SU Woordfees Makes Your Heart Sing during a Covid19 Lockdown because of the Arts: the Memories Linger…

DIANE DE BEER

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The artistry of theatre: Marthinus Basson’s Huppelkind with Andrico Goosen and René Cloete. Picture: Nanette Evenhuis.

Woordfees 2020 was the last public event which made it safely through before our current lockdown – and only by the skin of its teeth.

But the blessing for those of us who were privileged enough to be there for the full festival from March 5 to 15 was huge. The prize-giving event was planned for that final Sunday night – the only festivity which didn’t sail through because at that stage the full extent of the tragedy of Covid19 had landed.

Following the lockdown, all the judging panels swung into action and on April 7, the results were announced in a live event on Facebook (see below), I didn’t even know that was possible.

But it also gave me the chance to reflect on my highlights:

As part of the oversight panel convened by Gillian Mitchell and including Paul Boekkooi, we were responsible for the categories Best Upcoming Artists(s) and Best Festival Production. It meant that for the first time in ages I was fortunate enough to see productions across genres – and what a delight that was.

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Dean Balie (centre front) with the spectacular Khoisan Gypsy Band with Frieda van den Heever as director and Charl Johan Lingenfelder as musical director. Picture: Natalie Gabriels.

As best production, Die Poet, Wie’s Hy became an early benchmark that was never surpassed. It’s as close as you can get to perfection on a live stage.

Produced by De Klerk Oelofse with writer Adam Small’s poems at the heart of the performance, this was a Dean Balie passion product – and so much more. It’s theatre at its richest when all the elements fit seamlessly.

It was the sensibility, the music, the poetry, the setting and the performances but more than that, it was the magnificence of Balie’s performance throughout. He understands every word of Small’s poetry and made it sing – whether in anger, poignancy or exaltation.

He has done beautiful work in the past but this has elevated him to another level. It was the kind of performance which will make people view him in a completely different light – and he has always been rated.

Watch out for this one down the line. It should tour the country. It was also justly rewarded with the Best Performance: Contemporary Music – Music-driven Production.

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Stian Bam, René Cloete and Andrico Goosen with Huppelkind. Picture: Retha Ferguson.

The other category in which I was involved was the Best Upcoming Artist, which was awarded to René Cloete (Huppelkind). It is a Marthinus Basson children’s production which stole the hearts of many because of the way it was presented and performed, showing that you can make theatre for even the very young with enough artistry, imagination and enchantment to truly capture the compulsive nature of good theatre.

And with a cast including Joannie Combrink and Stian Bam, the young Cloete announced herself as someone to watch in the future. Not only is she a compelling performer, she also lights up a room with her enthusiasm and energy and promises to be an exciting future prospect.

Other highlights on the theatrical side included Nicole Holm (Best Actress) in Tweespoor, who again showed her acting chops; Robert Hindley (Best Actor), who plays the troubled son in Janice Honeyman’s Valsrivier, a production that showed promise but wasn’t quite where it should be at the early performance I saw. (The awards reflect that it grew during the festival run).  It’s one I would like to see again with some necessary running time.

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Tinarie Van Wyk Loots, Robert Hindley and Stian Bam in Valsrivier. Picture: Greteli Fincham

But the youngster had his character pat, perhaps because his is the receptor for everything that was wrong in those apartheid years. He climbed in boots and all, nailed it and was rewarded.

It’s quite a busy play both in storytelling and design and it needed some time for the ensemble to mesh, the spaces to be claimed and the story to truly infiltrate the stage. It made an impression, but it is one that should overwhelm.

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Rehane Abrahams in Brandbaar. Picture Natalie Gabriels.

 

Henriëtta Gryfenberg gave a brave performance in the Lara Foot (translated) play Die Vermoeienis van Vlerke, and Woordfees should be honoured for bringing the astonishing and unique (translated) Brandbaar with Rehane Abrahams back for another viewing; also Sandra Prinsloo who goes from strength to strength in Kamphoer.

 

 

 

On the art side, Gerhard Marx tickled the mind with his Vehicle: Sounding and Fathoms. I had seen a much earlier version, but this was a sleek and more substance-heavy return with the art performance including wordsmith Toast Coetzer and genius musos Kyle Shepherd and Shane Cooper. Included was also an exhibition of Marx’s earlier mapping work and he did daily walkabouts which put everything imaginatively into context. There were also a few interview sessions which further enhanced the overall exhibition.

At the performance, one could sit back, experience the effect of the living exhibition on your psyche and emotional being. This is an artist who always plays with your head yet never underestimates the impact on your heart – an explosive combination.

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Camerata Tinta Barocca with Erik Dippenaar as director/pianist and soloist Lynelle Kenned. Picture: Mark Cloete.

On the music side, the classical programme was quite fantastic with local productions like the Baroque Opera Gala Concert led by Erik Dippenaar, one of the top exponents of early music, and soloists Lynelle Kenned and Brittany Smith. I have only witnessed Kenned do popular music and didn’t know Smith, but everyone on that stage was impressive and provided joyous music to listen to.

Fynbosfeëtjies wasn’t strictly speaking classical music but with Antjie Krog’s verses being read masterfully by acting couple Petru Wessels and Carel Trichardt with soprano Renette Bouwer delightfully interpreting the songs composed by (from the writing) Katrien Holm, sensitively accompanied by the string quartet Evolution, it turned into a festival gift. Drawings from the book by Fiona Moodie set the mood for a surprisingly unexpected heart-warming concert.

With the international artists, Miriam Batsashvili’s piano recital and the LGT Young Soloists were overwhelming and a privilege to experience.

Slightly off the musical charts, the contemporary sounds that made me feel weak in the knees was the musical biography of Paul Simon – ‘n Lewe with music buffs Danie Marais, Kerneels Breytenbach and Desmond Painter talking about the New York composer/performer’s music while Andries Bezuidenhout, Lise Swart and Riku Lätti interpreted the Simon songs with flair.

And  Nataniël worked his charm with Hoekom Hulle Swing with his fantastical stories and a musical genre that he does smartly as he is as much a master at re-jigging songs as he is at writing and telling stories. There are those costumes as well – and that at a rare festival appearance!

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J Bobs – Off The Record with Pule Welch, Jefferson Tshabalala and Philip Dikotla. Picture Lindsey Appolis.

And in conclusion, which was the best choice to finish such an extraordinary festival: J Bobs Live – Off The Record. I have long been a fan of both Jefferson Tshablala (also this year’s Young Artist at the National Festival) and Philip Dikotla, joined here by Pule Welch who was new to me and I was delighted that the south had discovered one of Gauteng’s most precious artistic entities. Tshabala has a creative mind that moves in a miraculous way and bringing this particular franchise to the Woordfees with the example of the clashing of FW de Klerk and the EFF in parliament, was a stroke of genius.

It’s deals with nothing more – or less – than racism, but in a way that has everyone in the audience engaged, never enraged. That’s quite something. It’s also a production that underlines how laughter can heal, and yet with arrows plunging the depth of what truly troubles the world.

While there was much I didn’t see, good, bad and ugly, this is just a snapshot of one individual’s experience – and it was enough to keep me smiling even in lockdown!

May the artists bounce back with brilliance as they battle the worst possible odds.

The winners are:

WOW Teacher of the Year
Rollan Andrews

WOW School of the Year
Klein Nederburg Sekondêr

Best Production: Fringe

Moord, op die 8ste gat

Best Performance: Dance

Wag / Waiting

Best Achievement: Visual Art

The Shape of Things to Come – Olaf Bisschoff

Best Technical Achievement

Johan Griesel and Revil Baselga – Sound mix: Karen Zoid 20 jaar pops

Best Achievement in Arts Journalism

Marina Griebenow

Best restaurant in Die Burgeroorlog [The Burger Wars]:

RocoMamas

CONTEMPORARY MUSIC

Best Production: Contemporary Music – Podium Production

Amanda Strydom: Stadig oor die klippers

Best performance: Contemporary Music – Open-air Production

Early B 

Best Performance: Contemporary Music – Music-driven Production

Die poet, wie’s hy?
CLASSICAL MUSIC

Best Performance: Classical Music – Vocal

Stellenbosch University Choir conducted by André van der Merwe

Best Performance: Classical Music – Instrumental

Miclen LaiPang (violin) for Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” sonata with the LGT Young Soloists

DRAMA

Best Supporting Actor (Male)

Stian Bam – Valsrivier

Best Supporting Actor (Female)

Anna-Mart van der Merwe – Valsrivier

Best Actor (Male)

Robert Hindley – Valsrivier

Best Actor (Female)

Nicole Holm – Tweespoor

Best Ensemble

Die sonkamer

Best Director

Janice Honeyman – Valsrivier

Best Production

Valsrivier

THE BOOK PRIZE WINNERS IN FOUR CATEGORIES ARE:

Bestseller: Non-fiction

Yusuf Daniels – Living Coloured (Because Black and White Were Already Taken)

Bestseller: Lifestyle
Marinda Engelbrecht (Maklik met Marinda) and Herman Lensing (Dit proe soos huis)

Bestseller: Poetry
Jeanne Goosen – Het jy geweet ek kan toor?
Bestseller: Fiction
Woordfeeskortverhaalbundel 2020: Aanhou beweeg en geraas maak (Selected by: Suzette Kotzé-Myburgh, Valda Jansen and Madri Victor)

SPECIAL AWARDS

Best Upcoming Artist

René Cloete – Huppelkind

Toyota Top Order

Karen Zoid: 20 jaar pops

This new prize will henceforth be awarded to an excellent musician or production that falls outside the traditional boundaries of contemporary music.

The award goes to Karen Zoid 20 jaar pops. It was not only the topselling show at the festival this year, but it also succeeded in blending contemporary and classical music seamlessly. This production inspired and entertained – a fitting celebration of her 20 years in the music industry.

Groundbreaking Production
J. Bobs Live – Off the Record (Jefferson Tshabalala)

In Solidarity Prize (Distell)
Amelda Brand

The In Solidarity Prize is awarded to roleplayers in the arts who tirelessly work, often for little or no compensation, towards greater social cohesion. Brand receives this recognition for her work with communities and students as well as her excellent professional work in the performing arts.

Previous winners: 2017: Simon Witbooi (HemelBesem); 2018: Janine Neethling; 2019: Felicia Lesch

Best Festival Production

Die poet, wie’s hy?
Given the extensive range of the festival programme, several panel members served on the Woordtrofees panel across the various genres. Panel members were invited to the panel on the basis of their expertise and experience across the genres. Given the scope of the programme, some panels were assigned convenors. These were: Haddad Viljoen (Drama), Heinrich van der Mescht (Classical Music) and Rafiek Mammon (Contemporary Music). The panels made recommendations to the oversight panel which was responsible for the categories Best Upcoming Artists(s) and Best Festival Production. Gillian Mitchell convened this panel which included Paul Boekkooi and Diane de Beer.

 

 

 

 

#MeToo Movement Marches Forcefully Against Powerful Monsters who For Far Too Long Had Their Way With Women

It’s been a momentous time in the #MeToo sphere with the Harvey Weinstein convictions – finally. And even with two hard hitting books out there detailing all the women and what they have gone through, the jury still found him culpable of only two of the five counts. With many other similar issues swirling about, DIANE DE BEER speaks her mind:

Harvey Weinstein at court
Harvey Weinstein playing the victim at his recent New York trial.

 

There’s hardly a woman who works professionally that won’t have some kind of memory about sexual harassment. I suppose with everything being aired these past few years, those of us who haven’t suffered sexual abuse should count ourselves lucky.

But I was surprised about my emotional response to Bombshell, the film starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie about the horrific abuse by Roger Ailes and many more who were part of the Fox empire.

I had seen and was fascinated by The Loudest Voice, the TV series told with the accent on the bullying tactics of Roger Ailes and the culture of sexy women he created in the Fox Newsroom and on screen.

Bombshell poster
The poster says it all! Power in triplicate!

When Bombshell arrived, I felt I had viewed enough of this particular story, until someone whose judgement I trust told me to see it as this was from the women’s point of view. I didn’t realise the impact that would have on a very personal level which says so much about the culture most women find themselves in at work.

We don’t even notice because it is so prevalent and probably to most of us “normal”, so when seeing this particular film, which shows especially the environment created specifically so that this kind of thing can flourish, my flesh crawled – to my surprise.

But it was no surprise that with the final credits a notice announces that the women received 50 million dollars in damages: while Roger Ailes and another Fox News accused, Bill O’Reilly, received 65 million dollars’ worth of parting packages.

Fox News is the extreme so there’s no turning away from that aspect of the film. And with these three powerful actresses in control, it resonates dramatically and memories came flooding back. “How are the dollies doing?” was a particular rankling phrase coming from a boss or the fact that you were told that your salary increase was determined by the fact that your partner worked in IT. “That means he earns big bucks,” was the feeling. And the list of constant humiliations goes on.

 

And then when these men are “caught”, they are so powerful that they manoeuvre everything and everyone around them. Read Ronan Farrow’s book (reviewed in this space earlier) Catch and Kill and She Said and see what happened to these award-winning writers in the process of writing the book. It wasn’t only Weinstein who came out guns blazing, he had many who colluded and further made it tough for anyone who wanted to expose his evil practices.

And perhaps what upset me the most was the humiliation that these women, many of them with powerful careers (and not because of Roger Ailes), had to go through on a daily basis. If this is the man who employs you, how does the rest of the world view you? He in fact lays down the rules of how you appear on camera and what you are allowed to say.

Something that was always an unwritten rule in media was that your newspaper had your back if those on the outside were upset with your reporting of the facts – the newspaper would stand up for you and in that way, bring balance to the power dynamic. But that’s not what happened at Fox. When Fox news correspondent Megyn Kelly was taunted by President Trump, it was another stick in the Ailes arsenal to keep her in line.

These constant games are also part of the ritual to keep everyone functioning in place and not to overstep or rock the boat. You learn very early on when to hold back and when to fight for specific rights. Some you win and others you lose.

Others make you smile – wryly. The first time women were really promoted into certain positions was post ’94 when they were included in the list of appropriate candidates because of the neglect in the past.

Suddenly in newspaper offices around the country, women started appearing in management positions and even the first female editors started to emerge. It wasn’t a sudden belief in the ability of women. White men just thought them the lesser of all the evils!

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Bombshell’s Margot Robbie represents the epitome of what Roger Ailes wanted the Fox women to exude.

And so one could go on and on. And that’s why women around the world were thrilled about the Weinstein conviction but…

And said best by the following tweet:

Shailja Patel: @shailapatel: (Kenyan poet, author, feminist, activist, now self-exiled after she accused a fellow Kenyan writer of sexual assualt and was ordered by the court  to pay damages and apologise to the man who assaulted her, so she left the country.)

No guilty verdict of jail sentence, even for life, can restore what Harvey Weinstein stole from his victims. Or repair the harm he inflicted on his decades-long reign of terror over an entire industry. But this is a tiny crack in the wall of impunity. Let patriarchy tremble.

She nails it!. So while we all watch and wait, the battle goes on but at least because of their shining a light so strongly, the #MeToo movement is starting to show results.

Diversity is Artistic Director James Ngcobo’s Loadstar at The Market

Pictures: THANDILE ZWELIBANZI

Paradise Blue
From left: Pakamisa Zwedala , Aubrey Poo (centre), Lesedi Job, Aubrey Poo (centre), and Seneliso Dladla with Busisiwe Lurayi (front).

It is diversity which strikes you when you look at the start of the 2020 theatre year at The Market. DIANE DE BEER speaks to artistic director James Ngcobo about his first production for Black History Month (a collaboration in its fifth year with the US Embassy in South Africa) which starts on January 31, but also checks what else is on offer:

It has been a longtime dream of  James Ngcobo to stage Paradise Blue, which he describes as a “dynamic, jazz-infused drama by award-winning African American playwright Dominique Morisseau about what’s at stake when building a better future”.

In a recent YouTube documentary on the gentrification of Los Angeles which in this instance affected an African American suburb also described as the heart of jazz in the city, longtime residents were complaining how they were being pushed out of their own neighborhood. The inference was clear, as soon as the suburb becomes white, it’s time for those who created the vibe in the first place to leave. They can’t afford it any longer anyway.

Similar scenes play out in Paradise Blue, which captures the yearning of individuals sidelined by life into the role of second-class citizens living and working in a black neighbourhood on the cusp of obliteration as part of the city’s plan to eliminate “blight”.  The characters face issues that will resonate today worldwide and specifically with South African audiences while enlightening them about similar struggles faced by low-income inner-city communities around the world.

Ngcobo had this one in mind for a few years and has assembled a young dream cast, all of whom he has worked with before. “It’s about collaboration,” says Ngcobo, which played into his choices.

One of his favourite leading men, Aubrey Poo, plays Blue, a castrated character whose life is in a rut. “He wants it all, his women and his club, yet his is a life of limitations. It looks at patriarchy but also hierarchy, which all come into play,” notes Ngcobo.

It’s a tough piece and he needed a seasoned cast who could pick up the vibe and develop it quickly. “Tight funding determines short rehearsal times,” he explains. The supporting cast includes Pakamisa Zwedala (A Raisin in the Sun) and Seneliso Dladla (One Night In Miami) as his fellow band members P-Sam and Corn. Busisiwe Lurayi (Nina Simone in F our Women) will play the naïve Pumpkin and another regular collaborator Lesedi Job (A Raisin in the Sun  as well as many other performances and directing) as the threatening Silver.

Apart from honouring Black History Month, Ngcobo pays further homage to his love of telling stories with a strong musical element and while it doesn’t feature that strongly in the original play, it’s something that resonates in much of his work as he uses music as another voice to embellish the story.

He also wanted to move away from stories about Rosie Parks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, all of whom have been celebrated in previous Black History Month performances. This season start tomorrow and runs until March 1 in the John Kani Theatre at The Market, Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm.

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Wilhelm van der Walt and André Odendaal in Dop directed by Sylvaine Strike. Picture by Kosie Smit.

In the meantime, things are pumping at the Market Theatre Complex. The award-winning Dop directed by Sylvaine Strike and starring André Odendaal and Wilhelm van der Walt  has just finished a short run, and playwright William Harding – whose previous work has included the adaptation of the hugely successful Tobacco and the Harmful Effects Thereof; The Cenotaph of Dan Wa Moriri and most recently Twelve Years a Poet based on the poetry of Vus’umuzi Pakhati – makes his debut as a professional director at the Market Theatre with his play, The Kings of the World.

Kings of the World
William Harding and Kaz MacFadden in The Kings of the World.

As is Ngcobo’s practice, he loves giving young artists a chance, but lends them a strong guiding hand, in this instance, director/actor Robert Whitehead, who will be mentoring the project.

The play is described as a dark comedy about the ineptitude and desperation of our times. It takes place during one night in a suburban garden cottage, where two friends and a roommate confront their neuroses and inadequacies as the night unravels around them.

Harry arrives uninvited at his friend’s cottage. David, having recently returned from a trip to Paris has become somewhat reclusive and reluctantly invites him in. David reveals he has a job opening as a freelance online copywriter.  And Harry immediately wants to be part of the action.

However, complications around the job soon arise and are further compounded when David’s drunken roommate returns.  As paranoia and desperation take over, the situation becomes tense and threatens to boil over into a dangerous conclusion. The cast includes Harding, Chris Djuma and Kaz MacFadden.

Currently running, the season ends on February 16 at the Barney Simon with performances from Tuesday to Saturday at 8.15pm and on Sundays at 3.15pm.

Brothers Gustav Gerdener, Drikus Volschecnk, Dawid MMinnaar and Ruan Wessels
Brothers Gustav Gerdener, Drikus Volschecnk, Dawid Minnaar and Ruan Wessels (front)

Finally there’s an award-winning play by Victor Gordon, Brothers, that reflects the serious side of family tragedies that tear families apart and the fundamental human truths about families haunted by past occurrences.

Again, Ngcobo combines youth and experience with actor Francois Jacobs, who makes his directing debut mentored by the award-winning actor and director, Mncedisi Shabangu, an alumnus of the Market Theatre Laboratory.

 

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Mncedisi Shabangu and Xolile Gama in vuka Machel! at the Market Lab

And to add to the productivity, Shabangu is also currently starring in Vuka Machel (with three shows left, tonight and tomorrow night at 815 and Sunday at 315pm) a revolutionary comedy told by two chicken thieves from Kanyamazane, just outside Nelspruit in Mpumalanga.

In this rollicking storytelling romp, Machel wakes from the dead to find his wife married to Mandela and Mozambique suffering. He challenges Mandela to all sorts of fights. The biggest mistake he makes is to agree to a negotiation at the World Trade Centre where Mandela challenges him to a boxing match. (Mandela is notorious for winning all his 50 fights through negotiations.)

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Two actors at play in Vuka Machel!

 

Originally created in 1998 and the winner of an FNB Vita Award for Best Director in 2003, Vuka Machel was last performed as a one-off presentation as part of the Market Lab’s 30-year celebrations this year, where it received such an enthusiastic response that it was clear that it needed a longer season.

Written and directed by Market Lab alumnus Shabangu, and performed by Shabangu (who is an absolute treat to watch as his face and whole body all go into performance mode) and Xolile Gama (who is the fall guy), the play is a funny and insightful commentary on the lives and philosophies of two of Africa’s most influential leaders. But just in general, pushing all the boundaries, it’s a blast and perfect for the start of a year.

And for Brothers, there’s further excitement with a cast which includes Dawid Minnaar  who is joyously becoming a regular at The Market supported by an exciting and quite novel cast including Drikus Volschenk, David James, Gustav Gerderner and Ruan Wessels.

Brothers with Dawid Minnaar and Drikus Volschenk
Brothers featuring Dawid Minnaar and Drikus Volschenk

It’s also worth taking note of Karabo Legoabe’s impressive and authentic set.

Brothers is a family drama set in the Eastern Cape in the 1950s. It is a harsh existence and the story focuses on the return of a brother who had mysteriously disappeared 18 years earlier. The story reflects both the social strata and attitudes that exist within a poor white family who eked out a meagre existence in this desolate part of the world. As one can imagine, the brother’s return unearths all kinds of family secrets and frustrations that have remained hidden all these years, and the results are unexpected and dramatic.

Brothers runs until February 24 in the Mannie Manim Theatre concluding the first clutch of plays at the Market Theatre in 2020. It’s one to experience more than anything for the debut of a young director and an excellent cast.

It’s a strong starting salvo and promises much for the rest of the year.

Bring on the women…

The Theatre Gods Align for Koningin Lear

Koningin Lear with cast
TV screens amplified

We haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to “patrimonial capitalism”, in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.

From “Why we’re in a New Gilded Age”, The New York Review of Books — 8th of May 2014, Paul Krugman, reviewing Le Capital au XXI e Siècle, Thomas Piketty

And published as an introduction in the printed version of Koningin Lear

 

DIANE DE BEER

Pictures: Hans van der Veen

 

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The magnificent Antoinette Kellermann

Playwright Tom Lanoye has masterfully taken the iconic Shakespeare tragedy, King Lear, and recast it in a contemporary landscape with the most pressing issues of the 21st century all coming into play –  greed and grandiosity leading this particular wolfpack.

He starts with gender, flip-flopping the roles as the title Koningin Lear suggests, and gives the mighty Elizabeth Lear three sons: Greg, the eldest, Henry, the second in line, and Cornald or Corneltjie, her darling child. With the eldest two married, the two wives, Connie, the OTT shopaholic, and Alma, from the wrong side of the tracks and struggling to shrug that off, both play a particular type yet also connive with their husbands to secure future power.

Yet, as the original so smartly shows, greed might be the excess of our time, but there’s nothing new in the world of the top dogs except perhaps technology and the universal scale at which that power grows and disintegrates. It’s no longer a single kingdom on an island, everything and everyone in our universe is connected.

Koningin Lear
Neels van Jaarsveld and Anna-Mart van der Merwe

When you sneeze – especially if it affects the money markets – the effect takes on tsunami proportions. And this is where director Marthinus Basson ups the ante, being someone who always holds the bigger picture close. With this one it really counts.

The design adds to the dynastic feel of the production, which plays on different levels. Basson emphasises the age we live in with technology.  A backdrop of TV screens used in many different ways immediately add urgency and heightens the impact of the precarious nature of what Elizabeth is about to do.

More than anything else, power corrupts. And to play with it almost nonchalantly like this mother does, we all know will have devastating consequences.

koningin Lear Antoinette Kellermann
Antoinette Kellermann

This a family concern –  one that is worrying, because it is not necessarily the best that steps into a leadership position. Family is the determining factor, whether worthy or not.

Just a few minutes in, we already know that Elizabeth’s adviser would have been a better choice to make the handover a smooth and more successful one. For decades Robert Kent has been Elizabeth’s shadow, completely loyal to the family, often at his own cost

Lanoye’s words needed to be transformed in a South African context by someone who could adapt yet not dilute the essence of the playwright’s words. Antjie Krog, who previously worked wonders with the Mamma Medea translation, was the obvious choice. Not only did she have to translate, she had to transfer it to a local context.

Just listening to the language of this magisterial text is sublime, even the way Krog uses swear words or plays with the different characters in the way they use their language. She also knows how South Africans will react to different cars as wealth trophies and that “my losie by Lords” has more impact than Loftus, for example. It is all in the detail and why you can’t read, listen and experience the language and meaning enough.

koningin Lear trio
A scene from Koningin Lear

It’s a play that indulges your sense of disgust at the wealth accumulated by the powerful, their lifestyles, arrogance and disregard for anyone but their immediate family and then only those who find favour. They live by different rules and have no idea of or interest in anything but their own prosperity and anything that affects their well-being.

It is a work of majestic scale and demanded a majestic cast. With Antoinette Kellermann as Koningin Lear, half the battle is won. She is majestic as the matriarch of a business empire that she is in the throes of handing to her three sons. But first she asks for a declaration of their undying love with the results disastrous as she sets in motion a run of revolting, rampant greed and how that unhinges a dynasty in a modern world.

It’s no surprise that Steinhoff is snuck into the text at some point. If you still hadn’t got the drift, that will force you to take notice

Koningin Lear Antoinette Edwin
Edwin van der Walt in his extraordinary turn as the junkie and the powerful Antoinette Kellermann

We know the original story. It’s the way Lanoye has made this tigress fight until her last breath, the way Kellermann has ingested the text so that she can charge into glorious battle with her character and slay any dragons in her path.

And here her demise doubles up as she doesn’t only hand over all her weapons, her wealth and thus any sway, she also struggles with dementia with age finally catching up, something no money or willpower can change.

As the sons struggle with their inability to conquer the business world, pale shadows of their mother, their wives on the sidelines egg them on and soothe their egos.

It’s like an epic melodrama with a master conductor and performers who know how to play every word in its finest nuance. With the gravitas of André Roothman as Kent and a supreme supporting cast, it’s a play that strikes no false notes. Everything is music to your ears.

The three sons, Neels van Jaarsveld, Wilhelm van der Walt and Edwin van der Walt, with Anna-Mart van der Merwe and Rolanda Marais as the wives, represent a family in freefall. Not only have they not been schooled to take on their heritage, they only register the perks without any of the pitfalls.

On the sidelines, Matthew Stuurman is the carer and very importantly the moral compass who has nothing to gain or lose yet reacts with compassion to someone’s need, not something that registers where money is the only currency.

From start to finish, it is a production that ticks all the boxes. From the content to the language, the design and the staging, the extraordinary choice of cast with Kellermann conquering her most challenging role, it’s theatre to savour – over and over again.

Koningin Lear with cast

Koningin Lear is on at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre  from November 7 to 16.

 

Royal rewards for Koningin Lear led by Marthinus Basson at 25th KKNK Festival

PICTURES: Hans van der Veen

Koningin Lear with cast
The cast led by Antoinette Kellermann in Koningin Lear

With Koningin Lear rewarded in all the categories they were nominated for at the Klein Karoo National Arts Kanna Awards – eight of them – it was an extraordinary year for theatre. DIANE DE BEER reviews the spectacular 25th anniversary of the KKNK and the way festivals have changed hearts and minds. (See full list of winners below.):

 

While waiting for a show to begin, a festival goer went up to actress Cintaine Schutte and thanked her for the kind of work they were doing. She was referring to Huishou, a play that spotlights a same-sex couple.

What was more interesting was her age (approximately 70 plus) and that she was an inhabitant of Oudtshoorn and she was waiting to see Rokkie with Charlton George telling a transgender story. “I don’t know about these worlds,” she explained and that’s why she specifically chose these two particular plays, to broaden her scope.

That’s what an arts festival can mean to a rural community and its people. Through the 25 years of its existence, those of us who have been attending and reporting on the festival for all those years have noticed the audiences mature in their appreciation of a world that they might not always recognise or be familiar with and embrace it in all its diversity.

In the process of writing this, I watched a BBC arts programme Front Row discussing censorship and the anxiety amongst the public in both Britain and Brazil about a play dealing with a transgender Jesus written and performed by Jo Clifford.

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Rudi van der Merwe and Oyama Mbopa (right) in Lovers, Dogs and Rainbows.

To even see a production like Rudi van der Merwe’s Lovers, Dogs and Rainbows supported by Pro Helvetia Swiss Arts Council would not have happened a decade ago without a fuss. This is the kind of innovation that all arts festivals long for – worldwide.

It’s an agonising balancing act for the artistic directors to serve the widest possible community while creating an identity for the festival which will appeal to newcomers but also those searching for the extraordinary.

Van der Merwe’s physical theatre piece told a story of almost excruciating emotional transformation as the young boy tried to establish his identity in the small rural town of Calvinia. Now based in Geneva, he interrogates his past with a documentary shot in the town of his youth in 2017 and played as a backdrop (yet centre stage) while Van der Merwe and Oyama Mbopa move from the shadows into the light simply to disappear again in a physical drama all its own.

Marginalised places and people dominate his playground as the camera lingers on the coloured and the LGBTQ community, as among the most displaced in this world, where the shock of apartheid still lingers and people and livestock from cattle to dogs are all treated harshly as if that is the way of the world.

Van der Merwe and Mbopa move in and out of elaborate scenes dressing up while moving from darkness to spotlight – often in chains as their lives must have felt to them in this isolated world where people are all trying to survive. Living on the edge wasn’t even part of that equation.

In conclusion it is in a spoken/printed letter to his father in his new home language – French screened as part of the documentary that he breaks out of any prescribed mould, any pretense of who he is emotionally and physically and yet his message is shrouded in a kind of secrecy as if he still cannot shout too loudly. Or might he be in a place where it doesn’t matter?

Not all of the translation of the letter is visible all of the time, so one snatches at something here and there.  I thought that in a show planned in minute detail, there’s a message, perhaps a warning here, that everything is not as it should be even if he has embraced his new world, who he is and how he wants to tell his story. But he corrected this blurring of the message after two shows by moving to the side.

It is the approach and the execution, the content and the substance that all contribute to this extraordinary performance that grabs one by the throat and doesn’t let go for the longest time.

Antoinette Kellerman in Koningin Lear
The phenomenal Antoinette Kellermann in Koningin Lear

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the magnificent troika of playwright Tom Lanoye, translator Antjie Krog and director Marthinus Basson. Koningin Lear is a majestic production worthy of the 25th anniversary of the KKNK with Antoinette Kellermann in the role of a lifetime (and her career as we all know, is not a shabby one).

But Lanoye, having said that the role was created with her in mind, has written a part for the ages, on a scale that not many women get the chance to play. From the moment she enters the stage and grabs the attention, dressed to kill, until she collapses in a bundle of bones in a shabby slip of a petticoat with her darling son dead in her arms, she is allowed to tower above them all with a might that obliterates, until it turns on her in similarly cruel fashion.

With a script that would have many on their knees, but that Kellermann masters powerfully, her queen of the business world storms majestically but stumbles as disastrously as she demands that her three sons vie for the family riches by declaring their undying love.

It’s in the shading of her character and her speech that Kellermann astounds in this almost three hour play as she paints a picture of a woman fading both mentally and physically as she is ravaged by the worlds she was seen to have conquered yet is ready to relinquish – or so she thinks. It’s about grandeur and grandiosity which falters as greed in every sphere becomes the overwhelming motivator.

Not only does Kellermann command the stage and the character physically, emotionally she gives it all in a role which demands this kind of effort. The work isn’t visible, and the results are riveting.

A New York Times quotation published in the book of the translated play from a review written by Paul Krugman of  Thomas Piketty’s Capital of the Twenty First Century captures the intent of this Lanoye flirtation with King Lear: We haven’t just gone back to the nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to “patrimonial capitalism”, in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties”.

And this dynastic aspect is glaringly explored and exploited in the three sons: Gregory (Neels van Jaarsveld playing the bully with brawn), Hendrik (Wilhelm van der Walt portraying his character’s smarmy self-serving mode) and Cornald (Edwin van der Walt as the gentler more caring sibling and in a contrasting scene-stealing junkie performance).

The eldest two brothers are supported by their differently conniving wives, Connie (a brilliant Anna-Mart van der Merwe as the flamboyantly brassy broad) and Alma (Ronalda Marais as the silent usurper whose roots tug at her better self but loses the battle).

A business-like André Roothman as the somewhat bewildered Kent and Matthew Stuurman as the carer and moral compass, Oleg, complete a cast that contributes and brilliantly balances the whole.

With all his design and directing flair on display, Basson began with clever casting because with a storming Kellermann in the lead of a play titled Koningin Lear, it could have been a lopsided production and it needed all the pieces to fit together.

None of this would have been possible without Antjie Krog’s staggering translation of Tom Lanoye’s Flemish text. She has such command of what she wants to say and how she says it that it gives a specific context, a gravitas as well as playfulness, all of which combine to make it such an exciting and textured work to both watch and listen to. It also allows the actors to spread their wings and with a director of Basson’s stature and vision, the guidance to make this one fly.

It deserves to be seen and theatre goers who understand the language should not let this one pass if there’s another opportunity. Many flew in specially and they were rewarded royally. (Presently a run is planned at The Baxter later this year and perhaps there’s a possibility at the final of the Afrikaans festivals in Potchefstroom).

Other notable artists include Sima Mashazi with her Miriam Makeba Story, a musical performance with the singer sharing a personal connection with the iconic songbird. Supported by the excellent jazz pianist Ramon Alexander, it was a simple yet compelling performance which allowed the music to shine as it should.

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Johnny Boskak with Craig Morris Picture: Retha Ferguson

Craig Morris travelled from the Woordfees with Johnny Boskak but this time he played in both English and Afrikaans. He says that the languages and their specific rhythms have interesting effects on the character, and it was fascinating to see it performed in Afrikaans with a smart translation. It’s a piece that has withstood the test of time driven by Morris’s physical approach to the role which takes audiences on a wild ride reminiscent for me of a film like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

And for the sheer joy of it, the delightful Springtime in which Hendrick-Jan de Stuntman meets Merel Kamp (Jos van Wees and Merel Kamp). Presented on an outside stage in front of the ABSA Auditorium for everyone to watch, the two actor/mime artistes were each hooked to a swing furnished with very lively springs which meant that their love story was told with a jaunty air and a jolliness that was mesmerising – entertainment supreme.

Naturally there was more, but if I had to put a few perfect shows together to make or break an arts festival, this would be it. A bouquet that incorporates something larger than life, something that pushes the gender boundaries, someone who captivates musically, a motormouth in motion and a buoyant romance of the sweetest kind.

JAKKALS EN WOLF ONBEPERKDEBUUT Gesinsvermaak ’n Kunste Onbepe
Devonecia Swartz as Best Newcomer in Jakkals en Wolf Onbeperk

The Kanna Awards:

Best literary contribution for her translation: Antjie Krog for Koningin Lear.

Best Production and Best Debut Production: Koningin Lear.

Best Actress: Antoinette Kellermann in Koningin Lear.

Best Actor: Craig Morris in Johnny Boskak voel ‘n bietjie…

Best Supporting Actress: Anna-Mart van der Merwe in Koningin Lear.

Best Sopporting Actor: Edwin van der Walt in Koningin Lear.

Best Director as well as Best Design: Marthinus Basson for Koningin Lear.

Best Musical contribution: Sima Mashazi for My Miriam Makeba Story

Best Newcomer: Devonecia Swartz in Jakkals en Wolf Onbeperk.

Herrie Prize for innovation: Rudi van der Merwe for Lovers, Dogs and Rainbows 

Best Visual Art: Ugandan Donald Wasswa and Kenyan Onyis Martin and their collective exhibition Imagining Tomorrow.

Best Technical contribution: Jaco Conradie

Special Service Kanna: Daleen Witbooi

 

 

 

Paradise is a Farm in Africa

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Pretty as a picture

DIANE DE BEER

 

If you are ever looking for the perfect getaway, Halfaampieskraal is heaven.

In their latest book Halfaampieskraal The Way we Live, the first quote reads “The perfect place to do nothing at all.”and it captures the farm which opens its arms to guests so generously and completely.

Turning off from the N2 at Caledon and driving in the Stanford direction, it is a part of the rolling wheat fields of the beautiful Overberg. It is still very much a working farm and when paging through The Way We Live, I was reminded of a friend’s 50th birthday celebrated there a few years back.

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The glamour of the past

It’s all about the place and its people, the way you become part of the farmstead while luxuriating on recliners under huge trees with homemade cocktails and unusual snacks while farm animals come and peek at the latest arrivals.

The rooms which are just behind the main house are drop-dead gorgeous and quite unique in the way they have been designed. This is obviously someone’s passion and it shines through.

Owner Jan-Georg Solms (with partner Cobus Geldenhuys) describes it as “curation of my favourite things – and lots of them”. He explains that with this being the family farm, he also inherited much of what is featured and he and partner have an annual breakaway to Greece where he often picked up objects, he lost his heart to. “I have an eye for pieces that can be fashioned differently and given a second life.”

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The charm of farm living

But he has stopped chasing new purchases and prefers appreciating beautiful objects in other homes and buildings rather than a personal desire to own even more. The rooms are done subtly but with a luxurious tint. “The idea is that you have to feel comfortable, as if you know the room intimately.” Included are heavy linen gowns, beds that are slightly larger and higher than the norm with down duvets stuffed with the feathers of their own geese, but in European weight.

The rooms are stocked with excellent coffee, buttermilk rusks and fresh fruit. Mosquito nets stand alert in season and bathrooms are oversized, all with open showers (wet rooms), some including baths and others, outside showers. Flowers fill all the rooms and the main house stoep, if you can tear yourself away from your room, is a favourite gathering spot to enjoy either sunrise or sunset.

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Interior at Halfaampieskraal

The main house which also has some rooms but is also the gathering place is a jumble of well-organised themes “which allows guests to peek around and lose themselves in flavours and textures of bygone eras”. The rooms have names like Plantation Room, Reading Room Officer’s Mess, Red Dining Room (with a 53-year-old post office wall-to-wall red carpet from his parents’ time) and Empty Room (filled with objects…) which gives you an idea of the feel and style of this quite extraordinary vintage farmstead.

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Dining in splendour

And with all this chic comfort, in addition, there’s the extraordinary delicious factor of the food. “We keep files of all our guests (with 60% of them being returns) and the menus we’ve served, not to repeat ourselves,” he responds when I ask him about our weekend meals. Many of the guests order some favourite from the previous menu though.

Their chef Marlette Scheltema has been with them for some time and has chef training, but she easily adapted to their style of cooking: simple food, generous, but not an overly loaded plate. “We draw a picture every time of what the plate will look like once the guests have dished up, when planning menus.

“Most food is served table/family buffet. We use what we have locally, simply because we want food less travelled.  Marlette now does almost all the cooking, and I get to taste everything!”

Our menu was as follows:

Friday casual evening with spanakopitas, lemon and tzatziki for starters, paella on the fire for mains, and a simple lemon-pudding;

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Three cheese breakfast soufflé-tart and Turkish cucumber;

Breakfast Saturday was the three cheese breakfast soufflé-tart, boerewors and the most amazing Turkish cucumber;

 

Saturday evening, the night of the celebration, started with canopies of toffee tomatoes and salmon-rolls. Starters: field- and porcini-mushroom soufflés, baked in cream and pecorino. Mains: home grown leg of mutton, cooked at 110 deg C for 9 hours, served with a green-oil-gremolata dressing. The sides included caramelized onions with branches of bay leaves; Potato Ann, upright butternut, courgette strips and small beetroots. Desert was an old fashioned croquembouche, with the crème patisserie flavoured with frangelico and decorated with pistachio brittle. Served with tiny liqueur milk shake shooters – and quite spectacular to suit the occasion.

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For those still standing, breakfast Sunday was the house standard Brekko-pan – a big pan, with small pork bangers, bacon, onions, garlic, cherry tomatoes, dried oregano and a bit of cream, baked slowly, with halved hard-boiled eggs added in the end. This was served with traditional vetkoek and jam. All breakfasts start with a fruit platter with their six-spice syrup and double cream yogurt and their own honey, freshly squeezed orange juice and extra strong coffee.

What you have is pretty much a breakaway weekend of fine farm dining in style with as much rest in-between as possible although the area offers much opportunity for exploring if you wish.

But first have a look in their latest coffee table book packed with the most beautiful pictures and recipes from the farm which will give you a chance to see for yourself if this is your idea of paradise – at a cost that isn’t prohibitive. Check their website for more information.

 

*You can buy Halfaampieskraal The Way we Live at www.kraal.biz also Wordsworth, Love books in Mellville and Exclusive Books. It won the South African Gourmand World Bookbooks award (category: Hotels)

 

 

Women Capture their Stories with Needle and Thread

Bertha Rengae, Group coordinator of Group 3 of the women of the Mapula Embroidery Trust
Bertha Rengae, Group coordinator of Group 3 of the women of the Mapula Embroidery Trust

A fundraiser for a group of Rwandan embroiderers is being held at the end of the month in Pretoria following in the footsthe establishment of a unique embroidery and empowerment project in the Winterveld:

 

DIANE DE BEER

 

A remarkable story has emerged from one of South Africa’s most dire areas, the Winterveld, where a group of women were trained in the early ‘90s by members of the Soroptimist International Pretoria Club for an income-generating, empowerment project.

The Sisters of Mercy provided a classroom and an embroidery project for the women of Mapula which started initially with 14 women, evolving through the years and growing to include 150 women, guided and supported by experienced individuals.

In a unique storytelling fashion, with needle and thread, these women have been sharing their stories over the past 26 years. And it is often these personal remembrances capturing our past from a unique vantage point that has captured the imagination internationally. Over the years, the high levels of technical and visual artistry with social and historical commentary have resulted in recognised works of art.

Their ideas are generated from lived realities, local magazines, newspapers, internet and television. Artists in the project draw the images while others translate them into brightly embroidered wall hangings, cushion covers, place-mats and bags, all represented in Mapula Embroideries.

Women from the Mapula Embroidery Trust in the Winterveld
Women from the Mapula Embroidery Trust in the Winterveld

These have been exhibited widely, both in South Africa but also internationally, all over the USA and Europe. Mapula embroideries and artists feature in more than 12 art publications and they have won several awards.

Women in the Mapula Group won the FNB Vita Craft Now Gold award for example; an order for 52 items for the Oprah Winfrey Academy for Girls was executed; and many different art museums across the world feature their work and celebrate the Mapula women and they are included in many private collections.

A well-researched book Mapula: Embroidery and Empowerment in the Winterveld by Prof Brenda Schmahmann was published in 2006 by David Krut Publishing.

The project now consists of three groups: two groups are situated in the Winterveld, North West of Pretoria, and one in Hammanskraal. The production of the goods is managed by the embroiderers themselves and since 2016, the Mapula Embroidery Trust with NPO status was established.

One of the members, Pinky Resenga testifies that the project saved her from a life of drinking and living on the streets. “With the income I could extend my mother’s house. After helping her I hope to build my own four rooms for myself and my children.”

The income generated through the Mapula embroidery project has assisted women over the years to clothe, feed and educate their children. Today, 28 years later, the Mapula Embroidery Project with its strong foundations is well established.

Women from the Kibeho Embroidery project
Women from the Kibeho Embroidery project

A few years ago, after visiting the Mapula Project, Netty Butera, the wife of the Rwandan High Commissioner to SA (after visiting the Mapula Project), approached the Soroptimists who initiated Mapula to start a similar project in her country with the initial training of 12 women.

Again it was to add value and the possibility of a regular income to extremely vulnerable women in the south of Rwanda at a place called Kibeho, close to the Burundi border. It is regarded as a holy place because in 1981 it is believed the Virgin Mary appeared to some teenagers. It marked the rise of the remote Kibeho to a spiritual hub on the global arena. Many pilgrims visit annually and if the women instead of begging could generate an income from the sale of an embroidery project, it would improve their self-esteem and offer their children a different future.

Following much planning, three women, Rosina Maepa and Dorah Hlongwane from the Mapula Embroidery Project and Janetje van der Merwe from Soroptimist International Pretoria left for Rwanda with suitcases packed with embroidery cotton, fabric, a brand-new sewing machine, two steam irons, needles and scissors – all to get the project started in a new country.

Local contacts, liaisons as well as facilitators were arranged to keep the process flowing and in the past few years, another training trip for a further 19 women was included which brings the total number of women who are part of the project to 31. Marketing of the products is still a huge problem and something they hope to improve dramatically so that those involved benefit to the maximum.

Rwandan embroideries
Rwandan embroideries

With this as the focus, a fundraising afternoon of socialising and sharing will be held at the residence of the Rwandan High Commissioner in Pretoria on March 31. It will start with the best Rwandan coffee and tea, followed by an opportunity to buy some of the unique Holy Land Kibeho Embroideries, listen to an introduction of Rwanda and an illustrated talk on the empowerment of women in that area through the embroidery project.

A Rwandan dinner with South African wines will be served after the presentation giving those attending the chance to experience another African cuisine. Tickets for the event are R200 per person and bookings can be made at 083 447 7909/082 903 1178/073 564 8215.

South Africa is a country that makes it easy for individuals to reach out. Some wonder if their efforts make a difference, but when one witnesses a project like Mapula and how the lives of people are changed – even across borders – it shows how even a little assistance can go a long way.

 

 

Nina Simone Four Women Gives Young Black Women A Powerful Platform To Speak Their Minds – It’s About Time

Busi Lerayi with Tshepo Mngoma, the piano player in performance
Busi Lerayi with Tshepo Mngoma, the piano player in performance

DIANE DE BEER

NINA SIMONE FOUR WOMEN

DIRECTOR: James Ngcobo

PLAYWRIGHT: Christine Ham

MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Tshepo Mngoma

LIGHTING DESIGNER: Mandla Mtshali

SET DESIGNER: Nadya Cohen

COSTUME DESIGNER: Onthatile Matshidiso

CAST: Busi Lurayi, Lerato Mvelase, Mona Monyane Skenjana, Noxolo Dlamini

MUSICIANS AND SINGERS: Bryan Mtsweni, Ezbie Moilwa, Mpho Kodisang

Smanga Ngubane, Sam Ibeh

VENUE: John Kani Theatre at the Market

DATES: Until February 24

 

With Artistic Director James Ngcobo’s tradition of commemorating Black History Month, his pick of this play starring mainly women is, as Nina Simone so aptly said, about “an artist’s responsibility to reflect the times”.

With the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements in everyone’s consciousness (or it should be) the Simone-driven play is a clever choice with a cast of powerful young actors strutting the stage.

And even halfway into the run, the theatre is packed with a young (mainly black) audience and they’re enraptured and engaged as these women speak to them with great gusto.

It’s not for the lily-livered because in the main, women haven’t had a voice and black women especially were never invited to speak their mind and tell their stories.

It’s their time and it’s like its all spilling out with an anger that’s palpable but covering a pain that so’s deep and so sore, it breaks your heart while listening.

In song Noxolo Dlamini, Mona Monyane Skenjana, Lerato Mvelase and Busi Lurayi
In song Noxolo Dlamini, Mona Monyane Skenjana, Lerato Mvelase and Busi Lurayi

When Simone slips into a quiet moment and opens her heart about her own experience of living in a world that seems to hate and discard her, it’s like an open wound she exposes to everyone willing to look more closely.

On September 16, 1963, the day after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Simone shifted her career from artist to artist–activist. This is where the play begins, in the church with riots outside and the pain of four little girls killed in hatred etched on everyone’s mind. She is writing a song when three diverse women enter and engage about their lives as black women.

But so deep is the self-hatred and lack of confidence, they turn not only on those who mean them harm but also on each other as they compare shades of skin colour and the intent with which each lives her life.

Interwoven with much talk is Simone’s haunting music dominated by Mississippi Goddam, Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair and closing with the obvious Four Women, the song from which the women in the play were drawn.

And it is this mix that moves in and out of the consciousness. While the songs complete the conversations of the women, they are more contemplative if heart-breaking before the next storm unleashes as the women twist and turn in their tension and anguish of years of abuse punctuated by the current attack.

Busi Lurayi as Nina Simone surrounded by the rest of the cast.
Busi Lurayi as Nina Simone surrounded by the rest of the cast.

It is a sparse set by Nadya Cohen yet effective in its symbolic power and the women are encouraged to fill the stage, which they do with great abandon. Ncgobo obviously wanted them to embrace their power in this moment – and they do.

The performances are sometimes uneven, Lurayi perhaps hampered by capturing the Simone kinetic energy, but she soars in the quieter moments and in song. It is quite a presence that she has to establish, and the deep timbre of her voice works in her favour. Mvelase, the most comfortable on stage, inhabits her Aunt Sarah, a domestic worker, with quiet dignity, while the young Dlamini is passionate in her rebellion.

Then comes the abrasive whirlwind Monyane Skenjana to perform in the person of an unapologetic prostitute who believes in disarming if not disabling before an offensive can begin. It’s a tough performance to catch but in the mix, it brings the chaos of their lives into sharper focus and adds some light relief to what could become too much to witness and bear.

Cushioning all that is the piano playing of Brian Motsweni supported by a trio of other musicians and two singers, all adding to the depth of the soundtrack. Other sounds like the sudden rush of the riot don’t get the balance right and while the two singers worked well as they sat to the side, the look was confusing. Perhaps they would have slotted in more smoothly as part of the musos rather than characters, but not quite.

Quibbles aside, the importance of the production, what is said and who is saying it, right now, taking into account what is swirling around in the world currently, this is a majestic production.

Theatre is struggling more than ever with little help from anywhere. Even newspapers, their traditional support, are dwindling with less and less art reporting. Yet the audience who were there to look and listen, were predominantly young and black, probably the most sought-after demographic.

And they were delighted – with reason.

Nataniël’s Second Phase Will Have Him Playing On Many Different Platforms

optog kombi and nataniël.pic by optog
Optog kombi and Nataniël. Picture by Optog!

Showman Nataniël is embarking on what he calls the second phase of his career with quite a few tricks up his sleeve. He tells DIANE DE BEER about his future plans:

 

It took only four phone calls, says Nataniël, to cut his salary by half but this drastic measure was necessary for him to get things going in a different fashion.

It’s always been part of his strategy, not to keep doing the same things all the time. Leave before they’re tired and start something completely different.  “I am not going to do anything that I’m not in control of any longer,” he says hence all the changes. And money is no longer a driving force.

As someone who prefers being the one responsible for something he does, whether good or bad, he says it is time out for projects where he is involved with egos bigger than the talent. “It’s not that I am all-powerful, just tired of all the bull!”

“I am back to earning all my money in my own head,” he notes, but he’s used to creating his own world and then sharing it with the rest of us.

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Men in black – Erik, Nataniël and Nicolaas

He and his assistant Nicolaas Swart are currently in Nantes, France (arriving back this week) where his most recent four-season television series (Die Edik van Nantes with his bro which also evolved into his latest cook/lifestyle-book released just before Christmas) was shot, and while this is a well-earned break, it is also a time to scout for new ideas with his brother-in-arms Erik le Roux who lives in Nantes.

“We love working together, so we will come up with something new,” says Nataniël, who has just started his own YouTube channel, something which is part of his plans but will also prevent one of his huge irritations, people randomly posting show videos or unwanted clips of him on the popular channel. “Once you have your own channel, you can remove any illegal ones,” he says joyously.

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Nataniël in costume.

He will also be shooting a music video for this platform while in France, the first he has made in 20 years. “We’re going to do it with cell phones,” he says, and it will be a short art film with music rather than a traditional music video.

Importantly, he will be focusing on finding creative outlets that make him happy. What he has discovered in especially Nantes, a creative city, is that he has been allowed to film and introduce basically anything to his local audience. “There’s a pride and a generosity which makes everything accessible and it is such a pleasure to work in a hassle-free environment.”

On the performance side locally, he starts his year on a new platform called Optog (March). The brainchild of producer/pianist Matthys Maree, it is described as one huge concert tour on wheels travelling through the whole of the country and beyond, running from February 14 until December with artists like Nataniël, Karen Zoid, Jo Black, Laurika Rauch, Coenie de Villiers and Deon Meyer, Vicky Sampson and Corlea Botha, all on a musical note with a few theatre productions also going on the road. Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Rustenburg, Polokwane, Welkom, Sasolburg, Kroonstad, Bloemfontein, Kimberley, Durbanville, Port Elizabeth, East-Londen, Potchefstroom, Durban, Windhoek and Swakopmund are all on the map.

Nataniel and Erik in Nantes
Nataniël and Erik in Nantes

“I am visiting rural towns I have never been to,” says Nataniël, one of our best travelled artists locally – and something he will again do more of in the future. He will be performing in three shows: Nataniël Gesels (talks) where he will be presenting one of his famous talks in theatres, something he tested at the end of last year for the first time; Nataniël Unplugged accompanied by Charl du Plessis, which is a more intimate version of his larger shows; and Four Loud People with his full band, the Charl du Plessis Trio and representative of his shows compiled of stories and songs in both English and Afrikaans.

Check out the website for more info and dates (www.optog.co.za) and hold thumbs for their plans to give new life to existing performance sites and halls in the platteland which might generate more platforms for artists everywhere.

In April he will be presenting a show at Artscape titled Anthems. And we’re not talking national flags or such like here! Nataniël describes it as “songs that singers claim as their personal anthems”. It will be in the style of his classical concerts of the past two years and he can be viewed as songs for grownups. “The songs usually represent an era, a life or an event,” he explains, “but anthems can also be attached to movies.” And he will be showcasing a few of his own.

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Nataniël at Emperor’s

Later in the year he will return to Emperor’s where he has been performing annually for just short of two decades taking a break last year and this time the run is planned to play almost like 12 individual concerts. As always with Nataniël, what that means exactly will only become clear once we see the latest spectacular extravaganza so much a part of his annual showcase.

For the first time he is also in the throes of writing an original book. “I have written many, but these have always been compiled from either columns or my show catalogues,” he says. This is something different, a kind of memoir, and more than that he isn’t willing to reveal, only that it will be published in both English and Afrikaans and this is the first time he has sat down and written an original book. He’s excited but also nervous while working hard on a Nataniël voice that works as well on paper as in performance.

On the food side, he will do a few kitchen demos – usually presented at the Atterbury Theatre in Pretoria and booked out as soon as the announcements are made – but much more than that he hopes to avoid. “When you have just finished a cookbook, food is the last thing on your mind,” he says, although his Nataniël Collection (food and kitchen products and tableware) in Checkers is going to be expanded and has been doing well around the country. They will be appearing in every shop and he is hoping to add a few new products, something he always enjoys doing.

And in private time, he will be battling cell phones (mainly in shows) and plastic. “Botswana has banned single-use plastic! Surely, we can too. What makes us so special that we keep destroying the planet?”

He argues that nothing usually comes from the top and a minor anti-plastic violence in shop queues, isn’t a bad thing. “Little old ladies should just hit those using plastic bags with their handbags,” he says. “They can get away with it.”

“It’s not that anyone listens to me, but to remain silent isn’t an option any longer.”

Writer and Poet Extraordinaire Chris van Wyk Tells Stories with a Poetic Tongue

DIANE DE BEER

Pictures: Lungelo Mbulwana

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Zane Meas as Chris van Wyk.

VAN WYK – THE STORYTELLER OF RIVERLEA

Written and performed by: Zane Meas

Directed and Designed by: Christo Davids

Lighting design: Thapelo Mokgosi

Costume design: Nthabiseng Mokone

Music: Cyril ‘Dafunc’ Peterson

Venue: Manie Manim at the Market Theatre

Dates: Until February 24

 

Author/poet/storyteller Chris van Wyk wrote for the people, telling stories about his people, but he also had a deeply serious side, an intellectual one that couldn’t ignore what was seriously unjust and wrong in the world he found himself in.

His family surrounded him with love and laughter which allowed him to get more from life than the colour of his skin encouraged him to do in the Apartheid years – and he grabbed on to life with gusto. Van Wyk used his abilities to share the lot of his people probably as much a balm to his own being as to those who read his extraordinary words.

Many will know him for arguably his most loved book Shirley Goodness and Mercy, a memoir which best captured the way a family laughed and cried together to hold themselves apart yet together in a cruel Apartheid world.

But what this script and show do so spectacularly is showcase Van Wyk’s poetry which might not be as familiar to audiences as his family and community featured in his memoirs.

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It is in the poetry that he magnificently portrays his mother (The Laughter of my Mother), holds his wife’s impact on his life up for scrutiny, and then sharply looks at the lay of the political land with the horrifyingly haunting In Detention – the best kept for last.

It is in that melding together of the happy and the horrifying that Van Wyk becomes clearly and colourfully defined by his friend Zane Meas whose love of acting was first fuelled when he performed in a play based on one of the author’s short stories.

His love and knowledge of the writer is clear from the script, the way he has decided to tell the story with a lovingness that is hard to describe and shines through also in the performance.

Meas is masterful in his portrayal of Van Wyk and even if you didn’t know they were friends, you know that what you see on stage is the essence of the man in all his colourful cheerfulness even at the end when he reluctantly has to leave his family.

It is his spirit that lives on in his words, the way he views and explains his world, how he has you laugh, yet with a sadness at a life ended too soon. “We know the end,” says Meas both at the start and the end.

Zane Meas1 (photographed by Lungelo Mbulwana)
Telling it like it is…

And while the title says The Storyteller…, Meas is able to direct the writing in a way that tells you who this man was, how he lived his life, the empathy he exudes because of the family he grew up in, and the people he chose to have in his life. And then he shared these insights with the world.

He achieves what many writers can only dream of. His way with words is extraordinary but it is also accessible, something not easily done. He has both a common touch and the ability to appeal to the intellect as he plays with words and ideas without fear even in this country’s darkest days.

These were the things that touched him, the unfairness of it all, which he realised at a young age and the way his parents and granny engaged with his world and showed him a way out of the mess that surrounded him growing up.

He found his salvation in words and when wondering what impact he has had on his world, words are what start stumbling out and for those listening, an awareness that there is so much wisdom lost from this voice silenced too soon.

Meas is determined to honour his legacy and with his friend/colleague Christo Davids as both director and designer, they have pulled a rabbit from their theatrical hat. It could have been just another storytelling nostalgic trip and with Van Wyk speaking his mind, that would have been enough.

They have, however, elevated this performance with loving care and in the detail of the script, performance, design and direction.

Zane Meas (photographed by Lungelo Mbulwana)
It’s in the detail

The design shows that they started out with a clear picture in mind, helped by the short-hand between two actors who have a working life together on stage, know what each of them can achieve and then pushing way beyond those goalposts.

Davids worked the solo show as much as he can (pushing too hard once or twice with an ending that is overly-dramatic and must go) creating his own book of stories on stage, which allowed Meas a freedom to focus on the man and what every word he wrote or spoke, meant.

It helps when you’re intimately involved with the individual you’re trying to explore because in this instance it encouraged them to show the inner workings of Van Wyk’s soul. They’ve put together a life filled with love in words and pictures.

If you can’t make it now, watch out for this one because it should (and will, I’m sure) travel, and while this is a homage by friends, they have truly done justice to the wordsmith Chris van Wyk.

If you want to rush out to discover more of his writing, you know they have found the key. It is some of the director and actor’s finest work.