TWO BRIGHT YOUNG STARS LIGHT UP THE MARKET STAGE IN THE EXTRAORDINARY TIEN DUISEND TON

PICTURES: NARDUS ENGELBRECHT.

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 Africas 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.

Albert Pretorius and Cintaine Schutte battling the baby odds.

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.

Albert Pretorius. Photo: NARDUS ENGELBRECHT

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.

Cintaine Schutte

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.”

Book your tickets now on www.webtickets.co.za or visit www.markettheatre.co.za

THE EXTRAORDINARY POWER OF PERFORMANCE AND LIVE THEATRE IS FIRMLY ESTABLISHED AT THE REVIVAL IN 2022 OF THE LIVE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT

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, Anna van 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.

Anna Davel

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.

Aardklop Aubade’s driving force Charl du Plessis

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.

And of course there was so much more…

THE TRANSFORMATIONAL TEKSMARK HERE TO STAY, CELEBRATING STORYTELLING, DIVERSE STYLES AND DISTINCT VOICES

PICTURES: Nardus Engelbrecht

Alby Michaels and Henriëtta Gryffenberg’s 1 starring Cindy Swanepoel and Zak Hendrikz.

Teksmark 2022 was presented at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town from 24 to 26 August and could be attended by interested parties free of charge. A total of 22 playwrights presented their script ideas and 90 actors and directors participated to present excerpts from the scripts as play readings. DIANE DE BEER spotlights her personal highlights and announces the texts that gained recognition and further development:

It is the storytelling, the distinct voices, the diverse styles and the enthusiasm that turn the tide each year as I watch the artists present their work, perform extracts and show all of us what is on their minds.

While the world seems to be falling apart all around us – locally and internationally – artists do exactly what Nina Simone said all those years ago: An artist’s duty is to reflect the times.

And that’s also what the Teksmark does year after year as the artists come up with work that’s invigorating, pushes boundaries and allows us to makes sense of the world – or at least reflect on it.

It’s been a marvellous innovation on the artistic landscape and especially for theatre (one of the many struggling artforms), it’s a huge boost and an encouraging injection.

It’s fascinating to read 80 plus texts – some just examples of what’s to come and others fully written – to wonder how some of them could work on stage and then to see how the artists  find solutions to present their work in the best possible light.

Actor/writer Jane Mpholo in Fragmented.

It was especially some of the tougher texts that surprised me. Take, for example, Jane Mpholo’s Fragmented. When reading the text, I found it too rambling and sometimes overstating or too determinedly explaining something and yet, dealing with something as urgent as gender violence, probably the most horrific scourge in our society.

She’s a smart theatre maker/writer/performer and she pulled in director Heloïne Armstrong, who a night before the performance, cut, dragged and rearranged the text to sharpen the power of the words and message Mpholo wanted to put across – and all this was the result of Teksmark and the opportunity it offers young artists to try out their work in front of their peers and other interested parties.

Another text, smartly written and in a genre that doesn’t usually have much appeal for me, is Gita Fourie’s Afval, which was also staged at October’s Woordfees.

She has already hinted at things to come with  a text  Mamma, ek wil ‘n man hê!, winning the University of Stellenbosch’s Toneelkompetisie, while Afval already this year won the US Première Teaterfees.

When reading the text, I knew it had the potential necessary to be performed, unaware that it had already received many accolades and a potential run at one of our largest festivals, which was achieved to great acclaim.

Watch out for this dark farcical tale about Johan the serial killer, whose wife is desperate to keep his killer instincts from his daughter, who innocently brings many possible victims home for her parents’ approval.

Two established theatre makers/writers Henriëtta Gryffenberg and Albie Michaels teamed up for a workshopped text written by Michaels under the guidance of Gryffenberg as he combined two fascinations, Greek mythology and the phenomenon of Siamese twins, to explore the concept of marriage in the madness of the contemporary world.

Their’s was the perfect example of a text cleverly realised on stage. Titled 1, the couple Hiss and Hirr, Siamese twins, have grown so accustomed to a life lived in the closest proximity with both needs constantly juggled or compromised, they hardly dare investigate other options – to try living separately for example. It’s smart and the scope of putting this on stage is intriguing. And the wisdom of having someone to bounce off and shape ideas, is a winning recipe.

Another writer who has already proved her ability is Dianne Albertze, who wrote a poem combined with dance, not an easy concept to pull off. But again, she dabbles in mythology in a region of the country that lends itself to this kind of imaginative storytelling.

It’s not an easy text, but she has proved her stage craft before and if she puts in the work, she could pull it off. She has lost her heart to Namakwaland and with the help of the legendary choreographer Alfred Hinkel, her text, which plays with the mythology of the region will be incorporated in a piece that presents the spoken word, dance and multimedia.

She has set aside more than a year and if all her dreams and desires come to fruition, this could be something quite extraordinary, capturing the landscape and the people, all of them off the beaten track and not really part of the theatrical landscape – but one that grabs the imagination and again underlines the potential of Teksmark and everything it achieves.

One of the texts I knew from the start I would love to see on stage is Andi Colombo’s Dying in the Now. It deals with grief in a most unusual and human fashion. How many of us just want to run away when things get tough. It’s not that one thinks that will make the problem disappear but perhaps you can just forget about it – even for a while.

It’s about the gentleness, generosity and probing of the text and the issues it deals with especially coming from such a young yet wise perspective that  makes it exciting.

Ten scripts have been selected for further development following this seventh Teksmark.

An extract from the extraordinary Karatara.

Fahiem Stellenboom, Marketing Manager of the Baxter Theatre, mentioned during the event that Karatara by Wilken Calitz and Shaun Oelf, presented on the Teksmark stage three years ago, is a wonderful example of the success of this project. “Following Karatara’s run at the KKNK, where it received the Kanna for Best Debut, it recently returned to the Baxter Theatre, for a short season. We are very proud to be associated with this production and project.”

Hugo Theart, Artistic Director of the KKNK, confirmed that bursaries for playwrights valued at R150 000 – funded by the Nasionale Afrikaanse Teaterinisiatief (NATi) and the KKNK – were awarded to eight scripts. “Furthermore, we are proud to present a run at the KKNK and Suidoosterfees to one script and to record another script as a full-length playreading.”

Six scripts presented at the 2022 Teksmark were selected for further development. Mikayla Joy Brown’s Jantjies and the Pearls, (which has a new take on forced removals again from a young yet informed place) receives a run at the KKNK and the Suidoosterfees in 2023 and bursaries to complete their scripts were awarded to five scripts: Philip Theron for Babilon, Babilon (and this is his second text in so many years that has been picked), Henriëtta Gryffenberg and Alby Michaels for 1, Wessel Pretorius for Kamermusiek, (which with some thoughtful editing could be a brilliant text), Anele Kose for the heart-wrenching Mhla ndiqala idibana naye and Louw Venter for Albatros, a text that deals with the relationship – or lack thereof – between a father and son, not often seen on stage.

Writer and performer Anele Kose of the extraordinary Mhla ndiqala udibana naye.

Four scripts from Teksmark 2021 have also been selected for further development. Marí Borstlap receives a bursary to complete her script Koning van die Diereriem. Nisa Smit receives a bursary to translate her script Nipped in the butt into Afrikaans, as well as Michaela Weir for her script What happens in Russia … Another Philip Theron text, Die kontemporêre kuns komplot is recorded as full-length play reading by The Playwright’s Laboratory (TPL). TPL is a new initiative that offers an online platform for playwrights to share their work with an international audience.

Teksmark began as a small project and has started to feel like a festival that built its own audiences over the past seven years. We are truly grateful for their support and cooperation of partners like NATi and the Baxter Theatre, as well as other development partners including festivals, theatres, The Playwright’s Laboratory, Suidoosterfees, the Jakes Gerwel Foundation and the Het Jan Marais Nasionale Fonds,” concluded Theart.

FOR PANTO WIZ JANICE HONEYMAN IT’S ALL ABOUT BEING ABSOLUTELY SILLY, STUPID, RUDE, NAUGHTY AND FULL OF FUN

Because it is the 60th anniversary of the Joburg Theatre, panto praise singer Janice Honeyman was commandeered to produce the panto of all panto’s by the theatre’s CEO, Xoliswa Nduneni-Ngema. She tells DIANE DE BEER about the process and production, giving her a masterclass in theatre-making:

Pictures: enroC photo & video

Adventures in Pantoland with David Arnold Johnson, Ilse Klink, Michelle Botha and Grant Towers

 Speaking to Janice Honeyman about creativity is always a treat. She’s probably one of the buzziest creatives I know, always surprising with productions and shows that  either blow your mind or get you thinking.

The challenge was set and she decided to respond with the biggest and the best – taking into account  that she has been at it for more than 30 years, that’s no mean feat. “I’ve done many big ones but this was going to be next level!”

And her mind wandered to Into The Woods, realising there could be a panto in that. “All our favourite characters in pantos are in that production:  we see Snow White and we see Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, we see Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk, we see Aladdin, we see Peter Pan, we see Tinkerbell, we see Pinocchio and that’s just the goodies; and the baddies are the wicked queen from Snow White, the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk, Abenazer from Aladdin, and the wicked fairy Kakkalura Kakiebos from The Sleeping Beauty.”

What she had to do was to think how to get all this stuff together. “I have, especially in the last while, been very obsessed with the lack of kindness in the world, the lack of generosity and the lack of caring for people.

“I don’t want it to sound preachy or prissy, but I was thinking we have to give kids those values, we’ve got to see that kids can have those sorts of heroes; not just the bad, hard sort of Marvel comic heroes, we need lovely people.”

 “As I was conceiving all of this, bugger me if the war in Ukraine didn’t break out.”

 And Putin became the follow-up villain to Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. And those were three of her obsessions, because of what they were doing to the world, of populism, dictatorship, corruption and all of that.

Janice Honeyman and her panto partner Timothy le Roux in rehearsals and planning.

“That was the kind of palette I was writing from and it was quite weird when I was writing, because I kept on taking a break and turning on the TV and if it wasn’t Covid 1 or 2 or 17 it would be Ukraine  and what Putin was doing and the terrible pictures of little old women being chased out of their homes.

“And bad started getting to me. I thought the world cannot go on like this. That might sound very heavy and upsetting, but it isn’t. It is a proper good versus evil story, which is always what panto has to be. But somehow good versus evil was having more reverberations and echoes than it usually does each year,” she added.

When it came to casting, because of all the headliners, she knew there would be no above the line billings. What she was aiming for was a wonderful ensemble cast. She had to have good actors who could sing and dance. It was important to have actors who would portray the characters with  heart and feeling and some skill.

Ben Voss as Abanazer and Brenda Radloff as Queen Evilina.

Talking me through the process, she explained that she always wanted to use Brenda Radloff because she’s always appreciated her as an actress and as a musical star.

She describes Brenda as the nicest person she knows but … also thought, who could be that terrible evil queen in Snow White?

“I thought, well, here’s a challenge for you girl, so I cast her and then I wrote, as I often do, according to the people I have in mind for particular roles. I remembered many years ago, she played Lady Macbeth for me. If the Evil Queen and Lady Macbeth aren’t equal to each other, then no characters are!”

Justin Swartz as Jack and David Arnold Johnson as Jack’s mother.

David Arnold Johnson gave a great audition and she’s always liked him as an actor. Ben Voss is a complete favourite of hers from the Beauty Rampelapela days (shows she directed) and he played The Wicked Queen in Snow White and one of the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella, so he was perfect casting for Abanazer. “I knew he would get the versatility in this particular version where he has to play toadying to the Wicked Queen because they all belong to Evil Action Inc and she’s the chairperson, he has to kowtow to her but when he’s with Aladdin, he has to be towering and a bully and a horrible, horrible person. I think Ben can be that and more!”

She’s also worked with Ilse Klink before and adores her because she’s a wonderful warm, giving actress and thus perfect for Kakkalura Kakiebos.

The good guys gang have to win the golden goblet of goodness. They include musical star Carmen Pretorius, Dylan du Plessis “who is really a lovely new discovery, charming, you can’t believe; Justin Swartz, Didintle Khunou who starred in The Colour Purple and I thought well here’s a lovely challenge for her, something different; and then the ensemble can all sing and dance and act very well. They’ve got that young injection which I always like, so its all about the whole spectrum,” she notes.

“Panto has got songs and dances and colour and sets and all the rest of it, but if the story doesn’t talk to your heart, it doesn’t work.

“So, at the beginning, I find the elements that mean a lot to me, I also without fail read Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment about the particular pantos or fairy stories I’m doing just to give me that kind of deeper insight into the work. It hardly ever shows on stage except that with that foundation and working from that point, you can explain it to actors and they understand the psychology of the characters.”

Adventures in Pantoland at one of the colourful markets.

The toughest after all these many years is arguably to always find a new angle to tell the story, something different, something to make people sit up and lean forward. She always sits at the back of an auditorium to watch the movement of an audience, how they lean forward… and some more … and again. And then they sit still and they watch.

“It’s very important to create a story that will captivate them,” she explains. “Most young people’s stories, especially fairy tales, involve quests. This one is that the goblet of goodness is stolen by the bad guys and the good guys have to find it and bring it back.”

There’s just a whole lot of stuff that she gathers throughout the year. “It’s all about finding the topical and South African references and then jigsaw puzzling the whole thing together so that it forms a complete picture for an audience to enjoy, from beginning to end.”

Janice thinks about the total spectacle by indulging completely. “What is every single thing  I want to see on stage this year?” And in it goes.

She is 73, and she still loves the end of the year joke. “I’ve done very serious stuff throughout 2022, so its lovely to be absolutely stupid, silly, rude, naughty and full of fun!”

And that she does better than anyone I know!

Adventures in Pantoland will be on The Mandela stage at Joburg Theatre from Sunday, November 6to December 24.  Tickets from R260 are available now by visiting http://www.joburgtheatre.com or by calling 0861 670 670.  Terrific discount prices are available for groups of ten or more. 

THERE’S NOTHING TO BEAT LIVE THEATRE AT ITS LIVELIEST BEST WITH SHIMMERING CASTS, SMART DIRECTORS AND DARKLY FUNNY PLAYS

This past weekend it felt as if theatre was truly back. Watching three extraordinary productions in Johannesburg, all running at the same time, it is a stark reminder of what we missed and a celebration of what feels like the return of live theatre. DIANE DE BEER reviews:

From left: Graham Hopkins and Lihle Ngubo in The Lesson (Pictures by Suzy Bernstein); Alan Committie, Robyn Scott, Berenice Barbier and Sanda Shandu in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? and Julie-Anne McDowell and Jennifer Steyn inThe Beauty Queen of Leenane (Pictures Brett Rubin).

It all began when someone at the recent Woordfees reminded me of three plays opening on the Gauteng circuit: The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Sandton’s Theatre on the Square, The Lesson at the Mannie Manim at the Market Theatre and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Montecasino’s Pieter Toerien Theatre.

With Sandton first on the list, the cast, the director and the play were all strong attractions. With a rare appearance in Gauteng for the sublime Jennifer Steyn (who moved to the Cape a few years back) and the perceptive Charmaine Weir-Smith directing, we were in seasoned hands.

Jennifer Steyn in full force.

The Add to that an exciting younger trio consisting of Julie-Anne McDowell, Bryan Hiles and Sven Ruygrok and this black comedy has everything going for it. Steyn immediately sets the tone with a sublime if scarily monstrous performance as the mother none of us wish for.

Battling to survive the total onslaught in the role of daughter struggling to be servile, McDowell is constantly batting back the barbs with hardly any impact.

And into this grim fight walks two brothers with Hiles the one who upsets the teetering yet finely balanced relationship between mother and child.

It’s about survival, darkly comical and probably one that plays out in many different forms, everywhere and all the time. But it takes the seriously sharp pen of Martin McDonagh (In Bruges; Seven Psychopaths; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) to add gut-wrenching to the experience. That and the performance of Steyn.

It’s a reminder of her long-felt absence on our stages. The subtlety with which she manages to create the sullen-faced mother is quite extraordinary – both hysterically funny yet deathly sad. It is the kind of performance that could so easily slide into caricature but she holds fast and never ventures that far.

Isolation and the fear of being alone do terrible things to people and while we laugh merrily at the dilemma of this mother and daughter duo, it is something that skirts many lives at some stage. That’s what makes this such a chilling encounter.

Plays until this Saturday

https://tickets.computicket.com/event/the_beauty_queen_of_leenane/172644

The Lesson starring Fiona Ramsay and Lihle Ngubo.

Ionesco’s The Lesson has been adapted by director Greg Homann for local audiences, and it’s a “welcome back” to another artist who has been out of the country for a few years.

It’s also a thrilling second time this year we see the excellent duo of Fiona Ramsay and Graham Hopkins on stage (with a return of the fantastic Hansard for a short run in January at Theatre on the Square) in a play that is as demanding as it is engaging. And the two veterans (wisely and to those of us witnessing both, with delight) couldn’t have chosen two more diverse plays if they tried.

Both are quite wordy and especially Hopkins has to think fast and furious on his feet while intent on bedazzling his latest pupil with his particular and peculiar lecture style and content. A wide-eyed student (Lihle Ngubo) arrives for a lesson, is welcomed by Ramsay’s rather clumsy if deliciously dilly assistant Marie and introduced to Hopkins’s almost doddering Professor – and the fun begins.

Homann’s director’s notes suggest that there are different interpretations to this locally flavoured adaptation including gender and power, and cultural oppression, or it can be viewed as a study of the relationship between student and teacher (all familiar tropes) but, more than anything, he has created a work that in this well-cast play, is as much about performance as it is about substance.

Graham Hopkins as The Professor.

If you were lucky enough to see Hansard earlier this year, it’s just magnificent to experience Ramsay and Hopkins playing completely different characters, much more wacky, yet approached with a delicacy that shows how carefully you must tread with roles that have to imply rather than be grotesque.

What a thrill for Ngubo to play with actors this experienced and she grabbed rather than shied away from the challenge. Her facial expressions (and costume) said more than words could tell and the interplay between the bullying professor and his awed student is quite riveting, with emotions ranging from amusement to outrage.

As the director also suggests, this is one to mull over and hopefully start a conversation. In the moment, the experience is almost like a slightly hazardous carnival ride.

On until October 30.

https://www.webtickets.co.za/v2/Event.aspx?itemid=1518241218

And finally it was the turn of Sylvaine Strike’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Robyn Scott and Alan Committie as Martha and George, while Sanda Shandu and Berenice Barbier as Nick and Honey are lured into the pink-tainted lair.

But in this 60th anniversary production, all this marshmallow fluff that the colours might suggest is nothing but an enticement, as the young couple discover to their surprise. But this quickly changes as they gather their own defences, with different results.

This is all about Strike’s modern take and what the actors do with their individual iconic parts. And a warning: it comes at you with all systems on red hot alert!

Scott (with purpose) has a voice used on different levels and with a mix of accents that might throw you at first – and then it DELIGHTS. Like an animal on the prowl, she uses everything from her over- the-top facial expressions to her strident body manoeuvres to make her presence shimmer and shatter in equal parts. It’s magnificent.

Unexpectedly, because of his stand-up comedy status, Committie has a subtler approach, which is wise, because if both of them came at you at full tilt, it might have been obliterating rather intimidating. Their combined assault is finely balanced to create the perfect storm.

The extraordinary quartet in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

And while they are the prey, there’s nothing meek and mild about the younger couple’s performance. I completely lost my heart to Barbier’s innocence and desire to participate in what feels like fun and games while Shandu, whose race adds another level which is thrown at the audience to do with whatever they wished, has a presence which grows fiercer as the night’s antics progress and disintegrate.

It’s 2022, 60 years after the play premiered. Strike takes the bull by the horns, coming at you full force as people do in this current chaotic world of ours, and while our jaws drop and we grab at our chairs for safety, it’s grand and gregarious and great to wallow in this ecstatic night of sheer horror and hilarity.

On until November 6.

https://tickets.computicket.com/event/who_s_afraid_of_virginia_woolf/7192881

Please keep in mind that it is three hours long, with two intervals. Arrive rested and prepared to engage.

All three these exciting and challenging plays deal in dysfunction and relationships in ways that are darkly funny yet deeply disturbing. With casts who carry a healthy spread of wisdom and exuberance, this was the best way to fling open those theatre doors.

What a joyous and confident return!

NATANIËL, AN ARTIST ON A MISSION, AS HE LAUNCHES THREE EXTRAVAGANT PRODUCTIONS

Checking in with artist Nataniël about his performance schedule these next few weeks/months, he is ending his year on an explosive note with three huge productions all starting or being performed in one week. DIANE DE BEER gives an overview of the festivities ahead:

Those who don’t know about Nataniël’s classical training and studies might be surprised to hear about Die Smitstraat Suite, an oratorium and lifelong ambition of this prolific composer of especially pop songs.

And as he explains it, this 80-minute-long composition consists of a few of his songs not yet recorded, combined with original music. “It will be presented as one musical piece inspired by the classical oratorium, or in some instances,suites,” he explains. The complete work includes nine compositions sung in English and Latin with the unique Nataniël touch – original stories in Afrikaans.

He knows what he is doing could be seen as old school, but in his mind, he is creating something that will last and can be performed through the ages.

Explaining the music, he describes it as filmic, done in an almost world music style.

Some of us who saw his recent performance of the Sanctus at the Arena which he performed with the Akustika choir and his regular musicians (Charl du Plessis, piano; Juan Oosthuizen, guitar; Peter Auret, percussion; with the addition of Ockie Vermeulen, organ), had a glimpse of what’s to come.

Once the piece is finished, every note is scored and he views this as Opus 1 in his life … and perhaps a hint of things to come.

If you were wondering about the name, he wanted to use a surname/name that wouldn’t have any one connection with anyone!

The appealing note in all of this is the fact that even though in most people’s book an oratorium means a very specific thing, Nataniël will make it his own.

Even when trying to explain the concept, he comes up with descriptions like a “framework with stories” or, said differently, “a reason and place for the following composition”.

He also notes that it is a piece of music with text which has no other purpose. For him though, it is something that will hold, not just disappear into thin air, and that makes sense of his artistry.

The concert has an age restriction of 14; it’s 80 minutes long and, warns the performer: phones that ring might lead to violence. I would heed the warning.

Performances:
October 1: Potchefstroom, Aardklop; Ticketpros.co.za
9 October: Affies, Aardklop Aubade; 11am and 3pm.

His annual Christmas season, this year titled Six in a Boat has moved from December to October.

“I hate the festive corporate bookings,” notes Nataniël. It sometimes means that the shows are packed with people who have to be there rather than want to, he feels, and he prefers audiences who come by choice. Who wouldn’t?

 The story was inspired by the visuals of people packed in a boat. Are they refugees. Holiday makers, fishermen or lifesavers?

It’s not as if we can ignore the elephant in the room, he points out. The world is at war.

He cannot understand how and why we tolerate dictatorships and wars? Why do people allow these things to happen? That’s the issue of the day – and the storyt of our time.

He is also hoping to be more extravagant visually. “I miss Emperor’s,” he says referring to his annual spectaculars for many past years. They will be three musicians and three singers (including Dihan Slabbert and Nicolaas Swart.

But he reminds us that there is only so much visual acrobatics the Atterbury Theatre can support. “If we should do a set, the cast won’t make it onto the stage.”

But there will be extra magic with the lighting and past experience has me excited. I know what he can achieve on a dime and with his imagination. He says all the music has been composed and scored but he will be busy writing stories until he steps onto stage. As seen here, his time is limited or limitless, depending how you view it.

Booking at Atterbury Theatre from October 11 to 16, Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7pm and Sunday at 3pm

No interval; no cell phones; no short pants; no children under 15; no drink in the auditorium; bar closes 15 minutes before the performance.

And finally, there’s the latest lifestyle television series with the two Le Roux brothers titled Nataniël. Erik. Wolf.

A Nataniël production or television season often starts with a book and this time was no different.

It was a thick forgotten folder packed with illustrations by the French artist, Gustave Doré.

He had so loved the drawings that he ordered the book and was completely captivated. The sketches also transported him back to his childhood and fairytales, as well as the desire to research and discover the original stories – untouched by commercial publishers and filmmakers.

Then he invited designers and artists – South Africans and Europeans – to participate in this fantastical season.

Following the past few years of the pandemic, Nataniël and his team returned to his favourite European city, Nantes, also the home of his brother Erik, for the first time in three years.

This time Erik sourced a centuries old workshop on the estate of an eccentric mansion and in-between the trees of a lush green forest, the new season flourished. “It looks like the kind of place where Gepetto has just finished carving Pinnochio,” he says.

Food, art, design, books, stories and beautiful music form the foundation of the series and pianist Charl du Plessis joined the group and is featured in many episodes and situations – some musical, other not.

Original Nataniël compositions were developed into a soundtrack and the siblings are holding thumbs that viewers will join them to relax, laugh constantly, cook generously, gravel adventurously, ask questions, address issues, find inspiration and get carried away by the deliciousness of it all, once a week for a few months.

How can we not?

From October 15, Sunday nights at 8pm on KykNet, with rebroadcasts during the week.

A link to all the shows for bookings: www.nataniël.co.za

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, A GLORIOUS SALUTE TO LIVE THEATRE WITH FIONA RAMSAY AND GRAHAM HOPKINS IN SPECTACULAR FORM IS BACK FOR A SECOND RUN

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

Theatre on the Square, Sandton is starting 2023 with a short second run of the magnificent Hansard, a joyous celebration of brilliant theatre with two of our star actors. Here is DIANE DE BEER’s review of the previous run:

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: From 10 to 19 January, Tuesdays to Fridays at 7.30pm, Saturday at 8pm

BOOK AT COMPUTICKET or CALL THE THEATRE on 011 88308606 or 083 377 4969
or visit their website: www.theatreonthesquare.co.za 


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.