It’s a time for festive celebrations and collective reflection Nataniël tells DIANE DE BEER as he elaborates about his end-of-year show at the Atterbury Theatre,  Butterfly running from December 1 to 6 and again at the beginning of February:

This is not a time to pontificate, be prescriptive or preachy. It’s the end of a tough year with calamitous interruptions of which no one knows the outcome  – yet ­– but with his traditional festive season show, Nataniël wants to spotlight the effect of this period of isolation without dwelling on Covid19 specifically.

He mentions love and loss, neglect and honesty, blame and forgiveness, insanity and hope, all of which he wants to investigate from his unique vantage and inspired by his continued isolation.

For some of us, being cut off from the rest of the world might have been frightening but for others it was a time to exhale, try to regain a sense of focussed living. “I discovered I quite enjoyed the frugal lifestyle that resulted,” says this artist of extravagance, and he immediately points to his costumes for this show specifically.

Deciding on their design route, he and his long-time designer Floris Louw went big. “Once the shops opened, we could buy fabrics but nothing new was coming into the country,” he notes.

Anyone who knows his particular bent to surprise will know that this simply wasn’t good enough. And because they had to work from different towns, it all happened digitally. “We found all these fabrics that I had bought and never used for previous shows, pieces that could be mixed and turned into something else.”

And it is all this improvisation that brings a different kind of creativity to the surface. In the end, the costumes might have had an element of frugality in terms of what was available, but being the artists they are, these garments are even bigger and more spectacular than before.

That’s Nataniël. Make it tough and he will find a way to make it work. While the theatres are only allowed a 50% capacity, the costs of staging a show remain the same.

He is flummoxed about the fact that theatres are compared to rugby matches in the pandemic sense because it has been found internationally that theatres are some of the safest venues around. “Audiences sit quietly and listen to a show. There’s no communicating and cheering or physical touch. But we still have similar costs as if the auditorium is fully packed. Theatres aren’t charging you only 50 percent fees,” he notes.

And again being artists, they don’t provide 50 percent shows. Once they decide to step up, it’s all systems go – and with more than a few months with dark theatres, there’s an excitement bubbling as the doors are open slowly yet with exuberance.

Musically he believes he has made accessible choices. “This is easy on the ear,” he says as he turns to his text which consists of different stories – not dealing with the pandemic and yet, he has been intrigued by the way individuals have reacted to these unexpected challenges. – — “People talk about going back to normal. I don’t want to go back.’’ This is a time for change and that’s the extraordinary opportunity he hopes many will embrace.

It is a time to learn and to leap into a newfound reality. “Many believe in stability but that sounds like a slow death to me,” he says. “I might be exhausted, but I’m excited.”

The butterfly symbolises conscience.

As always Nataniël is joined on stage by Charl du Plessis (piano), Werner Spies (bass), Peter Auret (drums) and Nicolaas Swart (vocals). With a soft sigh he knows live theatre comes with its own baggage and a recent visit to the Charl du Plessis Trio album launch reminded him how some people simply ignore theatre etiquette. “We had someone in front of us who was conducting a WhatsApp conversation throughout the show. She was in and out of the theatre to receive and return messages. I wanted to trip her,” he said. But few will dare to be a disturbance in his shows. In recent years, he simply calls them out aware that if they disturb those on stage, it also worries the audience.

Another irritation he has discarded is corporate bookings. “I only want people in the theatre who want to be there, not because someone else has bought them a ticket!”

While the show running from December 1 to  6 is practically  sold out with only a few seats left, bookings have been opened for a later mini season which runs from February 2 to 6, a great way to start 2021 –  in the theatre. Book at itickets.co.za for the first season or for the February show at itickets.co.za

Talking about exhaustion, apart from the TV show Toegang, currently on kykNET (find all the recipes in English on his recently launched blog www.smallcoronations.com), he has also launched some ridiculously delicious cookies available in selected shops and a smart new olive oil range, as well as his latest book of short stories.

Nataniël Stories Dik Dun Think Thin will be sold at his many shows and as always is a collection of stories in Afrikaans and English, some written for shows and tweaked for a book and others specially written.

Regarded by many as one of our best short story writers, anyone who has listened to one of his tales will know about his use of language, the way he plays with and applies specific words and then, of course, his imagination, which seemingly has no limit. From show to show, book to book, they keep spilling out from a mind that doesn’t appear to be working too hard to create a world we all want to escape to.

He describes this as “a very happy book”. The title won’t be explained in any of the stories but recently someone gave his childhood piano teacher the funeral programme of a woman called Sally from Porterville who used to work for the Le Roux family when they lived there.

“Paul Kruger had smaller funeral,” says Nataniël, who explains that Sally was larger than life with HUGE personality. “She always used to say Dik, Dun, Thick, Thin,” he says almost like an exclamation mark. “I couldn’t believe how they found a way to get it (the programme) to me,” he says as he pays tribute to someone who made an impression on his young life.

Again that is part of his extraordinary storytelling ability. It often seems quite fantastical yet much of the time reflects the weird and wonderful byways of his life. He has a way of exploring those adventures with eyes that look at the world with wonder.

And we’re the blessed recipients.

Innovative Charl du Plessis Trio Play With Our Imaginations In Times of Stress

With a new album, in hand, it’s time for the Charl du Plessis Trio to launch their latest musical feast titled Imagine, apt for our times when the world has been turned upside down. But music will always be there to stimulate the imagination, Charl du Plessis tells DIANE DE BEER:

Because he works fanatically on so many different levels, it’s surprising to hear musician Charl du Plessis say that his jazz trio hasn’t released a CD for two years. He is someone who fast-tracks everything.

But this one wouldn’t have happened at this time either if they hadn’t been approached to record with Swiss speaker company as part of their Stenheim Acoustic Sessions which give artists the chance to record original tracks in unusual places and in exceptional acoustic conditions. “We were fortunate to record this project with their world-class acoustic treatment to ensure the most organic and powerful listening experience,” explains Charl about the sessions recorded at the Espace Consonance in Saxon, Switzerland.

These days with music recordings so problematic, no one is going to disregard this kind of invitation, but what really excited the trio was the quality inherent in the full process. Stenheim’s quality products are the guarantee of a superb recording in a state-of-the-art studio.

Charl du Plessis Trio

This is the first recording by the Charl Du Plessis Trio in its new format, following the departure of the former drummer for China. Peter Auret, one of Gauteng’s most sought-after jazz drummers, joins original members Charl on piano and Werner Spies on bass.

“It’s been invigorating,” says Charl, who with this album wanted to include tracks that share their respect for the original score which has always been their strong suit – a crossover between jazz and the classics, with Charl a master in both genres.

And he emphasises that with Peter joining their team, imaginative moves have been flourishing. One needs change every once in a while and when it is as positively organic as this one was, it can also be hugely beneficial. “We all work together extremely well,” adds Charl.

It also helps that Peter is an award-winning recording engineer and producer with his own studio while Werner adds techno buff to his skills. Charl, always someone who keeps adding yet another string to his bow (see Episode 2 of Toegang on kykNET), also recently added piano tuner to his repertoire. “One often battles to find someone at specific times,” he says and as the owner of two Steinways (being a Steinway musician), he can now do his own when required.

Peter Auret on drums

They say you have to know the rules before you can bend and  break them. That truly applies here and you will hear that immediately as you start listening to their music which seems to have taken on a world in trouble while offering an easy escape – for just a while.

Their music reflects their passion. These are musicians who travel the world with their special brand of music, something that translates well and appeals to both jazz and classical audiences – and that isn’t always a given. Think of the way classical or jazz music has sometimes been dumbed down for a more general audience. This is not that.

It’s about combining and infusing all their multiple influences but in a way that is smart, honours the original music and delivers a sound that is both fresh and refreshing. Included in the lineup, which should have you smiling, is Mozart’s Magic Flute, Beethoven’s Für Elise, Ode to Joy and the Adagio cantabile from Sonata Pathetique, Bizet’s Seguidilla from Carmen, Verdi’s Va Pensiero from Nabucco and to conclude, John Lennon’s Imagine!

Werner Spies on bass

They’ve been at it for 12 years and in that time while not stagnating, they know what works and how to keep it challenging. They wouldn’t have had this recording if that weren’t the case. This is a difficult area to make your name – and a living. You have to deliver for it to work and they do.

They have won major music awards including a Fiësta, two SAMA awards and a Ghoema for Best Instrumental Album. They frequently perform in Europe and Asia as well as at major music festivals in South Africa. Highlights include Grachtenfestival – the Netherlands, Musikdorf Ernen – Switzerland, and Standard Bank Joy of Jazz – Johannesburg as well as most recently digitally as part of the National Arts Festival platform. 

This launch of their new album Imagine will be held at the Atterbury Theatre in Pretoria on November 1 at 3pm. Tickets can be booked at iTickets. It’s all about familiar music with “daring textures, exciting rhythms and lush harmonic landscapes” which come together in their unconventional arrangements.

Charl on keyboards

And if you’ve never attended one of their shows, this is an ideal time to sit back (in controlled circumstances) with music that will be a balm for your soul.

The trio is constantly evolving in their quest to explore uncharted musical terrains in an imaginative manner and, like the title suggests, this is not borrowing from the extraordinary John Lennon but rather paying homage.

That’s the kind of music they make and I easily recommend. For those who cannot attend the concert (and I predict there will be more around the country as things start opening up in the new year), get the album. It’s one to cherish.

For more information visit www.charlduplessis.com

Charl du Plessis Trio with Peter Auret (drums) Charl (centre) and Werner Spies (bass)

Renée Rautenbach Conradie Perfectly Blends Storytelling and a Rich French/SA History

When you start listing al Renée Rautenbach Conradie’s skills and accomplishments, it becomes quite overwhelming, but there’s a common thread that runs through her many activities: an exuberant love of life. She tells DIANE DE BEER more about her debut novel, Met Die Vierkleur in Parys (With the flag of Transvaal in Paris, Protea Boekhuis):

How many people know about the South African participation in the 1900 International Exhibition in Paris? Or who De Villebois-Mareuil (after whom  a street in the east of Pretoria is named) was? Or that Paul Kruger and the Boer Republics had crept into the hearts of the ordinary French at the turn of the last century?

In fact says Renée Rautenbach Conradie, when she and her Foreign Affairs husband Leo Conradie spent time first in Marseilles and then in Paris late in the last century and early in this one, they discovered many links between South Africa and France in centuries past.

When they lived in Paris in 2000, many of the exhibitions were repeated to commemorate the 1900 world event. “Exhibitions of Rodin, the USA and Russia whose most memorable contribution was the landmark Pont Alexandre 111, which connects the Champs-Élysées quarter with those of the Invalides and Eiffel Tower,” she explains.

With more research, one of the passions of this long-time journalist, she discovered that we had a memorable pavilion, which included a gold mine and a pioneer’s house (very much like those still seen at the Pioneer’s Museum in Silverton still today) and that this was indeed one of the most visited features at the Show.

She had found her hook for the novel she wanted to write and the serious research began. The Anglo Boer War had always featured in her life as someone from the last generation to hear stories from those who were directly involved – starting with two grandmothers with very different world views: her paternal grandmother from Oudtshoorn looked down on the Voortrekkers and anything beyond the “colony” and her maternal grandmother was six when her mother died next to her in a tent in the Standerton Concentration Camp. Hér grandfather (72) was taken to St Helena where he later died and that same grandmother also experienced the day the sheep were set alight and pigs were mutilated with sables …

Renée also shared this Anglo Boer passion with both her father and her late husband Leo, who collected turn of the century newspapers when they spent time in France. “They included many pictures of Paul Kruger arriving in Marseille as well as etchings and pictures of the Anglo Boer War,” she notes.

Knowing that she wanted to write, a few years ago, she enrolled for a masters in creative writing at the University of Pretoria. It started with short stories but slowly her interest around a story set in 1900 in Paris took hold.

“Paris was at its wildest in 1900. It was the Belle Epoque, the Bohemian lifestyle amongst artists was accepted and the buzzword of the time was avant garde,” she says. “And I have always been fascinated that Pretoria was burdened by the strict mores of the Dutch Reformed and in addition, there was the influence of the Victorians who buttoned everything up to the neck, taking little pleasure in anything!”

It was this dichotomy of different lifestyles (with the accent on hedonistic pleasures versus the restrictive narrow-mindedness) that also had a huge impact on architecture, which captured her imagination as something she wanted to explore.

She elaborates that Art Nouveau was prominent in 1900 with artists like Toulouse-Lautrec and the theme of the Paris Exhibition was Progress. “That was a time of steel and glass which can still be seen in the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. Unfortunately some of the other structures were pulled down when the Exhibition had run its course.”

It was a time of architectural curves rather than stark lines and her more than four years in this exquisite city gave her a chance to fully appreciate the architecture of Paris. “I also participated in history classes for four years,” she says.

Her main character with a name like Paul Roux and a profession in architecture meant that research became very important. “At that time you received inhouse training and because of the timing, I could incorporate Herbert Baker as his tutor. I could also showcase the influence of French architect Thibault in Cape Town,” she adds.

It also suited her story that Pretoria was extremely busy at the turn of the century (1900), typical of a ‘sudden’ capital city. “The old Department of Works was responsible for the buildings surrounding Church Square. The Beaux Art style was used with the department headed by Sytze Wopke Wierde with many French and Dutch architects,” she says

And all of this dominates Met Die Vierkleur in Parys with the plot centred on the dishy if dishevelled architect Paul Roux who was responsible for the Pioneer House at the South African pavilion. Of course there’s intrigue, a Jewish miss who has to flee Cape Town to escape a meddling mother and makes her way to England and closer to her prospective beau.

That’s the lifeblood but the intrigue is the wheeling and dealing around the exhibition, the time and the two cities and its people on two vastly different continents in a time now very distant and far away. Yet strangely familiar and appealing …

As a veteran journalist writing about a longtime passion, her research is impeccable and something that grabbed me from start to finish. I am not someone who follows a historic lead and will see a foreign name like DeVillebois-Mareuil and wonder but then forget to follow it up. To discover the person’s identity is a real thrill as are many other historical titbits Renée has cunningly woven into her story.

Because she lived in Paris and established her own historical background, she could incorporate the landmarks that are familiar, but with detail that informs, adding to the charm of the city and the story.

As an outsider, her main character appealed to her because “I understand and empathise deeply,” she says. “Especially in Paris. You lose your heart to the city, but the city is a character and you are not really engaged or accepted by the ordinary people. My disdain for affectation also becomes clear.”

As a journalist, she is also much more accustomed to flash writing in a fast-moving world. Yet she discovered when writing a debut novel at a more advanced age, you have a full hard drive with riches to explore. And if her laziness can be circumvented, she hopes to get stuck into another one.

She writes in Afrikaans, and if it is a language you understand, it’s an unusual read. It’s much more than just a love story, in fact, she had to work very hard not to make her historical background dominate – and that she has done masterfully. But it does give an edge to the storytelling which puts the book in a class of its own.

A perfect escape for this time.

A discussion of the book with the author Renée Rautenbach Conradie will be held on October 18 at Foxwood House in Joburg. Bookings at www.skybookings.net or with Theresa at theatre@foxwood.co.za.

A Cape Town launch will also be held in November.

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


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.

Die Poet wie is hy_Natalie Gabriels_9792
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.

Huppekind_RethaFerguson08381 (7)
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.

WF Valsrivier - Greteli Fincham (12)
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.

WFBRANDBAAR__Natalie Gabriels-1086
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.

WF Baroque Opera - Mark Cloete 2020 (62)
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!

WF J Bobs - Off The Record - Lindsey Appolis-0021
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]:



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?

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


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



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)


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!

Bombshell Robbie
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


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.

DOP - Foto kosie Smit (002)
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.


Vuka Machel Image_ (002)
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.)

Vuka Machel Image 2
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



Pictures: Hans van der Veen


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.

Lovers, dogs and rainbows
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.

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

Pretty as a picture



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.

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.”

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.

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.

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;

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.



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:




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.