Starring BEN VOSS
Written by John van de Ruit
Directed by Janice Honeyman
The Studio Theatre @ Montecasino until October 20
For many there might be much counting against venturing out for a theatre experience titled Benny Bushwacker: Human Nature.
It might appeal to the nature crowd, but depending on the seriousness of your calling, this might just sound too silly rather than wacky which might appeal.
What does catch the attention are the names Ben Voss and John van de Ruit. These two stage chums first made their mark with a series of Mamba two-handers before Voss stepped into another persona with the solo shows Bend it Like Beauty and Beauty and the BEE.
Van de Ruit in the meantime hit the headlines with his series of popular Spud books. The two again team up for this latest incarnation with Voss starring as Benny Bushwacker, a man who is desperately passionate about the environment.
While he tries to impart a serious message (which he does), he is also desperately funny – and the specific use of desperately becomes clear when you hysterically hear his version of natural disasters, sound effects and meltdown included.
And it is the memory of Voss pushing the envelope and his excellence on stage that might pull you into this one – and you would be following the right instincts.
He is an extraordinary performer and just watching him perform, his skills, his detail to attention, his bravado and determination to hold everyone in that intimate theatre close while telling Bushwacker’s story, is something to behold.
Not only is Bushwacker, a nature man with a mission, in full flight, he also calls on a series of commentators, including his frail yet feisty gran and his spud-deficient nature buddy with the soprano voice as a result, for example. The acting is a tour de force.
As director Honeyman says: “He’s a good actor, and a thinking actor.” That shows and adds to the weight of the wackiness. She also admires the “less didactic, preachy context” of the text, which is what Van de Ruit explores so brilliantly.
They make a good pair because they obviously understand each other, which is the true strength of their collaboration.
But in the end, it is Voss’s performance perfection that turns this into mindful entertainment, not that anything stands between you and the laughter which takes over as Benny gets on a roll.
In these harsh times when we’re overwhelmed by a world at war with itself and its people on many different levels, escapism is worth striving for. And laughter is the best way to do that with Voss a master puppeteer to get this particular show on the road.
He has all the attributes to pull it off – and he does.
While touring South Africa, Benny Bushwhacker is raising awareness and moola for the Lebombo Leopard – Human Conflict Survey which all becomes clear when seeing the show.
Sandra Prinsloo has established herself as the queen of solo shows. She knows how to pick them and with whom to collaborate. She tells DIANE DE BEER about her latest venture, Kamphoer – die verhaal van Susan Nell, with Lara Foot, CEO/artistic director of The Baxter, as director:
That was then, 2019, when Kamphoer made its debut at the Vrystaat Arts Festival and this is now, with its latest (and for now, last) run. The times slots for the run of Kamphoer opening on January 27 until February 14 at Joburg’s Market Theatre are Tuesday – Saturday 6pm; and Sunday 3pm. This is to accommodate the curfew times imposed by level 3 regulations. The Market Theatre celebrates 45 years and marks this milestone with this solo production presented by two audacious artists. They urge patrons to arrive at 5.30pm so they can allow sufficient time for getting screened. Masks need to be worn at all times. The production transfers to the Roodepoort Theatre from 16 – 28 February also performing to the new time slots Tuesday – Saturday 6pm and Sunday 3pm.
Here follows the initial story (updated) about this marvellous production which should be seen as widely as possible in Gauteng. With so little theatre around because of Covid19, to see one of the best in these times, is thrilling:
It’s the coming together of two talented artists who haven’t worked together before that can create fireworks on stage.
That’s exactly what has happened with leading actress Sandra Prinsloo and dynamic director Lara Foot. When they bumped into one another and Prinsloo said that Kamphoer was her next project, Foot acknowledged interest – and they made it happen.
That was probably the only simple element in their coming together. They were handed the initial script by their producers and with scriptwriter Cecilia du Toit in tow, they knew they still had a long way to go.
Kamphoer – die verhaal van Susan Nell (based on the best-selling and debut novel Kamphoer by Francois Smit and the non-fiction publication The Boer Whore by Nico Moolman and produced by Theatrerocket Productions) is the amazing true story set against the backdrop of the Anglo Boer War. A prisoner in the Winburg Concentration Camp, Nell is brutally raped by two British soldiers and a joiner and left for dead. She is confronted by one of her rapists many decades later when she tends war victims in a British hospital – where she starts reliving the old trauma.
“It was a process,” says Prinsloo, but as Foot is also a writer, it was also a huge but fascinating learning curve for Prinsloo. Because of the way the books are written, the main character, the one Prinsloo portrays, doesn’t emerge strongly.
What she does is more prominent than who she is. But the breadth of her experiences also presented them with many obstacles. “She manages to go through so much in a relatively short period of time,” explains the actress.
But being the experienced theatre makers they are, they found the solutions and if you have read any of the books and see the production, you will understand how brilliantly it was pulled off. (Talk of an English translation and travel to the Edinburgh Festival which both director and actress have experienced before, has been put on hold which has happened to almost everything planned in the theatre world.)
Once they got talking, the women knew they had to discover who this woman was and how to present her. Who was she talking to? And what part of her journey do they cover and which parts do they leave out?
Foot made a construction graph, signposting the different features important in a text – to begin with. “It was very technical but taught me a great deal,” notes Prinsloo.
The presentation they decided should almost play in a kind of Truth and Reconciliation format. It also starts with the words, “Ek is Susan Nell…”(I am Susan Nell…)
There were however many more headscratchers, such as the eventual confrontation between Nell and one of her rapists and again, the solution, a brainwave by Foot, is the perfect one.
This is a dramatic and traumatic story of one woman’s life and in present times, particularly relevant as the more things change, the more they stay the same. The dignity she fought for in her own life is exactly what so many women are still fighting for. Few will not identify with some of her life and that is the truly sad thing.
When she finds herself in the same room as her rapist, as a therapist she has sworn a medical oath to save lives – even if the only thing she wants to do is to kill this man who had so damaged her life.
What Prinsloo loves about the piece is how they are telling the story. “I play the character at different ages, but there are no huge shifts, even when I switch into different characters,” she says. It flows seamlessly.
She also embraces the staging, adores the set and has lost her heart to the music and the fact that composer Simon Kohler attended rehearsals and did quite a measured yet magical soundtrack to what was being said on stage. It hugely benefits the final result.
Prinsloo has become a master of the solo show and while she enjoys huge ensemble casts and does many of those too, this journey has been a joyous if tough one. She loved the encouragement from her director, the choices Foot made, the consultation – in fact the full process.
Kamphoer is an epic tale but Foot managed the timelines and flew across continents and back to honour the Susan Nell story. “It was amazing to rehearse in a theatre space (Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre in 2019) and to have everything we needed on hand,” says an actress who has gone through many phases of the South African theatre landscape. The last few decades have often been rough on individual players with very little support from outside. And now there’s Covid19 to contend with.
Her most recent production was also her most recent solo show, Spertyd, based on Elsa Joubert’s autobiographical book dealing with the author at 95 reflecting on her life. Directed and adapted by the innovative Philip Rademeyer, it had a short run at Cape Town’s Boer Theatre but has also come to a sudden halt with the harsh Covid19 restrictions.
A plucky Prinsloo has always had a gritty approach to her work. From her early days she has been a force in the profession which she has served magnificently – and still does. She is one of the few names who always draws full auditoriums and she seldomly fails to deliver.
She works hard as she flies between provinces to play in different solo productions. She can currently be seen in the film Racheltjie de Beer on DStv and there’s more on the horizon. She feels rejuvenated by the young guns like Rademeyer, Christiaan Olwagen and Nico Scheepers who have opened new vistas on stage and screen and with yet more accolades for Kamphoer which has come full circle starting with a festival opening in 2019, followed by Aardklop 2019, the Baxter Theastre in October 2019 and Woordfees 2020, which could still be accommodated before the Covid19 restrictions and now a protected run at Joburg’s Market Theatre.
For Prinsloo the positives around this production accumulated. But more than anything, she is excited not only about the performance but also about the timing of this particular story. It’s the right time for women to tell stories about strong women who overcome extreme adversity. “Healing can only start if you touch the scar,” she says referring to the play – but also valid in a much wider context.
So much time has passed, so many battles fought and still the issues for women remain the same. It’s time those with the voices start raising them – loudly. And if you can do it with Prinsloo’s power, it really counts.
If you understand Afrikaans, this is a story that will speak to everyone – and with two great dames coming together, actor Sandra Prinsloo in spectacular form guided by the inspirational director Lara Foot, it’s theatre that should be cherished. Everything about this production is pure gold but because of the pandemic, as a live performance on a local stage, it’s also rare and precious.
Kamphoer – die verhaal van Susan Nell made its debut at Vrystaat Arts Festival 2019 in Potchefstroom before a run that same year at Aardklop and Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre. It played its last season at the 2020 Woordfees but its concluding KKNK festival run was cancelled because of Covid19. For the time being, this current Market and Roodepoort Theatre season is its final tour de force. This might change in the future as new opportunities present.
Creative input and rehearsal director: Gladys Aghulas
Music composed and directed by: Nhlanhla Mahlangu
Dancers: Vuyani Dance Theatre
Singers: Soweto Gospel Choir
Musical assistance: Xolisile Bongwana and Sbusiso Shozi
Costumes: Jacques van der Watt and Black Coffee
Set and technical direction: Oliver Hauser
Lighting: Mannie Manim
Sound: Ntuthuko Mbuyazi
Choir under direction of Bongani Ncube
Venue and Dates: Nelson Mandela Theatre until September 15
DIANE DE BEER
It is such a strange time in the world, with the arts perilously balanced with all the usual stumbling blocks. Add to that the decimation of arts writing on all the traditional platforms with nothing in its place – or where there is, no way for possible readers to find it.
With the result that everyone is battling to get their stories out there. I was at a National Theatre Live screening of The Lehman Trilogy with Sam Mendes directing Simon Russel Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles last week.
There were five people watching this majestic piece. No one I asked knew about the screening and I spoke and wrote about it because I love sharing the arts because of the impact it has on individual lives.
Hopefully similar things will not happen to Gregory Maqoma’s sublime Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero, currently on at the Joburg Theatre until Sunday in celebration of the vibrant Vuyani Dance Theatre’s 20th anniversary.
In an amplified version (“death needs amplifying in the present circumstances,” says the choreographer) which starts with bone-chilling sobs drenched by shafts of sharp light from which the dancers emerge, the tone is set as the heartache of those sounds find solace in the rhythms of Ravel’s Boléro. As the dancers start moving as one, they sweep your emotions along.
It is a mighty piece on multiple levels and even though it is inspired and based on two Zakes Mda books, Ways of Dying and Cion, the strength lies in the complexity of the whole with the evocative lighting, the heightened sounds of the Soweto Gospel Choir as the dancers bring their own singing to create specific rhythms and textures, all contributing to the enormity of what Maqoma is dealing with.
Enveloped in this grief, the production is mesmerising and astonishing in its excellence. From Black Coffee’s costumes, the diversity of the music and the singing, the Ravel rhythms often suggested by the dancers’ clicking or tapping or a drumbeat, the melancholy and sometimes even merriment of the production are completely overwhelming in its brilliance.
We are living in a world that takes dying lightly. Just the last few days in our country underlines that in different ways. Gender-based abuse has again galvanised women to step out and shout while simultaneously a young man is being sentenced for raping a 7-year old girl in a toilet at a restaurant.
A young mother kills four of her children with rat poison and goes out partying.
Shops in both Joburg and Tshwane are set alight and burnt to the ground while politicians argue whether this is xenophobia or not. People are dying because they are hungry and the root causes are never addressed.
Schoolchildren fear for their safety at schools while others are kidnapped on their way or back home.
In the rest of the world, refugees are growing in numbers as they flee from their countries because of war or dictatorships and some are simply banished because they’re not wanted. “We are forced into mourning,” says Maqoma who tells the story in the way he best knows how.
And yet failed leaders are mourned in their death and feted while their people suffer and eventually flee their land.
It is against this backdrop that Maqoma creates a visual spectacle that grabs you tightly around the throat and never lets go. The dancers move, en masse it feels, yet are given individual moments, from Afro fusion to a nod to the classics but in contemporary and fast- changing style, everyone on stage is celebrated and contributes to hold their audience in complete awe.
The beauty, the execution, the quality and excellence unfolding underline the talent of our artists who are out there fighting and creating on their own. If this is what they achieve while struggling, the heights they could reach are staggering.
But that is the world of the artist. He can’t help himself. As Maqoma suggests, with individuals who are daily running the Vuyani Dance Theatre, he has been encouraged and allowed to dream, which he fortunately does on grand scale. He doesn’t hold back and does it the only way he knows how
There are only five performances left. It’s one of those landmark theatrical experiences which is on its way to London to be staged during the Dance Umbrella festival at the Barbican. Those performances will be packed and so should they be back home.
It’s accessible, the music is mindblowing and Gregory Maqoma’s talent and collaboration genius should be witnessed again and again. His artistry is recognised internationally but he insists on staying and performing at home.
I am eternally grateful. Seeing Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero, not once but twice, has been a theatrical miracle.
If you know Nataniël, you won’t be able to resist his latest season. If you don’t, DIANE DE BEER coaxed him to share the story of his upcoming show:
The title alone will stop you in your tracks: When Giants Waltz – 12 Monumental Concerts by Little Nataniël.
But that has always been his power – getting you to gasp – at his costumes, his words, his gestures – or simply the spectacular staging of his shows.
Not this time says the performer – but we won’t quite take his word for it.
The title dictates that the costumes will be monumental – and that is where he starts – always with the way he looks when on stage.
Singer, songwriter and storyteller Nataniël returns to the Theatre of Marcellus for his 17th production at Emperors Palace after a year’s sabbatical. This latest creation will first be staged at Artscape, one of his favourite theatres, from September 10, with a smaller band but the same set, props and costumes as well as script to be presented as 12 concerts from October 4 to 27, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; and Sundays at 3pm.
A typical Nataniël year consists of three original stage productions, one at Artscape, one at Emperors Palace and one at the Atterbury Theatre. The rest of the year is filled with numerous concert tours.
These concerts (“the friendly shows”) are as structured and detailed as all his work, but allow him more freedom for improvisation and informal banter. For the first time he will present this format at Artscape and Emperors Palace.
And as a bonus, there will be as many costume changes as he can manage! With the show title as an example, he is going grand and gigantic. “Expect them to be epic,” he says. “I can hardly move them. Every time I do, I find myself with a sleeve in my hand.”
Last year’s sabbatical (only from the grandly staged shows) obviously gave him the chance to reassess. He believes audiences prefer his solo stories rather than a single story told from the beginning to end of the show.
This also gives him more time to play around, allows for a mini-sermon slipped in at some stage which also gives you a measure of where his head is at for the moment – always a bonus.
But then the title should do that too, he explains. “When giants waltz, the earth moves. Apparently,” he says, “size does matter!”
“As far back as your childhood, everything is a battle between big and small. This is my chance to lead a well-dressed rebellion against institutions. I despise any structure that involves a boardroom. Some people, however, will be victims of this stupidity.”
If all of this simply sounds too serious, don’t fear, the shows are focused on entertainment yet “from a pedestal of profound values and issues,” he says with what may to some sound like a heavy heart.
“It’s fun from beginning to end. If we can’t have fun in this mess …” And if anyone can turn the prediction of the end of the world into something hilarious, Nataniël is your man.
The way he thought about this season was to start with a costume that he imagined as the outfit he would wear at the last ball held on the Titanic!
Staged with his trademark stylish lighting, he has visualised this concert as a series of portraits. It reminds him of those tableaux from a time, long, long ago when photography was in its infancy. “It will hopefully remind people of paging through an album,” he suggests. “When the lights go on, everything stops on stage! In the dark, out of sight, is when everything happens,” he notes. “During the blackouts we move.”
With his stories, he isn’t only comparing big versus small, but also the constant struggle between the indestructible and the threatened, the always present war between the individual and the establishment, and the exhausting debate between the political and the intelligent.
Nataniël performs music from an endless catalogue of blues and jazz evergreens, pop classics and original songs.
This time even the music has been simplified and made as accessible as he knows how.
And no more choreography. While some will miss those quirky hops, skips and jumps so beautifully executed with often military precision, he feels as if someone has handed him his freedom. “I would panic through every show that I would forget my steps,” he explained. “Why did I do that all these years? What was I thinking?”
He shares the stage with his brilliant band led by Charl du Plessis (keyboards), Juan Oosthuizen (guitar), Brendan Ross (keyboards, saxophone and vocals), Werner Spies (bass), Peter Auret (drums), and on vocals, Dihan Slabbert and Nicolaas Swart.
The minimalist set (notwithstanding the multitude of props) will be complemented by another collection of extraordinary costumes created by Floris Louw, Nataniël’s award-winning designer of the past 18 years.
Describing this as a concert for the connoisseur, he never fails to entertain. His stories and songs, the staging and the costumes, when they all come together – that’s showbiz, and perfect for these tough times.
Cds, dvds, books (including his brand new book – a memoir in Afrikaans and English), ceramics and products from Nataniël’s lifestyle range will be available at all performances.
*Artscape, Cape Town; September 10 to 15.
*Theatre of Marcellus, Emperors Palace; October 4 to 27, 2019
Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm
12 concerts only; 90 minutes long; no interval; no cellphones, sandals or shorts; no children under 15.
Choreographer/dancer Gregory Maqoma and the Vuyani Dance Theatre are celebrating 20 years in the contemporary dance sphere in South Africa and abroad. DIANE DE BEER speaks to him about a reworked Cion, the piece he has selected to showcase their accomplishments in the Nelson Mandela Theatre from September 5 to 15:
“I’ve just kept working,” says the explosive driving force behind Vuyani Dance Theatre (VDT), founder and creative director Gregory Maqoma, when reminiscing about the achievement of their 20th anniversary celebration with the already celebrated Cion at the Joburg Theatre starting on September 5.
Five years ago, the company celebrated with Full Moon which dance critic Adrienne Sichel lauded as “flights of conceptual fancy, wrapped around a creation myth, tap into South Africa’s diverse dance lineage ranging from classical ballet to contemporary African dance.
“Maqoma’s aesthetic plumage and Afro-classicism don’t ignore the Odette/Odile legacy but neither does he forget Africa’s ornithology.”
At that time, they didn’t have any backing, and not much has changed since. “It hasn’t been easy,” says the softly spoken Maqoma but argues that it speaks to their resilience. Then they were looking at their 15-year achievement, already a major feat for a local contemporary dance company, but this time round it’s #Vuyani20 and for the future, #ShapingTheNext20.
As they have done in the past, when it seems like too much of a struggle, they simply go bigger. And that’s not only into the future but also with what seemed to many the perfect production. For these current festivities, Maqoma has decided to amplify Cion because he believes that in current circumstances, death needs amplifying.
He is doing this by adding dancers as well as voices – and no less than the Soweto Gospel Choir – to this extraordinary performance. “It’s about legacy,” he says proudly.
He points to their future and a combined invitation from “Sadler Wells, Theatre de la Ville and a Dutch company for performances of four shows two years hence.” That’s the luxury that he knows dancers in South Africa seldom have. “It gives us two years to just think,” he says. It also brings financial muscle and support, something that is sadly missing at home.
“We need acknowledgement of the spaces we find, as well as support and marketing,” he adds almost mournfully.
Everything happens here with little rehearsal time and much ingenuity as audiences can witness in the reworked Cion. That’s the way they roll. It’s not that he doesn’t speak loudly when given the opportunity, but from government they have had few favours.
Artists/directors like James Ngcobo and Idris Elba (whose currently running production Tree Maqoma has just choreographed) know what the man is capable of and so do international audiences. But fortunately, Maqoma keeps coming home. This is where he dances and teaches with the company whose trainees will also be participating in the pulsating production on the Nelson Mandela stage in September.
His work has always been about challenging a Eurocentric way of structuring and to give it a contemporary African edge – with conviction – while at the same time honouring black artists. “We want to take control of our own craft,” he says. “It’s about validity.” And the fact that he should still be seeking that at this time, says so much about the world we live in.
If anything, Cion is proof of so much more than that.
When it was first performed at the Market Theatre in 2017, he explained the creation thus: “I am drawn to Zakes Mda’s character Toloki the professional mourner from his beloved Ways of Dying as he further uncovers in his book Cion the story of the runaway slaves.
“In my interpretation, Toloki rediscovers death in a modern context, inspired by the universal events that lead to death, not as a natural phenomenon but by decisions of others over the other. We mourn death by creating death.
“The universe of greed, power, religion has led us to be professional mourners who transform the horror of death and the pain of mourning into a narrative that questions what seems to be normalised and far more brutal in how we experience death and immigration.
“I am creating this work as a lament, a requiem required to awaken a part of us, the connection to the departed souls.”
And about that first season: nothing prepares you for the performance by Maqoma who has gathered a group of dancers, musicians and singers who mourn death in a way that both embraces and expunges the horrors of this world.
“From the design to the dance to the magnificent music and singing, Maqoma transports you to a place of healing by tearing the horror apart – step by step, note by note.
“If you ever see Cion is being performed anywhere, don’t hesitate, just go. It’s world class and feeds the soul.”
That’s what I wrote two years ago and that’s why it’s thrilling that he has decided to stage this majestic work at this particular time. If you see anything this year, it should be this.
Maqoma’s whole life has been about pushing boundaries and acknowledging himself and the company. “No more gatekeepers,” is his rallying cry.
And even though he laments the lack of support in a larger sense, he feels blessed for the support he has in the company. “I’ve been able to step away from the day-to-day running,” he explains. That gives him the luxury of time to sleep, to strategise and to dream. It also means he can make all of those a reality.
Vuyai Dance Theatre has become a machine that can function without his daily attention – and that, more than anything gives him great joy.
When he talks about going bigger, their first step towards #ShapingTheNext20 is to start laying the bricks for their own building. “If we’re able to cross borders, what is stopping us to lay those first bricks in our own country? We are fighting for our own space.”
In conclusion, he declares that he has been pushed post-apartheid to recognise the many atrocities including the senseless killings at Marikana – hence Cion. “It needs a strong push,” he exclaims, “we need to raise questions and we need to be loud.”
Government-funded art centres have not embraced their own he feels, and any plea from artists is landing on deaf ears. In the coming years apart from building VDT and working towards further success, he will also be developing a curriculum as a training institution and documenting the choreographic methodology of his and fellow choreographer Vincent Mantsoe’s work which will establish their own technique internationally.
It’s the great standoff between Pieter-Dirk Uys and his celebrity creation Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout. He tells DIANE DE BEER about the battle of sharp tongues and minds in #hetwo:
It’s difficult to imagine how actor/writer/director (and the list goes on) Pieter Dirk Uys (PDU) keeps producing fresh material – but a few minutes in his company, listening to those ideas almost tumble over one another, the answer is simple.
It’s his vocation, his passion, and PDU (with all his personae) is unique. I am reminded of a day decades ago when I slipped into a lecture hall at the then Pretoria Technikon (now TUT) and listened to him chatting to drama students.
Quick and nimble, thinking on his feet, and everyone eating out of his hand, I was quickly won over, but was certain that even though seemingly impromptu, this speech was rehearsed. It was only many years later that I understood how foolish I was. It’s simply the way he works and thinks and has fashioned a career not only brilliantly but with versatility and such longevity.
It’s always new as out pops yet another gag – whether it’s that of Piet Koornhof or who knows, decades later turned into Trump. He brilliantly used one of the Koornhof-driven apartheid laws and moved to British immigration officers to show the world for what it really is – up close.
Tannie Evita is one who just won’t let go. Ever since she slipped onto stage in 1981 (just short of four decades ago), she’s been misbehaving but as her creator explains: Because she doesn’t exist, she can’t be real and then, she proves them wrong.
PDU and his master creation have never come face to face on stage until now. As his publicity announces à la the LA Times: Uys dons false eyelashes and presidents listen. And even if that’s perhaps no longer a compliment, Tannie Evita’s long list of celebrity fans have been committed from the start and still remain true.
When he started impersonating her in 1978, it was illegal to have an opinion about anything political, so he reasoned, maybe an Afrikaans woman with an NP husband could spill the beans. “The fact that she was portrayed by a man dressed as a woman when cross-dressing was also illegal, could force the edge of the envelope. Or maybe that she was there for only one reason: to eventually make Nelson Mandela laugh. And she did.”
And many others.
PDU knows a good thing when he has one. The myth keeps running: “For nearly 40 years she has had to tolerate the impersonation of her by a local comedian,” reads the publicity blurb. “She tried to sue him for libel; she swore never to allow him into her life and yet, now in the 25th year of her democracy, she will be on the stage with Pieter-Dirk Uys at the same time.”
There’s a hitch though says PDU with a dramatic pause: “It starts with her death…” and sadly, you will have to go and see the rest for yourself because that will be the fun of #hetwo – another of PDU’s gifts, titles, always read them carefully, as therein also lies a tale.
Know that it will be fresh and new but never clean – tralala. He recently picked up some flack because of Ouma Ossewania’s language. PDU is puzzled but not troubled. “The title is Ouma Ossewania Praat Vuil.” They have warning notices, age restrictions AND that title. Feels like old times as the wheels keep turning – round and round.
He has been put through the censorship wringer for most of his career. But that keeps challenging him. There are so many taboos, some where he will bend the knee but others he will keep challenging. In the apartheid years, the security police and the censorship board presented him with sold-out shows, but he’s not going to do things for expediency alone. Whatever happens, he deals with it. If people have a point, he will listen, if not, he will tell them that too.
That both PDU and Tannie Evita will have you giggling in #metwo while banishing the truoubles of the outside world is a no-brainer. While he is aware of everything in the entertainment basket, he’s never had a problem packing them in.
Apart from this latest creation, he currently has 10 shows in his repertoire. At the drop of a hat, he can pack up his wardrobe and go.
He has teetered around on those high heels, donned too many wigs and battled the elements whatever they might be on his own for decades. When people ask him about his swansong, he’s retorts that every show might be one, he doesn’t know. But those who have watched him through the years will know that he has always claimed that he won’t stop.
He might do things differently, and with this coming face to face of PDU and Tannie Evita, he pulls yet another trick out of his shimmering stage hat. There isn’t an end to his inventiveness. He has done it his whole life, that’s how he rolls – to his audience’s benefit and delight.
An artist isn’t always appreciated in his own land and PDU has been around so long, many tend to take him for granted. Don’t! Live theatre has become a luxury and many artists have had to turn to television or film just to pay the rent.
There are a few like PDU who knew from the start they would have to do it all. It is the only way he can achieve everything he wants to. “I’m writing a new solo play,” he says. “It has to be for one man only because I can’t afford to pay actors.” That’s the reality and has been for quite a while.
Bambi, Evita’s sister is on her way to Berlin for a few shows. There’s life in quite a few of his dames yet – and that’s how you do it.
And Tannie Evita shares her weekly comments on YouTube and Daily Maverick about the state of her nation, where her Evita’s Free Speech has gathered supporters from all the corners of the globe. Her 140 000 Twitter followers are also tuned in around the clock.
“My instinct drove me. I’m a terminal optimist which we have to be as artists because what we do is total madness,” he said last year when speaking to Marthinus Basson at a text market in Cape Town. This is what he wanted to do and where he wanted to be – on stage among people with passion and humour.
He also had a message for artists: “You have to be a unique talent. Don’t be a copy, we have enough of those. Be original. Don’t specialise, do everything. You must learn the alphabet of the theatre – everything. Read, watch documentaries by people who do what you want to achieve. Don’t be afraid to adore talent.”
And we do.
#HeTwo will perform in Johannesburg at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre from July 31 to August 18.The run in Cape Town is at Theatre on the Bay from 27 August 27 to September 14. Book at Computicket or theatres.
Young black female directors are a rarity in the South African theatre landscape (and probably around the world) but Lesedi Job, who has been on a roll since her first production a couple of years back, tells DIANE DE BEER she is determined to change all that:
Representation is a rare commodity but one of the few positives in our crazy world is that in spite of protestations, that is changing – especially in the world of theatre, film and television.
It’s voices that we have missed up to now and while some of their stories have been told by others, this no longer holds true. Think the Central Park Five story When They See Us, Get Out and BlacKkKlansman, to mention a few.
It isn’t even the stories that always need to change, it’s the perspective, says director/actor/singer Lesedi Job who is directing her 7th play, The Dead Tinder Society, in just a couple of years. “When James (Ngcobo, artistic director at The Market) first mentioned that I should direct, I was hesitant,” she says.
But that’s then and since that time, she has been piling on the experience with very diverse plays and even a sublime stint in Canada where she mixed and worked with the best in the industry. If there was a common denominator it was quite tough social commentary, she notes.
This wasn’t necessarily a choice but as a newbie, what she found was that she was mainly directing local debut works, which appealed to her because there was no blueprint. She was gifted to find her own voice. She knows and believes that hers is an important voice.
Also because of her age, which already broadens her viewing audience. It’s precisely her youth (30something), that drives me to want to see her newest work to catch her perspective and where her head is at. The topic doesn’t necessarily interest or affect me.
Having said that, there is much to recommend in Job’s latest production running until August 25. The new South African play dealing with post-divorce Tinder-dating, The Dead Tinder Society, is about that difficult time in a 30/40something woman’s life when she must re-enter the dating world – and how to do that. “It might not be a funny time in a woman’s life,” says Job, but both the playwright and the director wanted to highlight the funny side of this one.
Actor Ashleigh Harvey (who has recently left SA for Britain) switched roles in this her debut playwrighting effort.
As she’s left the country, they have been speaking via social media and having studied at the same time at Wits (in fact the two actors are also Wits alumni), they knew one another well which made the process much easier.
“Ashleigh gave me carte blanche on the actors,” notes Job and she decided that with her pick of both a white and black actor, the interracial dynamic would also come into play. And when she was auditioning, the thing that appealed to her most was an actor’s hunger for the role. “I know when I felt like that, I did my best work on stage,” she says.
Sharon Spiegel-Wagner is best known as a musical theatre performer, but Job points out that she studied straight drama. “I think she’s loving this.” She had worked with Mpho Osei-Tutu on When Swallows Cry and she knew what she was looking for was versatility because he had to play different characters.
She’s thrilled with the process because with a new script, it’s important to have everyone on board – leaving any preciousness to the side. And they have. Job insists that she brings all her attributes to the table. Her age, especially, because she believes that whatever age, a play will be approached differently.
Also with a play that has Tinder at its centre, even if that is simply there to get to the more emotional stuff, you have to know what that culture is about. “You’re required to think on your feet,” she says because time is short and money is scarce. But Job has learnt to work around all of that. For the moment, it’s a fact of an artist’s life – and won’t change in the foreseeable future. “It’s important that the actors also have a voice and that they’re allowed to connect to their instincts,” she says. “I encourage play and towards the end, pull it all together.”
The way Job has been pulled from one play to the next is impressive, with different people spotting that it quality. She is in the process of finding her artistic voice. Because all the plays have been different, it’s allowed her to explore and examine her craft. “For me it is really important that what I do has to work for the writing. It’s about the text,” she says.
And while it is not the end goal, for the moment, theatre is her teaching tool. As an actress (Raisin in the Sun, Fishes of Hope), she knew she wanted to direct – some day.
And she’s had wonderful guiding hands from James Ngcobo to Megan Willson who pushed her to find her own voice. “It was like freestyle dancing. She stood there and gave me the tools – me, myself and I.”
At the time it might have been frightening, but it’s easy to see and hear when she talks, that this is a woman with a mind of her own. She has a strong voice and one that has found many different stages.
Her biggest dream is to grow the industry, to keep the wheel turning. “I want to be part of that. This is my life – and for all my years to come.”
Flying high so quickly, she has also become a target of politics, but she shrugs that off. “South Africa is too small, we should be working together not against each other,” she advocates. “We all need each other.”
Once theatre is up and running, she would love to turn to film and television but knows that she will always return to the stage. “That’s where an actor exercises his muscle.” And finally, the thing she really really wants to do is to create and direct a fully-fledged South African musical. “I know we can do it!”
And while few know it, not only is she a remarkable actress (who still wants to act), she’s also a good singer. “Even as a voice artist, I’m brilliant,” she says almost shyly. “It’s all about telling a story.”
And in that vein, meet Jody Green, a 36-year-old recently divorced mother of two. With the help of her best friend Ray, she signs up to Tinder (the infamous mobile dating app) in an attempt to put her shattered love life back together again.
Watch and learn.
Tickets@R130 at Computicket
Running time: 60 minutes
Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Studio Theatre
Producers: VR Theatrical (award-winning Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Rock of Ages)
In search of our continent and thus celebrating its stories, artistic director of The Market James Ngcobo was excited when he discovered a new writer whose work had been adapted for stage and could be explored and examined. DIANE DE BEER experiences Nigerian storytelling in dramatic fashion:
There’s been a rich vein of African writing the the past decade, with Chigozie Obiama from Nigeria with his debut The Fishermen regarded as one of the most promising to emerge in the past few years.
When James Ngcobo, artistic director of The Market, finished reading the novel, he knew straight away that he wanted to stage this particular piece.
It has long been a gripe of his that African work is featured more widely in the rest of the world than in South Africa. Having staged Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel and Sunjata, a Malian story he both wrote and directed a few years back, he feels it is something he wishes to promote in an ongoing fashion.
This time he curated a continental season with the eye on a country in which the narrative is changing constantly. Starting off last month with Frontières, written and mentored by Bobby Rodwell, directed by Mmabatho Montsho, he describes it as testimonial theatre with immigrants/refugees to this country telling their stories of hardship, inhospitability and simply being obstructed in any attempt to make their stay a legal one.
These stories are rife, the way people have suffered to get here, only to find they are not wanted. With the current refugee crisis across the world and the inability of governments to deal with this, spotlighting our own harsh ways in the wake of Africa welcoming our exiles in the past, is illuminating.
And to base this on research on migration and the status of African foreign nationals in South Africa that began in 2005, is also valuable because of the depth of the testimonies.
The Fishermen is completely different and falls more in Ngcobo’s explanation that “we need to tell stories that highlight the daily lives of people, the events in the countries they come from, the need to get up, jump over hurdles and move on”.
There’s a folktale quality to the way the story is told. Ngcobo was very specific about his choice of actors, who need special qualities to pull this one off. Not only are the two actors playing all four brothers that populate this play, they also have to perform all the other characters that appear, including their parents.
Ngcobo regular Siyabongo Thwala, who can switch to a younger version of himself with a face of perfect innocence, and the flexible Warren Masemola, in both gait and mentality, are the ideal cast as they move between the different personalities to tell their stories of this troubled family.
Even though there’s a comedic element because of the writing and the performance, the work itself is much more complex than it seems on the surface. It is the story of four Nigerian brothers – the eldest 15 and the youngest 9 – who take advantage of their father’s absence when he moves to another town for work, to play hooky while going fishing in a river that because of its deterioration is forbidden.
With a mother who finds it tough to control her sons as she runs her own business, all kinds of external factors take control of their lives. It’s about a close-knit family, brotherly love and devotion and a trust that is broken. There’s also a hint of the Cain/Abel story with many biblical references as well as traditions and beliefs that can rule and ruin people.
And as the family stand, the cycle of violence once set into motion and spinning out of control, a larger vision emerges of a country and where it might be heading.
Like with Ngcobo’s Sunjata which was also driven more than anything by storytelling, there’s a folkloric quality to it. One almost expects it to kick off with a once upon a time…
It all lies in the words and the telling. When Ngcobo speaks about the piece and especially the writing, he expresses his love of the author’s way with language which for him has a sound and feel of Yoruba rather than English.
This is enhanced in quite comical fashion by the accents (in which the actors have been guided by accent coach Dike Sam). “We needed to tone it down so that audiences didn’t battle too much but with some of the more over-the-top characters, we turn it up,” says the director.
It takes a moment just to adjust your ears, but that has the added bonus of finetuning your focus and taking you right into the heart of the piece.
And together with the accent, it is all in the writing, the descriptions and the telling of the story. To make this come to life, it needed the playfulness and skills of the two actors who have to leap back into their youthful past while in-between taking on adult mode for the colourful telling of this in-the- end very tragic tale.
With this Masemola’s first appearance at The Market in 10 years, his confidently comical and often on the edge performance comes as quite a surprise. A delightful one indeed, with his actions matching his words. And he very early on announces his intent when after an admonishment from his “brother”, he plays his “Mommy” with an exaggerated swing of the arms and legs.
But its also his vocal ability as he turns the volume on and off to make a point or to relay an emotion that spectacularly adds to the fun of the piece – even as devastation sets in.
Similarly yet in clever contrast, Thwala’s colouring is much more mischievous, which works well with his features, (big eyes that grow bigger with the drama) and the two manage to tell a tale in quite mesmerising fashion.
Ngcobo drew on his love for storytelling, allowing the characters to draw the pictures of our imagination but also helping in the detail with smart projections which tell a story of mood and sometimes melancholy.
With atmospheric lighting, costumes that reflect the characters as well as sound, all adding to the drama, its like stepping back in time and into another world which is exactly what the director was hoping for and what storytelling dreams of doing.
It’s about our stages reflecting the continent (amongst others), storytelling in a different guise with words that paint novel pictures.
My only critique would be a slightly shorter version to make it smartly slim.
The Fishermen will be on at the Market’s Mannie Manim Theatre until August 4.
Pictures: The Sjokoladeshow and Koekeloer: Wendy van Heerden
With Theatrerocket in panic mode as three national festivals run almost at the same time, Rudi Sadler and Johan van der Merwe have all their theatre ducks in a row – as they always have. DIANE DE BEER checks their many productions in debut seasons at Innibos in Mbombela and at the Free State Festival in Bloemfontein starting this week:
The names of actress Sandra Prinsloo and director Lara Foot in the same sentence? That’s already a coup!
Then you give them a text adapted by Cecilia du Toit from Francois Smith’s fictionalised Kamphoer and Nico Moolman’s non- fiction Camp Whore, dealing with the life of Susan Nell – and you have fireworks.
Kamphoer which debuts in the Free State plays out against the backdrop of the South African War (Anglo Boer War, 1899 – 1902) where Susan Nell is raped in the Winburg concentration camp and left for dead. She is found by a black couple who gently nurse her back to life and from there she travels to the Cape and finds her way to Europe where she is trained as a psychologist. That’s in broad brush strokes.
During World War 1, she works at a psychiatric institution in England where she crosses paths with one of her rapists, who is suffering from a post-war condition that was then labelled as shellshock.
This year, 2019, is the 120th anniversary of the South African War and the production is about honouring that devastating period.
It is produced by Theatrerocket whose first solo production Die Reuk Van Appels (starring Gideon Lombard and directed by Lara Bye) was showered with awards for everyone involved. The anticipation for this one is quite something – and it is perhaps with some gentle breathing that they welcome this Free State debut.
For those not visiting the festival, this is a production that will travel. Make a note.
But with much more laughter in mind, their other two productions offer much lighter fare with debuts at Innibos (from June 26 to 29) before racing to the Free State Festival (July 1 – 7).
Die Sjokoladeshow is something Johan van der Merwe came up with while visiting the Drakensberg, eating chocolate fondue and thinking that they had never done a chocolate show. It can absolutely be as random as that.
In conversation with author Riana Scheepers, they decided to invite a clutch of writers to come up with some sketches which would be selected for a show – which after much whittling down was exactly what happened.
Into the picture step a quartet of artists: director/writer Henriëtta Gryffenberg, actors Lizz Meiring and Jak de Priester and musical director Heinrich Pelser.
“I love the different stories,” says Gryffenberg. They range from drama, to comedy, monologues, storytelling and two songs that celebrate the sweet- and sadness of love. “Each item has its own colour and scent and leaves me with food for thought,” she reminisces.
“I wanted to do an escapist show as balm to these tough times. I didn’t want politics of the day to intrude. I wanted to work with themes of relationships between parents and children as well as men and women. I also wanted to explore the exile of the outsider because these are all issues that I believe are currently neglected.”
Talking about her team, she praises Meiring as the theatrical trooper. “Her enthusiasm and energy are catching. She eats, lives and breathes theatre and her interpretations stretch from a 20-something nun to a 60-year plus woman who rants about her mother’s moral messages.”
Situated on the opposite end of the acting spectrum, this is De Priester’s debut as actor. A successful singer and performer, the stage is also his home, but this has a different slant. “We had to turn him into an actor in 15 rehearsal sessions,” explains Gryffenberg. “He pulled it off and I didn’t think it would be possible! I think many of his admirers will be amazed at his performance.”
She also has high praise for her music man. “He is musical magic,” she says. His understanding of her needs was spot-on and his live soundtrack extraordinary without being overpowering in a theatre landscape. He also performs with aplomb.
For Gryffenberg, from putting together the text to ensure a dramatic arc, to the Johan Engelbrecht set to getting stuck into a stage production, was both tough and thrilling. In conclusion she celebrates that Die Sjokoladeshow is a confluence of many talents which will now be revealed at the two art festivals.
And last (but not least), it was time for Theatrerocket to dip their toe into farce territory with a production titled Koekeloer! And for this first effort, they were determined to get all the pieces of the puzzle to fit perfectly.
The story deals with the popular kykNET cooking show Koekedoor, familiar territory for audiences. Playwright Braam van der Vyver, familiar with farce, got together with the two producers and together they believe they have concocted the perfect comedy plot.
Two finalists, Marié Coleské, a spinster from Koekenaap and Marié Kok, a lingerie model from Ruimsig have to battle this particular baking bulge with cunning conniving and some half-baked plans.
Also introduce a clumsy crook and a private detective, a jealous boxing champion, a lingerie designer (of course!), a dominee, a controversial book and an upside-down cake. That’s farce.
The cast includes many of the more experienced players from DEURnis with the bonus of veteran actor Gavin van den Berg as the fallible preacher.
This is one dish which they are determined will deliver in all its deliciousness. Fingers crossed for no load shedding in case the cake flops!
So get thee to the theatre at either Innibos in Mbombela or at the Free State Festival in Bloemfontein. If you’re in Grahamstown, see the DEURnis/Uzwelo season.
The Afrikaans Festivals have for a couple of years enjoyed the expansive embrace of performance the Theatrerocket way. The production company has found innovative ways of appealing to theatre audiences as well as making the more seasoned theatre followers pay attention to DEURnis. Now they have collaborated with Windybrow Art Centre for the National Arts Festival (June 27 to July 7). DIANE DE BEER explores the concept:
No one would have given much of a thumbs up to this first and probably edgy concept dubbed DEURnis. It just sounds silly – one-on-one theatre!
But Rudi Sadler and Johan van der Merwe who a few years back formed a production company Theatrerocket had an idea and they were determined. DEURnis is a one-on-one site-specific theatrical production with a very intimate yet cutting-edge and experimental approach. It involves a single audience member who views three separate dramatic pieces per package (there are four different ones to choose from at the National Arts Festival for the first time this year), with each of these having one performer and one audience member.
Each piece is approximately 20 minutes long and written for a particular room/space in a house/building, so as a viewer, you move from one room or even caravan to the next to see your three chosen plays.
It is the social issues that permeate the different works that affect individuals in different ways depending who you are. And for those who aren’t interested in gimmicky theatre, that’s exactly the trap they have avoided by aiming for excellence and substance in the texts. Some will suit specific individuals better than others.
Personally I’m not too excited by the more confrontational ones (there’s usually one that’s slightly more out there in a package), but then other audience members might feel differently. “We have been inundated by people interested in writing for this venture,” says Van der Merwe.
The duo are theatre fanatics of a kind, they know and understand the pitfalls and what audiences want.
Part of why DEURnis works so well is because it is such a well-executed concept. They understood from the beginning that the control had to be constant to see that everything works superbly. And as they have had many plays to choose from, they have managed to execute their strict code of excellence.
It’s a fascinating experience, being the only one in the room in situations with a stranger telling a story that is often inclusive rather than intrusive but affects you as the viewer in very specific ways. For many it might also be uncomfortable to be this intimate with someone you’re not familiar with. But that’s part of the experience.
This is not a financial venture for the company. With only single actors and audience members, the numbers simply don’t add up. But because of the way it has been done, the performance-experience the mostly young actors accumulate, can’t be calculated.
And chatting to a few of them in-between performances, they are thrilled by how much they are learning in the process. “Each performance is different because of the reaction of the individual viewing,” says one performer. Many of them are already in their second or third play and the growth is obvious in their performances as well as a play’s toughness, a second time round.
Prospective directors are also excited about the challenge and safety of testing their skills on such a small and intimate stage. “It’s a safe environment in which to experiment and push your own boundaries,” says Van der Merwe.
Having sat through two nights of 12 plays (even a dance with Ignatius van Heerden, Droom, with multi-media included), it doesn’t matter which package you choose. They’re all extremely well crafted and in sometimes scary ways, fun to experience. Following the earliest season, I was excited because of the great potential – and they keep delivering.
They keep on adding to the concept with interesting twists. The latest will be seen at the National Arts Festival later this week. It all began when the head of the Windybrow Arts Centre, Keituletse Gwanga, came to see the production in Tshwane a while back. Six Market Lab graduates, Kwasha! Theatre Company, who work with Windybrow as an introduction to the professional world, have joined Theatrerocket for DEURnis/Uzwelo (a Zulu translation of deurnis which means empathy/compassion) on this year’s main programme.
It’s been an amazing learning curve explains Van der Merwe because they started with expanded workshops with Windybrow where they explained, explored and taught the concept, with end results that deliver a diverse and rich programme.
“The stories they came with are fascinating,” says Sadler which meant that both groups benefitted from this collaborative effort. Each programme has been put together to showcase the diversity with the first, for example, presenting Koud (Afrikaans: a schoolboy with a secret, forbidden love, that should be kept secret at all costs); Khogo/Chicken (Sesotho: a man sells chickens in the basement of his building and is at pains to prove his compassion to the SPCA) and Kwas (Afrikaans: Esther loves posing for artists but has problems staying still).
Other languages included are English, Sepedi, Greek, IsiXhosa and even Tsotsi taal. Because many of the pieces feature the actor’s first language, it has been constructed to be played for audiences who might not understand but should follow the story which is another interesting addition to this already exploratory work.
A work titled Womb, for example, places the audience member in the womb, the language (in this instance English) shouldn’t matter, while Gone by Renos Spanoudes deals with death which expands on the Becket quote: “We are born astride a grave”. Even though he includes some Greek, the meaning is never lost.
DEURnis has won many different theatre prizes, most of them national and there have been a few acting awards as well. Two years into this project, the growth has been impressive. And while this latest innovation can be seen at Makhanda from June 27 to July 1 (at 11am, 3pm and 4.30pm daily at PJ Olivier), they already have exciting new plans which they will pull from their theatrical hat at the right moment.