When you are sitting in contemplation at the end of a year, your head packed full of memories of live festivals for the first time in 24 months, you realise the excitement, exuberance and energy live theatre brings to both performers and audiences. There’s simply nothing that compares DIANE DE BEER discovers. Here are just a few of those magical moments…:

There were many performances that I will hold onto for a lifetime, some that linger, others that were a fun watch, and one performance in particular that just made me senselessly happy.

(Pictures of Die Moeder by Emma Wiehman and top far right, Nardus Engelbrecht)

It was also the play, the director, and the rest of the cast, (Dawid Minnaar, Ludwig Binge, Ashley de Lange) , but Sandra Prinsloo was the star of Die Moeder, which had its debut at the Woordfees. It held all the potential of being something special, but what this actor brought to the role was spectacular. If this is how she dances into the twilight of her career, buckle up.

Director Christiaan Olwagen has been away playing successfully in television and movies, but it’s always on stage that he has been most impressive for me. It feels as if it is a medium he understands and where he feels at home and his vision translates magnificently.

With that driving her and a magnificent script, it was up to Prinsloo to plumb the depths of an ageing woman who has lost all sense of herself as the world (and her family) seems to have discarded her. Or that’s how she perceives it to be.

Prinsloo slips under her character’s skin (and yours) and more in a performance that simply surpasses everything she has done before (and there were some great ones). But this was next level and for this gracious actor, a just reward for years and years of hard work.

We all knew she was one of the greats and then she went one better! We’re blessed to have her.

The other magic Saartjie Botha created, with live performances allowing yet another experience of Sylvaine Strike and Andrew Buckland’s Ferine and Ferasse, was the breathtaking Firefly. A production I can see over and over again, each time reliving the complete and overwhelming embrace of old-fashioned storytelling.

But let’s start  at the beginning. I have been to perhaps too many festivals in my time, but this was my first time at Cape Town’s Suidooster at the start of a new (and hopefully) live 2022 and I was surprised and impressed by Jana Hatting’s ingenuity. Some of the smaller festivals have tight budgets, audience complexities and artists who are all vying for a slice of the cake.

She introduced a brilliant mini season titled Voices/Stemme for which she invited seasoned and exciting younger talent to tell stories, short ones, and they hit all the right buttons. It’s good at a festival, where the menu is diverse, to have short interludes of dedicated excellence. And with performances by Chris van Niekerk, Devonecia Swartz, Buhle Ngaba and Elton Landrew, for example, with directors and writers like Amelda Brand, Wessel Pretorius, Dean Balie and Jemma Kahn for these 10-minute short pieces, it hit the sweet spot time and again. And the shows were all free … and packed.

Because of the Zap Zap Circus, also on the Artscape premises, they’re included as part of the festival and that’s another huge tick in the box. There’s nothing like a circus for the whole family and especially this one, where such amazing development work is being done, is worth promoting. It also meant that the venue was available for other shows.

It’s a great little festival with great vibes as it is all contained on the premises of Artscape. Watch out for this one with many hidden treasures including young talent showing off their best on many different platforms. They had some amazing jazz as well, with some literary excellence happening on the writing/authors side.

KKNK was back with a bang, a smaller and shorter festival, but one that packed a punch. Perhaps it was a case of old favourites back at their best, but with the long break, that’s exactly what we wanted. Marthinus Basson delivered a double whammy with a recharged Ek, Anna van Wyk and a play that crept up on me and is still at work, Terminaal 3, both with star casts and both lingering with obliterating impact.

For me it was also a renewed admiration of Frieda van den Heever, the director and compiler of Oerkluts Kwyt, a programme celebrating the poetry of Antjie Krog, and the performance brilliance of Antoinette Kellermann, both of whom turned 70. Van den Heever had previously created the perfect Die Poet Wie’s Hy with Dean Balie.

She has a wonderful sensibility, she knows how to pick them and then present a programme basically consisting of the spoken word and music, but the way she balances content and creativity is delicately stunning. For this one she also brought on board astonishing sounds, two women who sing under the Ancient Voices title, the duo Lungiswa Plaatjies and Nimapostile  Nyiki, –  extraordinary.

Anna Davel

I was also reminded this year to watch out for producer/performer/writer Anna Davel (production manager for above mentioned show). She has turned into someone who seems to spot gold. She was also responsible (and part of performance) for Aardklop’s Mixtape van die Liefde where another new artist, Stephanie Baartman, made her mark. She has been part of the television soapie circuit for a few years, but she announced her presence on stage with poetry and song. And that, I suspect, is just a smidgeon of what she will show in the future.

Everyone was also raving about Davel’s exceptional 21, presented at KKNK. She has always shone on stagte, but her voice and her comfort levels on stage have matured magnificently.

Karatara, a production I’ve written about frequently, is one that honours the story which deals with the devastating Knysna fires. The performers (dancers Grant Van Ster and Shaun Oelf and Dean Balie, narrator) as well as the creative team, Wilken Calitz and Gideon Lombard created something extraordinary . It’s worth seeing again and again as it feeds the soul.

And who can forget the art of Karen Preller? Her mesmerising exhibiton took you back in time in an extraordinarily unique way.

Om Skoon Te Wees with Conradie van Heerden

And as an interlude there was the hugely successful Lucky Pakkies, an extension of the previously popular Uitkampteater, which created a stage for shorter if no less exciting work and some extraordinary performances.

It’s also a concept that allows performers to practise and hone their craft in different genres as well as roles. Writers are given a chance for short and sassy work, actors have a smaller if intimate and often vulnerable stage and directors are offered an opportunity to try different things in challenging spaces.

In the Free State, it is always the art that overwhelms and again they didn’t disappoint, one example being Pitika Ntuli’s Return To The Source (which can still be seen at the Oliewenhout Art Museum on your way to the coast), which is simply stunning and perfect for the space at that amazing institution, and they also have a provocative permanent exhibition worth viewing again and again. André Bezuidenhout’s unique photographs was another winner, with the subject well-chosen and then magnificently captured.

And then there was the welcome return of Elzabé Zietsman with the hard-hitting Femme is Fatale. This is someone who understands how to grab you by the throat when there’s no other way. Her intent is to violently if necessary showcase gender-based violence. We all know the scourge it is in this country and no one is listening.

She is going to try her best to make you listen. And with a script which is as blunt and blistering as it is determined, she hits where it hurts most. Being the veteran she is, there’s not a note, a line or a hair out of place and she shows what contemporary cabaret can achieve when done with heartfelt honesty. It’s a courageous and memorable performance.

Another standout and engaging performance was the dance production Blame It On the Algorithm by the Darkroom Contemporary Dance Theatre. It was mesmerising, memorable and something completely different, always a gift for a festival.

Finally it was with a new stance that Aardklop approached the 2022 live season. Instead of hosting a festival in Potchefstroom (it will be returning there in 2023), shows were also presented in Pretoria and Jozi. There are many differing opinions about the success, but for artistic director Alexa Strachan it is about survival.

They’re a small and possibly struggling yet determined artistic collective and they produced a few winners of which the standout was Nataniël’s Die Smitstraat Suite, an astonishing accomplishment.

It’s been a lifelong dream for this prolific artist/composer whom many simply know as a pop composer. Not being my field of expertise, he explained that the music was inspired by the classical oratorium with nine compositions sung in English and Latin (some of his songs not previously recorded combined with original music). He was accompanied by the excellent Akustika Choir led by Christo Burger.

And to add his trademark stamp, an original series of stories, which cleverly pulls the title and the full performance together.

This is what makes him so unique. Few people have the skill to come up with something as complicated as this music with choir and solo parts, accompanied by the Charl du Plessis Trio. And then to add some achingly funny stories that introduce an explosive touch before you lose yourself again in the exquisite music.

He also had two other performances at festivals during the year. First there was Moscow at the Suidooster at the beginning of the year and then Prima Donna at the KKNK. Both of these were innovative and unique in performance, scripts and music, all executed by the artist himself except for the musicans (Charl du Plessis Trio) and costume designer Floris Louw who all contributed with flourish.

Aardklop Aubade’s driving force Charl du Plessis

Produced under the Aardklop Aubade flag, this classical season, introduced by Aardklop and led by Charl du Plessis presents Sunday morning classical concerts at Affies to re-introduce the classics to a previously enthusiastic audience as well as a stage for especially solo artists, but not exclusively so. It’s another great festival invention.

In similar vein, with the help of the KKNK, artists Neil Coppen and Vaughn Sadie established the ongoing Karoo Kaarte with the aim of promoting real change in communities. The idea was to use the arts in many different ways to change the narrative of the Oudtshoorn community to a more inclusive one.

These were early days, but the work which included fine art projects to navigate and explore identities as well as a theatre production which involved the community and workshopped a story to include all their lives and dreams.

Ownership has been activated, but this was simply the beginning and it is going to be hugely exciting to watch how this develops and how local artists are given wings.

And of course there was so much more…


With the launch of the third in a trilogy, The Quality of Mercy (Penguin), author Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu has firmly established herself as a writer not to be ignored. As an admirer, DIANE DE BEER writes about the way she captivates with her unique storytelling:

WHEN handed the third book in a trilogy by Zimbabwean author Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu to review, my heart went up an extra beat. I had launched the first book The Theory of Flight in Pretoria a few years back, had done an email interview and reviewed the second The History of Man during lockdown and again, to my delight,  I was invited to launch this latest, The Quality of Mercy.

The last is always my best, arguably because I remember it best. But I can still recall how thrilled Iwas, not yet having met the sublime Siphiwe yet, on reading the first. I immediately recognised a unique and very particular voice – and then came the second, which approached writing in a completely different style.

Third time was not such a surprise, because by now, I knew the author better and realised that for her own imagination (a wild one, early in her life activated by her grandmother) and playful nature, she had to write in this way.

Asking about the three novels and what each one represents, she embroidered: “The three novels that make up the City of Kings trilogy – The Theory of Flight, The History of Man and The Quality of Mercy – all deal with aspects of Africa’s modern history. The History of Man deals with the colonial moment and its many (often limiting) narratives; the story of Emil Coetzee serves as a critique of colonial power.

The Quality of Mercy is a story of transition and delineates a country’s journey from being a colonial state to a postcolonial state. The Theory of Flight is concerned with the postcolonial moment and its gradual loss of ‘ease’ as it becomes a place of increasing dis ‘ease’; the story of Imogen Zula Nyoni calls for a different kind of revolution from the one that led to independence.”

If she were simply telling stories it would have been fine, because she is such a superb storyteller and probably we would have loved it still, but it is also the way she goes about capturing the history of her land (ours and more) in a time of transition and beyond  – as well as, of course, before.

There’s a lightness in the telling, but don’t let her deceive you. She has found her own subversive way of saying exactly all the serious things she wants to, subtly without being preachy.

For example, she had no qualms, as a black female writer, to step into the shoes of a white male protagonist, and then one who was running a deeply secretive intelligence office in a colonial land which we all know but which she never names. And pulls it off with aplomb and terrifying insight.

In conversation with Siphiwe at the Centurion Mall for the launch of The Quality of Mercy.

It is the way she climbs under the skin of a man who grew up privileged, but as he moved up in the world into the world, turned into a man difficult to recognise, driven from the outside rather than a true belief in what he was doing.

And that’s where her gift lies. The insight she shares about things that we all think we know and understand. This writer has a different take which she launches with a light yet incisive heft.

Talking about the period she has chosen to set this trilogy, she explains that the major plot of The Quality of Mercy, the investigation of a crime, takes place over a span of five months, December 1979 to April 1980. “Since this is a story about how a country transitions from being a colonial to a post-colonial state, these dates correspond with two very important dates in Rhodesian and Zimbabwean history – the date when the ceasefire that brought an end to the civil war was announced (December 21, 1979) and the date when independence was officially granted (April 18, 1980).

“This period of transition holds within it both hope and uncertainty  ̶  what will the post-colonial moment be like, how will power change and shift, what will the experience of ‘independence’ feel like, will we all feel equally free, what will we do about the past injustices created by the many forms of colonial violence, will we seek vengeance or justice for the wrongs of the past…”

With this latest novel, even if I knew to expect the unexpected I was still caught out. I wasn’t expecting her to come at me with such a surge of visual delight, and much of it has to do with her protagonist, Spokes M Maloi. Only the toughest heart wouldn’t  immediately embrace this detective who is married to the light of his life, Loveness.

There’s a reason for the loveliness and charm of Spokes, his particular job description and the fact that this one is a crime novel. Siphiwe explains: “The main protagonist of The Quality of Mercy is Chief Inspector Spokes M. Moloi, a long-serving policeman in the British South Africa Police (BSAP). Part of what I wanted to examine about the period that the novel covers is how the idea of ‘independence’ was different for different groups of people because settler colonialism had created very narrow definitions of citizenship and belonging that were based on extremely binary and limiting views on race, gender, ethnicity, class etc.

In the company of Siphiwe and her mom Sarah celebrating the latest book The Quality of Mercy.

“In order to achieve a more inclusive and bird’s eye view of this moment, I had Spokes, as a black man who had lived his entire life in a segregated country, investigate a crime that would take him into the homes and lives of an incredibly diverse group of characters. Given the particular period of history that the novel deals with, Spokes’ mobility and ease of access would have been extremely restricted and curtailed by his race (and in some instances) his gender and class were it not for the fact that his country was actively moving towards being post-colonial and he had in his possession a detective’s badge.”

He’s also at the end of his career, and as his country is attempting to move into a new phase, so he and especially his wife, are set on slipping into a much gentler realm.

There are a few hold-ups though. There’s a case that just won’t let go. Daisy was a woman killed quite brutally and spokes has never found the monster who did the dastardly deed. But no more give-aways.

This is a book you want to read without too much knowledge in hand. It has to be approached with the energy and exuberance the writer intended, and if you haven’t read any of her novels yet, you’re in for a treat.

While they are viewed as a trilogy, Siphiwe is happy to talk about interconnectedness, and I suspect there are a few still to come. Writing about the City of Kings, where she was born and has given her heart to, she has created a community with some figures more prominent than others in each of the books.

And because the protagonist in one might pop into another very scantily, once you know a bit more, there’s a curiosity to go back and re-discover where you first met someone and what all the connections are.

When she sat down to write her fist one, Theory of Flight which won the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize, Siphiwe had an idea of what her story was going to be, but it is only as she writes that everything becomes fleshed out in glorious detail   ̶  and she is also caught unawares.

“What I have enjoyed most in writing the City of Kings trilogy is the slow revelation of how the different stories fit together – The Quality of Mercy begins where The History of Man ends and ends where The Theory of Flight begins, bringing everything full circle. If I had known from the first that I was setting out to write a trilogy, I would have been too overwhelmed by the prospect, so I am very happy and relieved that it was all a process of gradual discovery.”

Perhaps none of us, not even the writer, knows what’s coming. What we do know is that she will sweep you off your feet all over again.


PICTURES: Nardus Engelbrecht

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actor/writer Jane Mpholo in Fragmented.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An extract from the extraordinary Karatara.

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

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

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

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

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

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