CAST: Paul du Toit (actor), Jenna Dunster (actress), Leon Ecroignard (bass guitar), Jahn Beukes (percussion), Lizanne Barnard (keyboard), Pyjama Shark (acoustic and electric guitar)
TEXT: Adapted from two Eugène Marais stories
MUSIC: Lizanne Barnard
CHOREOGRAPHY: Ignatius van Heerden
PLACE: Atterbury Theatre, Pretoria
This latest production reminds those of us who saw the original show just why it is such a special production. It’s innovative, playful, imaginative, dramatic and as a bonus, has a sensational soundtrack.
It also has a warm heartbeat at its centre. Du Toit and Dunster are two young actors who might not have been the obvious choice and that especially makes it exciting. It’s about the unexpected which suits the piece.
With a text magnificently adapted from Marais’s much-loved Die Lied van die Reën and Salas Y Gomez, an unusual story of struggle for what is precious to you, this is a performance that is delightful in its presentation of both the remarkable words and the addictive music.
The music/percussion sets the tone with its African slant which also bleeds into the percussive use of emotions from a knock at the door to a sudden movement exaggerated by clever use of a rhythm or a beat. This group of musicians is something special, starting with Barnard who has taken her compositions of 11 Marais poems and contemporised them with African and sounds and rhythms, so perfectly suited to the Marais words in both the poetry and the storytelling. She has also done three new compositions for Skoppensboer, Dieprivier and Eonone.
Bringing much of this to life is percussion genius Beukes with the help of the wacky Ecroignard, who adds to the depth and playfulness with the contemporary edge of the production pushed brilliantly by Barnard on keyboards and Shark on acoustic and electric guitar. They build a musical landscape that holds the production while adding detail while brightly colouring the edges. Then there are the songs beautifully interpreted and sung by Barnard with the depth of male voices introducing even more texture. I’m hoping for a CD.
Telling the stories, Du Toit and Dunster are energetic and enthusiastic as they embrace the performance gymnastics with gusto. It’s never easy when you have such a rich text to combine that with clever choreography, all of which has to unfold seamlessly to make it work.
But they do and it is the combo that turns this into compelling theatre with the two actors creating a comfortable rapport as they move between two quite different tales in both approach and dramatics – and they never lose sight of the text. There’s a wide-eyed deliciousness in Dunster’s performance while Du Toit goes full tilt, especially when in a persona more peculiar than his regular routines.
They get it right in a production which has put emphasis on the playfulness to balance the more serious tone as the second story unfolds.
Gryffenberg has pushed the performances and has been rewarded with a production that has everyone on and off stage engaged and entertained. It reminds one of the escapism offered by good theatre, in a way that doesn’t ignore quality and never opts for the lowest common denominator. It’s simply the best.
It’s the full package: starting with a good text, sublime storytelling and a cast of players, musical and dramatic, who can deliver and unwrap this gift they have been handed in spectacular fashion.
US Woordfees March 6 (12.30) and March 8 (8pm), 21, 22, 23, 24 March at KKNK, 15-19 April at Oppiewater Arts Festival
Many South Africans will be travelling to Japan as the host country of this year’s Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics. Following a holiday in Japan in October last year, DIANE DE BEER was invited on a return trip to Hokkaido, the most northern main island. She loses her heart and gives her impressions:
What I probably love most about travelling in Japan is that it is foreign and familiar at the same time.
It’s immediately clear that the Japanese have a different culture, they speak a different language and use a writing system that many foreigners can’t read and yet, there’s a familiarity that’s unmistakable and comfortable.
While you might think that you could lose your way in such a strange land, there’s much that you know and recognise, to keep you in a very happy place.
What should have had me worried when I was invited by JETRO (the Japan External Trade Organization, a non-profit parastatal under the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry of Japan) for a brief visit to their most northern main island, Hokkaido, in February, was the weather.
At the back of my mind I could hear someone saying when we were planning our holiday last October that February wasn’t a good time to go as it was the coldest month in that neck of the woods. And a further notice from the hosts about the climate in Asahikawa/Sapporo, the two cities we were visiting, should have been ample warning.
The average ranged at about -6.5 deg with the minimum touching -12. Suitable clothing was suggested as one of the reasons we were traveling all this way at this specific time was for the annual Japanese snow festivals celebrated all over Hokkaido but specifically in these two cities.
Snow hasn’t really been part of my vocabulary but the spectacle of a world clad in white, the texture like powder, the fact that snow isn’t wet until it melts, a cold that leaves you breathless, all of that is part of an other-wordly experience.
The snow festival itself in both cities is about (gigantic in some instances) snow and ice sculptures depicting scenes or characters from Star Wars, which seems to be a popular theme, or anything Disney and some of Japan’s favourite mascots like Hello Kitty.
The festivals ran from February 6 to 11 (it changes annually but not by much) and both cities attract well over a million people from the rest of the country as well as foreign visitors. The area offers fantastic skiing in close proximity to both cities, ice skating, sledding and snow rafting, as well as the wondrous winter canvas with a landscape completely covered in snow.
We had a few bus rides from one city to the next and watching what seems like a silent world go by is stunning. As a child of Africa, I certainly don’t want to live in that extreme weather – we were in Sapporo on the coldest day in history – but I can appreciate the spectacle.
Hokkaido is a fascinating island because, amongst other things, it seems to be the food basket of Japan. It has nearly one-fourth of Japan’s arable land and is a leader in the production of many agricultural products. Different coastal areas are also rich sources of seafood ranging from shrimp to salmon, sea urchin and scallops, sweet snow crab and tuna. The variety is awesome and reflected in the restaurants.
We had spectacular meals ranging from sushi/sashimi to a seafood barbeque; a traditional tasting menu and a unique sea-urchin shabu (hotpot) with the broth mixed with leftover rice the perfect comfort food; buffet breakfasts in hotels, an adventure all its own; the odd ramen and gyozo (dumplings) – and then I haven’t even mentioned the meat. How can one, with the abundance of seafood, unlike anywhere else in the world? Every meal had a scallop or two tucked in somewhere.
The originality and quirkiness of their designs
Light fitiings for great effect
Hokkaido also boast a sizeable timber industry, hence their focus during a part of our visit on furniture factories. An entry into this world was slightly puzzling as they don’t export to Africa but I was intrigued by the work ethics and the employer/employee relationship. It also proved the familiar adage that the Japanese are constantly striving for perfection. There’s a reason for everything and its all about the final results.
One specific factory we were taken to for a specialised visit was Takumi Kohgei with the owner, Yoshihiko Kuwabara, sharing his particular philosophy, which he says is what Hokkaido is all about. Most of these factories and this one in particular are not big concerns and perhaps that is why the attention and care heaped on the workers is so impressive.
From the design of this particular factory, which looks more like a high-tech home, to the humidity and temperature control on the factory floor – with some of the workers not even wearing the ubiquitous mask because the dust from the wood was immediately removed by huge extractor pipes, the whole concern is impressive with the end results, the furniture, quite unique.
It is a clever combination of their past and a modern sensibility with possibly a nod to the ‘50s, and their interior accessories are extraordinary. Forty crafts people dedicate themselves to making detailed furniture from indigenous wood and the machines are used only as support.
Visiting Hokkaido in autumn/winter or spring/summer makes a huge difference. These would be completely different holidays – each with their specific attractions. Before I left on the trip, someone sent me a link to Sapporo and there were some amazing art spots to visit, but I realised when there, that these weren’t possible in winter. One was a fantastic sculpture park by artist Isamu Noguchi in Sopporo, as well as a cemetery by the amazing architect Ando Tadao which includes a pool of water and a pathway that leads up to a circular structure accessed via a tunnel. He is famous for his entrances to his buildings and this one with a circular structure with 15 000 lavender plants along the roof, certainly seems worth a return visit.
So are the hiking trails and the natural wonders of this particular island, which was hit by a devastating earthquake only last year. They are desperate to revive their tourism but when you see what they have to offer, it’s not a tough ask.
We had an onsen (hot spring) in our Asahikawa hotel and each night it was an astonishing way to recover all the energy the weather had tapped during the day. The island is especially famous for its range of outdoor onsens, which would also deliver on the complete experience of the Japanese ritual so popular amongst its people.
From participating in meals at the local ramen shop to sharing an onsen, it’s a way to get to know the Japanese people, which in itself is special. In today’s fast life and daily grind, especially in Japan where they struggle with an overdeveloped work ethic, mixing with the people when they find time to relax is your best chance for social interaction.
Having been to the country twice in the past five months, what has become clear is that you need that first trip to discover what you want to do and see in this complex yet completely fascinating country. So if you are off on your first trip, do as much preparation as possible. Find out as much as you can about everything you want to do before you go. It will all contribute to an incredible journey.
* Diane de Beer was invited by JETRO, (the Japan External Trade Organization, a non-profit parastatal under the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry of Japan), for a brief spell at the beginning of February to their northernmost main island Hokkaido.
If you’re looking for something completely different at this year’s US Woordfees (March 1 to 10), check Theatrerocket’s new productions in their latest DEURnis season:
DIANE DE BEER
If there’s one thing that the production company Theatrerocket has proved in its short existence, its that those of us who follow theatre must pay attention.
No one would have given much of a thumbs up to one of their first and probably edgy productions dubbed DEURnis. It just sounds silly – one-on-one theatre!
But they had an idea and they were determined. DEURnis is a one-on-one site-specific theatrical production with a very intimate yet cutting-edge and experimental approach. It involves a single audience member who views three separate dramatic pieces per package (there are four different ones to choose from at Woordfees this year), with each of these having one performer and one audience member.
Each piece is approximately 20 minutes long and written for a particular room/space in a house/building, so as a viewer, you move from one room or even caravan to the next to see your three chosen plays.
It is the social issues that permeate the different works that affect individuals in different ways depending who you are. And for those who aren’t interested in gimmicky theatre, that’s exactly the trap they have avoided by aiming for excellence and substance in the texts. Some will suit specific individuals better than others.
Personally I’m not too excited by the more confrontational ones (there’s usually one that’s slightly more out there in a package), but then other audience members might feel differently.
“We have been inundated by people interested in writing for this venture,” says Johan van der Merwe, who with Rudi Sadler started their production company Theatrerocket a little more than two years ago.
Both theatre fanatics of a kind, they know and understand the pitfalls and what audiences want.
Part of why DEURnis works so well is because it is such a well-executed concept. They understood from the beginning that the control had to be constant to see that everything works superbly. And as they have had many plays to choose from, they have managed to execute their strict code of excellence.
It’s a fascinating experience, being the only one in the room in situations with a stranger telling a story that is often inclusive rather than too intrusive but affects you as the viewer in very specific ways. For many it might also be uncomfortable to be this intimate with someone you’re not familiar with. But if you think about it, it makes it easier that you don’t know the actor.
This is not a financial venture for the company. With only single actors and audience members, the numbers simply don’t add up. But because of the way it has been done, the performance-experience the actors (at this stage mostly young but older actors have joined for this latest venture) accumulate, can’t be calculated.
And chatting to a few of them in-between performances, they are equally thrilled by how much they are learning in the process. “Each performance is different because of the reaction of the individual viewing,” says one performer. Many of them are already in their second play and the growth is obvious in their performances as well as the play’s toughness a second time round.
Prospective directors are also excited about the challenge and safety of testing their skills on such a small and intimate stage. “It’s a safe environment in which to experiment and push your own boundaries,” says Van der Merwe.
Having sat through two nights of 12 plays (even a dance with multi-media included), it doesn’t matter which package you choose. They’re all extremely well crafted and in sometimes scary ways, fun to experience. Following the earlier seasons, I was excited because of the great potential – and they keep delivering.
“We have been inundated by especially writers who find the format exciting and challenging,” says Van der Merwe and they have also expanded their initial idea with a new concept titled DEURnis 20-voor 2.
This time it is two actors with an audience of 20. Described as an unusual site-specific theatre experience, it is aimed at the adventurous theatregoer. “We are exploring the limits of theatre in a creative way,” says Sadler. A ticket gives you access to two pieces, each approximately 45 minutes long.
These will be staged in The Grappa Shed while the one-on-one plays are performed at the Quiver Tree Apartments in Stellenbosch.
From their earliest days, these two theatre aficionados knew what they were doing. They also realised that it wouldn’t be easy and had no romantic visions about making theatre. Theirs is a true passion, almost the only thing that keeps people pushing through the pain.
With DEURnis for example they have found a sponsor but the financial gain for everyone is minimal. Many of the actors though have been spotted and pulled into more lucrative theatre and television work and that is why it probably appeals to a younger performer who can benefit from the experience.
Last year they were rewarded with a kykNET Fiësta and an ATKV-Woordveertjie as well as being nominated for best production at Aardklop. Their other more traditional play, Die reuk van appels with Gideon Lombard was as richly rewarded.
And if I have to pick a favourite from this year’s batch, it would be Ignatius van Heerden and Droom. The dancer/choreographer has done something remarkable with movement and multimedia which easily transports its audience-of-one to another magical world.
That doesn’t detract from many of the others with sassy texts and performances, which will have you intrigued and sometimes intimidated but also excited about the way theatre finds ways to explore new directions which will hopefully appeal to those who don’t go to more traditional theatre – and then show them the way.
Independent theatre maker MoMo Matsunyane is navigating a new way to create and to secure a future in the arts. She tells DIANE DE BEER about her independence and her latest team effort Dick Or Date? which opens at POPart on Thursday:
When exciting young theatre maker MoMo Matsunyane suddenly found herself out of work between March and June 2018, she had time to review her life – and especially her work as an artist.
“This time at home made me think really hard about what it was that I wanted to achieve and how is it that as an honours graduate I was sitting at home not working? It was then that I realised the importance of being in control of my career,” she explains.
She knew she had to make her own future work and sprang into action. This led to the establishment and registering of her own production company, MoMo Matsunyane Productions, and working on a new show Dick Or Date? with Lillian Tshabalala.
“I put out a call on Facebook to write a play with someone really funny. Lillian responded with 10 pages of something she was already working on. I thought it was really funny, so we agreed to grow the text.”
The play is about whether it’s possible to find true love online or not and was first called Dating Online but as the work grew and developed in its own direction, they knew they had a slightly different animal to deal with.
“We realised that when it comes to relationships, it’s really between two choices; is he just Dick or are you going to date? And each has its own challenges!”
Dick Or Date? grew into a dramatic comedy that takes you on a love trip with three close but very different friends: Nelly (a hopeless romantic and social media fanatic), Ashley (a privileged young woman who exclusively dates white men) and Maggie, real name, Magogodi (a sex obsessed serial dater who doesn’t believe in love).
Where does a girl go to find her “perfect man” in this instant world of hook-ups and how does she “put herself out there” without looking too desperate? What would happen if women used all the platforms they had available to them today; to date as extensively as they wanted to without judgement? How does one find love organically when it’s readily available online?
One of the delights of this new process was Matsunyane’s discovery that the process of co-writing was so much better than writing alone. “We broke down the storyline and scenes based on what they should achieve. We would give each other homework and slowly began piecing it all together.
“It’s a hybrid comedy and drama which was great to experience as it came to life but it also kept us on our toes because we couldn’t be precious about the work. If something was not working, we had to cut.”
Working in the arts currently is no easy gig as Matsunyane is experiencing while wearing many different hats to make things work. “The industry isn’t as accessible as we think or hope it to be and in the era of social media, popularity also plays a role in who gets the job.”
She knew however that she didn’t want to find herself without work again especially as a creative. That alone could be her driver. “With time, I (and my company) will get to a point where I can put together a team of people who are just as passionate about art as I am and who will help me grow my dreams.”
But ever practical, she knows that it will take hard work and initiative to make her dreams come true. “It will take care of itself. I’m investing in my future and career.”
And she already has loads of experience behind her with winning productions. “I have been producing my own work with a sketch comedy team. I’m a part of Thenx and TAU which has definitely made me more confident in pursuing independent producing.”
Also, these past experiences have taught her how important it is to own your work. “The gear shift now is that I’m an official institution, registered, so I will be able to explore other opportunities that will take my business as an artist to the next level.”
She has the world to contend with though and in a country where the arts have been side-lined for many different reasons, it’s a tough ask for young artists to navigate this closed terrain. “Art has always been political and we know the role it played in liberating our people from the chains of apartheid. However, we also know what isn’t being done for artists,” she says.
“Funds are constantly being embezzled, young artists don’t have enough opportunities and access to collaborate with mainstream institutions and the industry is still too unregulated, which causes a lot of imbalances in opportunities presented.”
She feels they have a long way to go. “The arts survive through people’s passion. Literally. We are called to perform during rallies and at election times but that’s about it. There is a crisis in the industry and we are still too quiet.”
As independent theatre makers, they have had to rely on smaller independent spaces like Maboneng precinct’s POPArt, Thembisa’s TX Theatre and Alexandra’s Olive Tree Theatre to stage our new and experimental work. “I have created a great working relationship with all these spaces and POPArt was more than happy to house us for our debut,” she says thankfully.
“We want the piece to spark critical conversations around sex and relationships. The private becomes public. It’s like having a window into the lives of three young women and how they navigate the dating world in today’s fast paced and technologically advanced society.”
Performed by Lillian Tshabalala, Kitty Moepang and MoMo Matsunyane, Dick or Date? plays onThu 21st Feb 8pm • Fri 22nd Feb 8pm • Sat 23rd Feb 8pm • Sun 24th Feb 3:30pm at POPart.
MUSICIANS AND SINGERS: Bryan Mtsweni, Ezbie Moilwa, Mpho Kodisang
Smanga Ngubane, Sam Ibeh
VENUE: John Kani Theatre at the Market
DATES: Until February 24
With Artistic Director James Ngcobo’s tradition of commemorating Black History Month, his pick of this play starring mainly women is, as Nina Simone so aptly said, about “an artist’s responsibility to reflect the times”.
With the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements in everyone’s consciousness (or it should be) the Simone-driven play is a clever choice with a cast of powerful young actors strutting the stage.
And even halfway into the run, the theatre is packed with a young (mainly black) audience and they’re enraptured and engaged as these women speak to them with great gusto.
It’s not for the lily-livered because in the main, women haven’t had a voice and black women especially were never invited to speak their mind and tell their stories.
It’s their time and it’s like its all spilling out with an anger that’s palpable but covering a pain that so’s deep and so sore, it breaks your heart while listening.
When Simone slips into a quiet moment and opens her heart about her own experience of living in a world that seems to hate and discard her, it’s like an open wound she exposes to everyone willing to look more closely.
On September 16, 1963, the day after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Simone shifted her career from artist to artist–activist. This is where the play begins, in the church with riots outside and the pain of four little girls killed in hatred etched on everyone’s mind. She is writing a song when three diverse women enter and engage about their lives as black women.
But so deep is the self-hatred and lack of confidence, they turn not only on those who mean them harm but also on each other as they compare shades of skin colour and the intent with which each lives her life.
Interwoven with much talk is Simone’s haunting music dominated by Mississippi Goddam, Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair and closing with the obvious Four Women, the song from which the women in the play were drawn.
And it is this mix that moves in and out of the consciousness. While the songs complete the conversations of the women, they are more contemplative if heart-breaking before the next storm unleashes as the women twist and turn in their tension and anguish of years of abuse punctuated by the current attack.
It is a sparse set by Nadya Cohen yet effective in its symbolic power and the women are encouraged to fill the stage, which they do with great abandon. Ncgobo obviously wanted them to embrace their power in this moment – and they do.
The performances are sometimes uneven, Lurayi perhaps hampered by capturing the Simone kinetic energy, but she soars in the quieter moments and in song. It is quite a presence that she has to establish, and the deep timbre of her voice works in her favour. Mvelase, the most comfortable on stage, inhabits her Aunt Sarah, a domestic worker, with quiet dignity, while the young Dlamini is passionate in her rebellion.
Then comes the abrasive whirlwind Monyane Skenjana to perform in the person of an unapologetic prostitute who believes in disarming if not disabling before an offensive can begin. It’s a tough performance to catch but in the mix, it brings the chaos of their lives into sharper focus and adds some light relief to what could become too much to witness and bear.
Cushioning all that is the piano playing of Brian Motsweni supported by a trio of other musicians and two singers, all adding to the depth of the soundtrack. Other sounds like the sudden rush of the riot don’t get the balance right and while the two singers worked well as they sat to the side, the look was confusing. Perhaps they would have slotted in more smoothly as part of the musos rather than characters, but not quite.
Quibbles aside, the importance of the production, what is said and who is saying it, right now, taking into account what is swirling around in the world currently, this is a majestic production.
Theatre is struggling more than ever with little help from anywhere. Even newspapers, their traditional support, are dwindling with less and less art reporting. Yet the audience who were there to look and listen, were predominantly young and black, probably the most sought-after demographic.
Showman Nataniël is embarking on what he calls the second phase of his career with quite a few tricks up his sleeve. He tells DIANE DE BEER about his future plans:
It took only four phone calls, says Nataniël, to cut his salary by half but this drastic measure was necessary for him to get things going in a different fashion.
It’s always been part of his strategy, not to keep doing the same things all the time. Leave before they’re tired and start something completely different. “I am not going to do anything that I’m not in control of any longer,” he says hence all the changes. And money is no longer a driving force.
As someone who prefers being the one responsible for something he does, whether good or bad, he says it is time out for projects where he is involved with egos bigger than the talent. “It’s not that I am all-powerful, just tired of all the bull!”
“I am back to earning all my money in my own head,” he notes, but he’s used to creating his own world and then sharing it with the rest of us.
He and his assistant Nicolaas Swart are currently in Nantes, France (arriving back this week) where his most recent four-season television series (Die Edik van Nantes with his bro which also evolved into his latest cook/lifestyle-book released just before Christmas) was shot, and while this is a well-earned break, it is also a time to scout for new ideas with his brother-in-arms Erik le Roux who lives in Nantes.
“We love working together, so we will come up with something new,” says Nataniël, who has just started his own YouTube channel, something which is part of his plans but will also prevent one of his huge irritations, people randomly posting show videos or unwanted clips of him on the popular channel. “Once you have your own channel, you can remove any illegal ones,” he says joyously.
He will also be shooting a music video for this platform while in France, the first he has made in 20 years. “We’re going to do it with cell phones,” he says, and it will be a short art film with music rather than a traditional music video.
Importantly, he will be focusing on finding creative outlets that make him happy. What he has discovered in especially Nantes, a creative city, is that he has been allowed to film and introduce basically anything to his local audience. “There’s a pride and a generosity which makes everything accessible and it is such a pleasure to work in a hassle-free environment.”
On the performance side locally, he starts his year on a new platform called Optog (March). The brainchild of producer/pianist Matthys Maree, it is described as one huge concert tour on wheels travelling through the whole of the country and beyond, running from February 14 until December with artists like Nataniël, Karen Zoid, Jo Black, Laurika Rauch, Coenie de Villiers and Deon Meyer, Vicky Sampson and Corlea Botha, all on a musical note with a few theatre productions also going on the road. Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Rustenburg, Polokwane, Welkom, Sasolburg, Kroonstad, Bloemfontein, Kimberley, Durbanville, Port Elizabeth, East-Londen, Potchefstroom, Durban, Windhoek and Swakopmund are all on the map.
“I am visiting rural towns I have never been to,” says Nataniël, one of our best travelled artists locally – and something he will again do more of in the future. He will be performing in three shows: Nataniël Gesels (talks) where he will be presenting one of his famous talks in theatres, something he tested at the end of last year for the first time; Nataniël Unplugged accompanied by Charl du Plessis, which is a more intimate version of his larger shows; and Four Loud People with his full band, the Charl du Plessis Trio and representative of his shows compiled of stories and songs in both English and Afrikaans.
Check out the website for more info and dates (www.optog.co.za) and hold thumbs for their plans to give new life to existing performance sites and halls in the platteland which might generate more platforms for artists everywhere.
In April he will be presenting a show at Artscape titled Anthems. And we’re not talking national flags or such like here! Nataniël describes it as “songs that singers claim as their personal anthems”. It will be in the style of his classical concerts of the past two years and he can be viewed as songs for grownups. “The songs usually represent an era, a life or an event,” he explains, “but anthems can also be attached to movies.” And he will be showcasing a few of his own.
Later in the year he will return to Emperor’s where he has been performing annually for just short of two decades taking a break last year and this time the run is planned to play almost like 12 individual concerts. As always with Nataniël, what that means exactly will only become clear once we see the latest spectacular extravaganza so much a part of his annual showcase.
For the first time he is also in the throes of writing an original book. “I have written many, but these have always been compiled from either columns or my show catalogues,” he says. This is something different, a kind of memoir, and more than that he isn’t willing to reveal, only that it will be published in both English and Afrikaans and this is the first time he has sat down and written an original book. He’s excited but also nervous while working hard on a Nataniël voice that works as well on paper as in performance.
On the food side, he will do a few kitchen demos – usually presented at the Atterbury Theatre in Pretoria and booked out as soon as the announcements are made – but much more than that he hopes to avoid. “When you have just finished a cookbook, food is the last thing on your mind,” he says, although his Nataniël Collection (food and kitchen products and tableware) in Checkers is going to be expanded and has been doing well around the country. They will be appearing in every shop and he is hoping to add a few new products, something he always enjoys doing.
And in private time, he will be battling cell phones (mainly in shows) and plastic. “Botswana has banned single-use plastic! Surely, we can too. What makes us so special that we keep destroying the planet?”
He argues that nothing usually comes from the top and a minor anti-plastic violence in shop queues, isn’t a bad thing. “Little old ladies should just hit those using plastic bags with their handbags,” he says. “They can get away with it.”
“It’s not that anyone listens to me, but to remain silent isn’t an option any longer.”
Author/poet/storyteller Chris van Wyk wrote for the people, telling stories about his people, but he also had a deeply serious side, an intellectual one that couldn’t ignore what was seriously unjust and wrong in the world he found himself in.
His family surrounded him with love and laughter which allowed him to get more from life than the colour of his skin encouraged him to do in the Apartheid years – and he grabbed on to life with gusto. Van Wyk used his abilities to share the lot of his people probably as much a balm to his own being as to those who read his extraordinary words.
Many will know him for arguably his most loved book Shirley Goodness and Mercy, a memoir which best captured the way a family laughed and cried together to hold themselves apart yet together in a cruel Apartheid world.
But what this script and show do so spectacularly is showcase Van Wyk’s poetry which might not be as familiar to audiences as his family and community featured in his memoirs.
It is in the poetry that he magnificently portrays his mother (The Laughter of my Mother), holds his wife’s impact on his life up for scrutiny, and then sharply looks at the lay of the political land with the horrifyingly haunting In Detention – the best kept for last.
It is in that melding together of the happy and the horrifying that Van Wyk becomes clearly and colourfully defined by his friend Zane Meas whose love of acting was first fuelled when he performed in a play based on one of the author’s short stories.
His love and knowledge of the writer is clear from the script, the way he has decided to tell the story with a lovingness that is hard to describe and shines through also in the performance.
Meas is masterful in his portrayal of Van Wyk and even if you didn’t know they were friends, you know that what you see on stage is the essence of the man in all his colourful cheerfulness even at the end when he reluctantly has to leave his family.
It is his spirit that lives on in his words, the way he views and explains his world, how he has you laugh, yet with a sadness at a life ended too soon. “We know the end,” says Meas both at the start and the end.
And while the title says The Storyteller…, Meas is able to direct the writing in a way that tells you who this man was, how he lived his life, the empathy he exudes because of the family he grew up in, and the people he chose to have in his life. And then he shared these insights with the world.
He achieves what many writers can only dream of. His way with words is extraordinary but it is also accessible, something not easily done. He has both a common touch and the ability to appeal to the intellect as he plays with words and ideas without fear even in this country’s darkest days.
These were the things that touched him, the unfairness of it all, which he realised at a young age and the way his parents and granny engaged with his world and showed him a way out of the mess that surrounded him growing up.
He found his salvation in words and when wondering what impact he has had on his world, words are what start stumbling out and for those listening, an awareness that there is so much wisdom lost from this voice silenced too soon.
Meas is determined to honour his legacy and with his friend/colleague Christo Davids as both director and designer, they have pulled a rabbit from their theatrical hat. It could have been just another storytelling nostalgic trip and with Van Wyk speaking his mind, that would have been enough.
They have, however, elevated this performance with loving care and in the detail of the script, performance, design and direction.
The design shows that they started out with a clear picture in mind, helped by the short-hand between two actors who have a working life together on stage, know what each of them can achieve and then pushing way beyond those goalposts.
Davids worked the solo show as much as he can (pushing too hard once or twice with an ending that is overly-dramatic and must go) creating his own book of stories on stage, which allowed Meas a freedom to focus on the man and what every word he wrote or spoke, meant.
It helps when you’re intimately involved with the individual you’re trying to explore because in this instance it encouraged them to show the inner workings of Van Wyk’s soul. They’ve put together a life filled with love in words and pictures.
If you can’t make it now, watch out for this one because it should (and will, I’m sure) travel, and while this is a homage by friends, they have truly done justice to the wordsmith Chris van Wyk.
If you want to rush out to discover more of his writing, you know they have found the key. It is some of the director and actor’s finest work.
Into the second month of 2019 and things are pumping at Joburg’s Market Theatre where artistic director James Ngcobo has staged Nina Simone Four Women to celebrate Black History Month with this South African premiere. He speaks to DIANE DE BEER about his future plans in this, his second term, at this iconic theatre:
For James Ngcobo, Nina Simone Four Women written by Christina Ham, one of a quartet of hot female playwrights in the US currently, means many different things. Presented in conjunction with the US Mission in SA, he believes strongly in staging this kind of work which forms part of the Market’s 6th annual commemoration of Black History Month.
It’s all about the message, telling the story and the four actresses on stage who will be portraying different aspects of Nina Simone, as the title indicates. “The play is based on four characters Simone created in a song,” explains Ngcobo who sees this as an exploration of the landscape of women.
It was Nina Simone who said: “Music can’t just be about the art, but it has to be an expression of the good, bad and ugly in life.” A staunch activist in the Civil Rights Movement in the ‘60s, she wrote songs that told stories of people she observed in everyday life. It is because of that truth that her music still resonates so strongly today, argues Ngcobo.
On September 16, 1963, the day after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Simone’s career shifted from artist to artist/activist because she believed as an artist it was her responsibility to reflect the times. And in this sacred place, four little girls lost their lives.
Nina Simone Four Women is set in the sadness of the church and also uses the framework of one of Simone’s most blistering songs Four Women to portray a quartet of women who suffered from self-hatred due to the different shades of their skin. As if being black in those times in that place wasn’t damning enough, they further judged themselves on the light- or darkness of their skin.
It’s also about the conversations between the four women. It’s about who they are, how they fight the battle, how they escape for solace – and in the background lingers the death of four little girls. For Ngcobo, this story from the past reverberates with the racism of our time.
“Nina made a choice when she started speaking out. She knew that talking about some of the things she did was to the detriment of her career, but that’s what she had to do,” he notes. And like her songs, this play is also all about storytelling. “That’s why her music still has impact today,” he says.
His cast includes Busi Lurayi as Nina (who brought a flippancy to her audition that caught the director’s eye), Lerato Mvelase (who starred in Colour Purple and King Kong, as Auntie Sarah who is only interested in her livelihood, daily washing and ironing), Mona Monyane Skenjana (who was part of his Coloured Museum cast and he’s been wanting to work with again) and Noxolo Dlamini (representing youth and thus hope) as the four women in the title. There’s also a young piano player representing Simone’s brother who tinkles away in the background – as well as two extra singers.
Nina Simone Four Women is staged in the main, John Kani Theatre until February 24, while storytelling of another kind is playing in the Mannie Manim Theatre.
Van Wyk the Storyteller of Riverlea was created and is performed by well-known South African actor Zane Meas and directed by Christo Davids. These two have a previous links with Van Wyk as they both played in Janice Honeyman’s 2008 adaptation of Shirley, Goodness and Mercy which performed to full houses at the Market Theatre. This is the 5th time that they will be working together on stage in a partnership that spans over 12 years.
Anyone who has read Van Wyk’s books will know that he was foremost a storyteller. This particular piece explores his influences as a poet, as political activist and writer, his family life and his tragic battle with cancer. It is an homage to his humour, political values and storytelling abilities, all of which add texture to the piece and insight into the writer’s life. (see review).
In the Barney Simon Theatre Nailed will premiere from February 8 to March 3. The production is sponsored by the Department of Arts and Culture’s Incubation Fund, aimed at assisting emerging practitioners to hone their skills from amateur to professional status.
If you want to tell the naked truth about post-apartheid South Africa, better do it through fiction believes The Market’s artistic director. Author Niq Mhlongo has long been a Ngcobo favourite and he believes he masters his art brilliantly.
His latest work, Soweto Under the Apricot Tree is a collection of short stories about contemporary Soweto, Johannesburg and South Africa and the one that caught Ngcobo’s attention. The stories are an account of township life with commentary on post-apartheid South Africa still grappling with many of the issues emanating from our past. “Every township house always had an apricot tree,” reminisces Ngcobo.
It is a story about abuse of political power, infidelity and violence. It deals with corrupt, greedy and selfish politicians who are in the business not for the people but for self aggrandisement and personal gain.
This country knows better than many how behavior impacts on the lives of ordinary people and how it affects the morale of a country. That’s why this one will be fun to watch with an engaged audience as well as writing that comes alive on stage.
Nailed is directed by Luthando Mngomezulu, who was responsible for Isithunzi, the 2017 Zwakala Festival winner, and the cast includes Aya Mpama, Khulu Skenjana, Katlego Letsholonyane, Lunga Khuhlane, Nyaniso Dzedze and Zesuliwe Hadebe.
Other exciting plays to watch out for is a reworking of Tsafendasby by playwright Anton Krueger starring Renos Nicos Spanoudes and directed by the exciting Jade Bowers, who will add fresh and young perspective; in Exit/Exist, dancer/choreographer Gregory Maqoma takes inspiration from his ancestral past as he blends storytelling with his powerful dance vocabulary and dynamic live music in this moving solo performance with live musicians. It’s an examination of race, political power, and the melding of past and present. (Also watch out for a return of the haunting Cion – inspired by the Zakes Mda book -which will be staged in September to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary.
There’s also a lot of buzz around the new John Kani play which deals with the relationship between a dying white actor (Anthony Sher) and his black nurse (John Kani) directed by Kani stalwart Janice Honeyman which will be staged in the latter half of the year. The Baxter’s production of Strindberg’s The Goat starring the powerful combination of Jennifer Steyn and Andrew Buckland directed by Mdu Kweyana will also be staged.
Times may be tough, but theatre is as always inspired.
An art exhibition is often exciting not only because of the creativity but also the idea that holds the project. Jan Coetzee’s Books & Bones & other things is an example of just that kind of imagination:
DIANE DE BEER
From the beginning of time, individuals have at some stage of their lives questioned the meaning of life in some way.
It makes sense that a man who has spent his whole working life in academia, studying and researching, would use these tools to question his own life – and thus began what has turned into an exhibition, Books & Bones & other things, which Mark Read of Everard Read Gallery invited academic/artist Prof Jan Coetzee to present for the month of February in CIRCA.
Jan Coetzee started his career at the University of South Africa; later became Professor of Sociology at the University of the (Orange) Free State (1979‑1986); and then moved to Rhodes University (1987‑2010) as Professor and Head of Department. In 2011 he returned to the University of the Free State as Senior Professor of Sociology where he initiated and directs the programme: The narrative study of lives.
Within this research programme, he became interested in books as documents of life. “Throughout my life I’ve always been attracted to old texts – maybe not surprising given the fact that I did classical Greek and Sociology as majors for a BA. Together with my interest in narratives, I’ve also been playing around for years with sculpting,” he explains.
In short, he says, he put together almost 60 installations of “bookworks” consisting of old texts combined with found and sculpted objects. Most of these are enclosed in acrylic museum cases. “The object of this whole exercise is to attempt a reading of these aesthetically pleasing old texts – all of them old and many of them written in closed languages such as Latin, old German, old Slavic, etc.
“The installations attempt to unwrap/open the meaning of this collection of old texts: to try to hear what they are telling us today.”
As an academic he has thoroughly explained this complicated yet fascinating exhibition which would appeal to both scholars and the lay public.
“From the very beginning, humans have been living in storytelling societies. The earliest recordings of our stories are found in art and artefacts, and later on, in documents — the predecessors of what we call ’books‘.”
Books & Bones & Other Things is thus a dialogue with a collection of books serendipitously encountered across Europe and South Africa. What started as a collection developed into a project to make the author’s own life, as well as life in general, more intelligible to himself and to others, he believes – and hopes.
The books in the collection are old texts which have considerable aesthetic appeal which originated from and bear witness to the actions, intentions, motivations, joys and hopes, as well as the fears and sufferings of human beings.
Each text, he says, narrates a story. But as his process developed, he realised that our ability to hear what they are trying to say is undermined: most are written in old, inaccessible languages which meant that Coetzee could not merely present these books as is.
And this is where interpretation came into play. He needed to find a way to retell the stories, to break them open and even subvert traditional narrative conventions by presenting them in a way that conjures up new stories in his mind and – hopefully – the minds of his ‘readers’.
This is when he began critically inquiring into the aims, context, and content of these books by systematically engaging with the title pages of the texts.
“Only the title pages,” he underlines. It meant that without studying the rest of the texts and without examining the meaning of the inside pages, he set out re-imagining the texts by recalling stories from his own life and readings.
He also initiated conversations between the different books so that the individual stories would resound more emphatically.
The bookworks, he says, explore the historical development of society and its structures — religion, colonialism, imperialism, racism, language, identity and time — all steeped in Western thought and tradition. “This I relate to the books themselves, and to the sculptures and the religious and cultural artefacts that accompany them.”
Coming to terms with yet another phenomenon of our time, an acknowledgement that in these European texts the voices of indigenous peoples are silent and their values, laws, and cosmologies — their very lives — are largely discounted. He emphasises this in the use of sculls and chains for example. “What survives all individual authors, all human remembering and forgetting, I show in prehistoric fossils — a knowledge in the bones.”
He compares the results to a small private library in an ordinary family home which reflects something of the family. This collection of documents he feels, uncovers and reveals something of his own roots as it resonates with wider social, cultural, and historical refrains.
“I cannot think of a more accomplished scholar of stories, or the narrative study of lives, than Jan Coetzee who in this ground-breaking book demands a reckoning with all those stories, of ourselves and others entangled in this post-1994 dance. This attempt at excavating the ‘knowledge in the bones’ is truly an exceptional piece of scholarship by Coetzee and an outstanding set of authors and should be required reading not only for sociologists but story-tellers and -listeners across the disciplines. It is the curriculum we desperately need.”
This is the recommendation of Jonathan Jansen, former Rector and Vice-Chancellor at the University of the Free State of Coetzee’s book which is at the centre of this exhibition.
The exhibition will end on February 28 with an endowment auction of these bookworks – conducted by Strauss and Co – the proceeds going to Kim Berman’s Artist Proof Studio and William Kentridge’s Centre for the Less Good Idea. The exhibition/auction consists of the almost 60 bookworks/installations that form the basis of a book Books & Bones & Other Things published by Sun Press in 2018.
The performance year kicks off in grand style with the US Woordfees, the first of the country’s arts festivals. DIANE DE BEER highlights some of the theatrical diversity in the programme of the Stellenbosch-based festival:
In her welcome foreword to this year’s festival guide, Director of the Woordfees, Saartjie Botha, points to the political dilemma in the country and how that sometimes detracts from the art festivals. But she’s optimistic. “The world of the arts is a gentler place,” she says.“It is confrontational sometimes – and it should be, but it is a world focussed on humanity. And finally creates understanding and empathy for that humanity.”
The University of Stellenbosch Woordfees, the annual arts festival with books as its heartbeat, runs from March 1 to 10 with a programme that has grown through the years and theatre arguably the one that has benefited most – and it needs that more than ever right now. But so do the audiences to get them thinking and talking. Right or wrong, arts festivals have become a lifeline for artists, and for many, one of the few times they have the opportunity to exercise their craft.
Apart from an extensive discourse programme which covers anything from the state of the nation to financial health as well as many book and author-related discussions, their entertainment and arts reach is an embracing one with fine arts, music (classical, jazz and pop), film, stand-up as well children’s theatre all given a strong platform. And added to that is WOW (Words Open Worlds), an empowerment project focussing on the youth of previously disadvantaged communities, which also includes the largest spelling competition in the country sponsored by Sanlam.
Theatre lovers will know that they must add the Woordfees to their calendar with a programme that this year especially sets the benchmark for the rest of the country and times ahead. It is a festival that benefits from its university connection as well as a community that supports the arts and has a strong cultural understanding. But it has also broadened its reach which has meant that its artistic offering has extraordinary depth and variety and that’s exciting. Diversity in the arts – especially in this country – is the only way to go.
Director Saartjie Botha sets the tone with a piece that is branded both comedy and drama titled Toutjies en Ferreira with two directors, Wolfie Britz and Nicole Holm and a cast to die for, including Frank Opperman, Anthea Thompson, Aphiwe Livi, Malan Steyn, Melanie Scholtz and Antoinette Kellerman. If you have ever wondered about the backstage chaos an hour before the show starts at a festival, this is a rare glimpse into that world bolstered by drama and delicious comedy.
And launching into the stratosphere, extraordinary theatre maker Brett Bailey debuts with a new work, Samson, described as dance-musical theatre based on the Old Testament values of domination, treason and rebellion yet set in today’s world of political extremism, inequality, expatriation and violence. In the spotlight are opera, choirs, animation and electronic music and the vibe promises the brilliant theatre maker is anarchistic.
He explains that Samson brings the Old Testament story crashing into the 21st century, setting the myth of love, betrayal, ethnic tensions and violent revenge within our complex era. “I’ve been working on the piece for around 18 months, so it has been a very thorough process. I’m blessed to be working with some stellar collaborators: Vincent Mantsoe as choreographer, and Shane Cooper as composer. With a live band playing a very contemporary electronic score, huge projections, and some great voices and performers, we aim to deliver something very special.” Prospective audiences should take note.
In classical vein Sylvaine Strike follows last year’s inspired Sam Shepard with Beckett’s Endgame with Antoinette Kellerman, Andrew Buckland, Rob van Vuuren and Soli Philander. It has already had a sold-out season at the Baxter with Strike unleashing her magic with powerhouse performances as she dissects the playwright’s exploration of relationships between the controllers and the controlled. Her interpretations are unique, from this time and dealing with the human condition.
Director Marthinus Basson is a name with immediate appeal and with Antjie Krog’s Mi(SA)- Die Nuwe Verbond – ‘n Misorde vir die Universum (The New Covenant – a Disorder for the Universe) and a cast of singers that includes Amanda Strydom, Cecilia Rangwanasha (soprano), Makudupanyane Senaoana (tenor), Ané Pretorius (harpsichord), Erik Dippenaar (piano) and the Cape Town Opera Choir, fireworks are predicted. It is a complex thing (a Basson trait), with a trio of works, the Missa Luba, the Missa Criola and Krog’s new work with music by Antoni Schonken in conversation with the established and celebrated works.Basson pulls it all together with a blend of rites and liturgy to create a contemporary South African soundstage predominantly in Afrikaans but also adding many tongues like Greek, Latin, English, Xhosa and Khoisan words. The choir also brings depth to the texture with individuals telling their own stories and where they come from.
Other English productions include Carpets, a text which first surfaced at last year’s third Text Market initiated by Hugo Theart from Kunste Onbeperk (KKNK). With the help of the Baxter (which hosts the event) as well as NATI (National AfrikaansTheatre Iniative), new texts are constantly being developed and evaluated with some selected to be further developed and staged at the different festivals. At the last Market CEO of the Baxter Theatre Lara Foot added R100 000 to the sponsorship which was matched by NATI for 2019 with the intent of expanding the Text Market to include Xhosa texts in addition to Afrikaans and English. She stressed the importance of developing new voices – and also exposure of the different cultures to one another.And whileJenine Collocott; Carpets wasn’t one of the winning texts, it was selected for a performance at the Text Market where it has benefitted from that exposure. Playwright and director Caitlin Wiggil has written an intriguing story about an agoraphobic woman unable to leave her house because of an earlier trauma.
Two playwrights who were rewarded with writer’s bursaries will be presenting plays: Herschelle Benjamin with Slavenhuis39 explores what it means to be a person of colour while Du Toit Albertze homes in on a young transgender woman who returns to her birthplace in Klip Kween to investigate her past. She sacrifices her last bit of sanity to go back to Namakwaland to reclaim her innocence from the local pastor. “The narrative becomes just as blurred as the characters’ morality when the pastor’s new victim becomes intertwined in this Christmas play-like tragedy,” explains the playwright.
“Director Jason (Jacobs) and I strive to honour the sisters before us, the daughters of District Six. Also to remind the ‘ooms en tannies’ of transgender existence and exposing the trans- and homophobic religious leaders still abusing their power.”. It’s important that all of this be talked about. “There are too many of us who hide away like vampires. Hopefully these stories will kick some of them out of the closets!”
Both of these young playwrights are worth checking out. It is early in their writing careers, but they have already made their mark as they tell stories that open new worlds.Another transgender story titled Rokkie showcases a 48 year old transgender woman from the Cape Flats, and is the solo debut of Charlton George, an actor with extraordinary talents; while Craig Morris returns with one of his breathtaking performances in Greig Coetzee’s Johnny Boskak is Feeling Funny.
It’s also going to be fascinating watching James Cairns switch to Afrikaans in his solo show Dirt (which he has translated as Stof), directed by Jenine Collocott, who is also in charge of the family-orientated clown show Babbelagtig with an extraordinary comedy ensemble with Jemma Kahn, Roberto Pombo, De Klerk Oelofse, Dean Bailie, Klara van Wyk, Thami Baba and David Viviers.
Marching in step is the Gerrit Schoonhoven-directed two-hander with partners Elize Cawood and Wilson Dunster in Narkose (Anesthesia). Two old clowns, Koos and Koos, are down and out but determined the show must go on. This talented trio have a way of sprinkling fairy dust whenever on stage, even when they gently let rip with the truth. Louis Roux, a young playwright, is helping with the text.
And finally, with a title like GodgOdgoD it’s hard to resist. It has already reaped some rewards with a cast as versatile as Charlton George, Ilana Cilliers and Wolf Britz. Described as experimental, language isn’t the star as the company explores identity, who we are, where we come from and exploding the myths and theories that want to determine the way we live.
That’s only a handful, a starting point especially if English theatre is more accessible at this mainly Afrikaans festival. But do yourself a favour, go online and have a look at their programme which is also available in English. Be prepared to be overwhelmed. It is a staggering offering from the arts in all its glorious diversity.