger picture.

For Nataniël it is about the inspirational, the way he has been dressed by designers as kings, disciples and prophets for example, always in period in a manner that isn’t visible in today’s world.

Some of these costumes can be reshaped and modelled into something different and new because, as someone who in the past was passionate about shopping, discovering new delights (usually to dish out to friends), what kept him enthralled was the creativity and novelty that he could find in many unique and treasured Aladdin’s Caves.

This type of lifestyle was anathema to the Covid era and Nataniël, true to type, also shifted in his head and discovered his own way of dressing his world. Once he started scratching around and asking his designer (for example) what he had been doing with all the left-over fabric of past seasons and found they were all carefully stored, he discovered endless drawers and rooms in his own house filled with every type of fabric and accessory he could hope for.

He was also driven by the lack of travel, as well as the fact that distribution hassles meant the sudden halt of novelty items. He knew he would simply have to create his own and he could do this in a sustainable way. No more buying needlessly. The motto driving him is to use imagination and innovation, something which has always been his loadstar.

His  latest stage creation, LOVESICK TIM, will be presented at Pretoria’s ATTERBURY THEATRE from 11 to 14 February 2022. Four nights only, ending on Valentine’s Day and sadly it has already been booked out. (But check the latest dates still available below).

And because he is guided not by the obvious, the name of the show was determined by his passion for the word “lovesick”. “I have always had problems with love songs because the lyrics are so awful!” but with lovesick, he thought it would allow him a certain latitude. “I will feature love songs from the earliest of times to the very latest of trends, the jazz of the 40s, the crooners of the 50s, the freedom of the 60s, the heartbreak of the 70s and the never-ending evolution of love and chaos in pop culture,” he says.

He searched for songs containing the much-loved word, but also wrote a love song himself and discovered some music that boasts a narrative rather than a repetition of silly love lyrics.

As always ,the stories will steal the thunder because Nataniël has a way of meandering in magic and melancholy which few others can achieve.

He will be accompanied by Charl du Plessis (piano), Werner Spies (bass) and Peter Auret (drums).

Costumes are by Floris Louw, with the added flourish that they will be ‘green’, repurposed and recharged from carefully stored fabrics and vintage collections. They have been declared a feast for the eye, but made with a reworked responsibility.

Tea for two with much magic and merriment.

LOVESICK TIM

11 – 14 Feb 2022

Atterbury Theatre, Pretoria

www.seatme.co.za

Sold out

LOVESICK TIM

17 – 19 February 2022

Drostdy Theatre, Stellenbosch

Computicket

Bookings open

LOVESICK TIM

Atterbury Theatre, Pretoria

23 – 25 June 2022

www.seatme.co.za

Bookings open

These seats fly, don’t wait and be sorry.