Pictures: The Sjokoladeshow and Koekeloer: Wendy van Heerden
With Theatrerocket in panic mode as three national festivals run almost at the same time, Rudi Sadler and Johan van der Merwe have all their theatre ducks in a row – as they always have. DIANE DE BEER checks their many productions in debut seasons at Innibos in Mbombela and at the Free State Festival in Bloemfontein starting this week:
The names of actress Sandra Prinsloo and director Lara Foot in the same sentence? That’s already a coup!
Then you give them a text adapted by Cecilia du Toit from Francois Smith’s fictionalised Kamphoer and Nico Moolman’s non- fiction Camp Whore, dealing with the life of Susan Nell – and you have fireworks.
Kamphoer which debuts in the Free State plays out against the backdrop of the South African War (Anglo Boer War, 1899 – 1902) where Susan Nell is raped in the Winburg concentration camp and left for dead. She is found by a black couple who gently nurse her back to life and from there she travels to the Cape and finds her way to Europe where she is trained as a psychologist. That’s in broad brush strokes.
During World War 1, she works at a psychiatric institution in England where she crosses paths with one of her rapists, who is suffering from a post-war condition that was then labelled as shellshock.
This year, 2019, is the 120th anniversary of the South African War and the production is about honouring that devastating period.
It is produced by Theatrerocket whose first solo production Die Reuk Van Appels (starring Gideon Lombard and directed by Lara Bye) was showered with awards for everyone involved. The anticipation for this one is quite something – and it is perhaps with some gentle breathing that they welcome this Free State debut.
For those not visiting the festival, this is a production that will travel. Make a note.
But with much more laughter in mind, their other two productions offer much lighter fare with debuts at Innibos (from June 26 to 29) before racing to the Free State Festival (July 1 – 7).
Die Sjokoladeshow is something Johan van der Merwe came up with while visiting the Drakensberg, eating chocolate fondue and thinking that they had never done a chocolate show. It can absolutely be as random as that.
In conversation with author Riana Scheepers, they decided to invite a clutch of writers to come up with some sketches which would be selected for a show – which after much whittling down was exactly what happened.
Into the picture step a quartet of artists: director/writer Henriëtta Gryffenberg, actors Lizz Meiring and Jak de Priester and musical director Heinrich Pelser.
“I love the different stories,” says Gryffenberg. They range from drama, to comedy, monologues, storytelling and two songs that celebrate the sweet- and sadness of love. “Each item has its own colour and scent and leaves me with food for thought,” she reminisces.
“I wanted to do an escapist show as balm to these tough times. I didn’t want politics of the day to intrude. I wanted to work with themes of relationships between parents and children as well as men and women. I also wanted to explore the exile of the outsider because these are all issues that I believe are currently neglected.”
Talking about her team, she praises Meiring as the theatrical trooper. “Her enthusiasm and energy are catching. She eats, lives and breathes theatre and her interpretations stretch from a 20-something nun to a 60-year plus woman who rants about her mother’s moral messages.”
Situated on the opposite end of the acting spectrum, this is De Priester’s debut as actor. A successful singer and performer, the stage is also his home, but this has a different slant. “We had to turn him into an actor in 15 rehearsal sessions,” explains Gryffenberg. “He pulled it off and I didn’t think it would be possible! I think many of his admirers will be amazed at his performance.”
She also has high praise for her music man. “He is musical magic,” she says. His understanding of her needs was spot-on and his live soundtrack extraordinary without being overpowering in a theatre landscape. He also performs with aplomb.
For Gryffenberg, from putting together the text to ensure a dramatic arc, to the Johan Engelbrecht set to getting stuck into a stage production, was both tough and thrilling. In conclusion she celebrates that Die Sjokoladeshow is a confluence of many talents which will now be revealed at the two art festivals.
And last (but not least), it was time for Theatrerocket to dip their toe into farce territory with a production titled Koekeloer! And for this first effort, they were determined to get all the pieces of the puzzle to fit perfectly.
The story deals with the popular kykNET cooking show Koekedoor, familiar territory for audiences. Playwright Braam van der Vyver, familiar with farce, got together with the two producers and together they believe they have concocted the perfect comedy plot.
Two finalists, Marié Coleské, a spinster from Koekenaap and Marié Kok, a lingerie model from Ruimsig have to battle this particular baking bulge with cunning conniving and some half-baked plans.
Also introduce a clumsy crook and a private detective, a jealous boxing champion, a lingerie designer (of course!), a dominee, a controversial book and an upside-down cake. That’s farce.
The cast includes many of the more experienced players from DEURnis with the bonus of veteran actor Gavin van den Berg as the fallible preacher.
This is one dish which they are determined will deliver in all its deliciousness. Fingers crossed for no load shedding in case the cake flops!
So get thee to the theatre at either Innibos in Mbombela or at the Free State Festival in Bloemfontein. If you’re in Grahamstown, see the DEURnis/Uzwelo season.