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WITNESS REVIEWS (article first published : 2005-09-20)

Reviewers: Bill Bizley, Stephen Coan, Peter Mitchell, David Pike, Caroline Smart, Janet van Eeden and Margaret von Klemperer

Art: The "art" in question in Yasmina Reza's hit play is an expensive canvas painted entirely white. A modish piece by a fashionable artist around which the long friendship of three men Marc (Themi Venturas), Serge (Darren King) and Yvan (Michael Gritten) - falters. The white canvas proceeds, metaphorically, to get very messy as the rifts in the relationship of the three friends are thrown into bold relief raising the question: do humans behave out of their own authenticity or according to the expectations others have of them? Reza's dissection of this debate is offset by some sparkling dialogue and laugh-out-loud comedy - this is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? done as Men Behaving Badly. Thought-provoking and funny, though whether Reza's play is itself art or artifice, I'm not quite sure. SC

Boston Marriage: Sharp, sophisticated comedy in which David Mamet neatly turns the comedy of manners genre on its head. Anna and Claire (Clare Mortimer and Belinda Henwood) live together in a "Boston marriage" - a Victorian euphemism for the kind of relationship society preferred to ignore - with the wheels of domesticity oiled by their servant (Janna Ramos-Violante). But things come unstuck when Claire needs help to seduce a young woman while Anna is accepting valuable gifts from a male lover in order to pay the bills. It's all here - the social comment, the flawed characters, the wit and the shock value of contemporary coarseness proceeding from elegant figures and all on the neat set the piece shares with Art. You need to concentrate to catch the nuances, but it's a great piece of theatre. - MvK

KZNPO in Concert: Full marks to the KZNPO for enduring a gruelling drive from Durban (major blockage on the freeway) and so a late start, and for coping with the tragic sudden deaths of two of its members in one week. Thus, their first item in this Tchaikovsky programme was changed at short notice from the Eugene Onegin Polonaise to the Elegy from the Serenade for Strings in memory of violinist Carol Muir. This was followed by the 2nd and 3rd movements of the Violin Concerto (with soloist Elena Kerimova), the 1st movement of the spectacular 1st Piano Concerto (soloist Christopher Duigan), and a "pop" but handsomely-performed selection from the Nutcracker Suite. A treat for the ear. - DP

Frank&Stein: This lively spoof on the old tale of Dr Frankenstein and his creation is well worth its revival, although some of what was innovative a decade and more ago seems less so now as other performers have latched onto it. And the incredibly disciplined mayhem of Ellis Pearson and David Dennis is in the different and occasionally more formless hands of Ben Voss and John van de Ruit, although director Murray McGibbon keeps pretty tight control on this mix of mime and slapstick. It is still fun, with Anthony Stonier playing a clever and updated score while chaos reigns around him and Voss remarkably managing to make the poor old monster a poignant creation. - MvK

Concert 3: Ikusasa Lethu: Patricia Opondo has put together a very good formula for making traditional African music accessible to an audience who have only an hour of festival time. The dance excerpts from various parts of Africa are thoroughly researched, yet the students throw themselves into each piece to give it its due sense of occasion. I suspect there is a little more belly-writhing and hip-rocking than ever went with pure tradition, but the students never bluff that they are anything else but modern young people paying court to a timeless culture. Highlight for me was Zandile Akosi singing to that quietest and most touching of indigenous instruments, the umakhweyana gourd bow (crafted for the school by Brother Clement Sithole). Her intonation could penetrate without ever drowning the ethereal tinkle of this almost extinct instrument. - WHB

Attachments: This piece is not exactly physical theatre nor is it dance, but is a dramatic and insightful marriage of the two forms. Its subject matter is also marriage, or more generally, relationships. Two dancers at the top of their craft trace a relationship from the exquisite delight of first love to the stage where the slow drip of mundanity begins to breed - if not contempt exactly - but indifference. The artless simplicity of the performances belies the very real athletic ability required to make the demanding movements required by this piece. A gentle adagio sequence when one partner is asleep and the other is trying to attract her attention, is worthy of a classical ballet in its poignancy and delicacy. The wry, silent commentary of domesticity - the toaster, the alarm clock - trace the erosion of the initial love into feelings of despair and of being trapped in a dead end relationship. Exquisite and unmissable. - JvE

The Great Escape: Stef, better known perhaps as Stef the Hypnotist, pays tribute in this show to one of his idols, Harry Houdini. Before he gets down to the "Whoooah moment" as he calls it, Stef entertains a crowd with humour and tricks. His juggling with a ball, an apple and an egg while trying to eat one of them, was priceless. Also his balloon modelling is in an ironic class of its own. As South Africa's only escapologist, Stef performed a feat whose danger was only appreciable when he choked under water on his first submersion. The very real danger in which he places himself in order to entertain the adoring crowd, suddenly became horribly clear. After his seconds helped him regain his breath, Stef was submerged once again under water, hand cuffed and blindfolded, and in a mail bag, like his hero, Houdini. I am pleased to say he emerged after two minutes. A charming and highly entertaining show. - JvE

The Savage Sisters: Taking as its starting point three young women rehearsing a play about the lives of Jane Austen, Fanny Burney and Mary Wolstonecraft, Janet van Eeden's entertaining play explores the lives of women at the turn of the 18th and 19th Centuries as well as now, 200 years later. It also looks at the problems faced by creative women in all eras. The idea is a great one, and there is a lot to enjoy - especially now that the humour in the work, muted in its Grahamstown run, has been allowed to shine through. The problem is that there is a lot to be explored in just one hour, and it inevitably makes for static theatre. - MvK

Fusion Cooking School: Nigella the Domestic: In these days of celebrity chefs and television cooking shows, cookery has quit the privacy of the kitchen and has turned itself into part of the entertainment industry. So this show is a cookery demonstration, run as theatre. It is still more demo than stage show, and is definitely geared for foodies and would be foodies, but it is lively and fun. And did you know that Nigella is another name for Kolonji or black onion seed? Get some, and you too can say you have cooked with Nigella. - MvK

The Art of Charf: Paul Slabolepszy's latest play directed by Bobby Heaney is a gem of a two-hander for older performers. What a joy to see two such accomplished actors as Elize Cawood and Wilson Dunster on stage together. Although Cawood has been seen regularly on our TV screens, Dunster makes a welcome return to performing, after a 15 year absence, in a role that is classic Slabolepszy. His almost (but never overdone) slapstick portrayal of the bumbling, confused-by-modern-life, retired plumber, Cedric, is a perfect foil for Cawood's feisty, bright and straight-talking Gloria. The two vastly different characters somehow make a real connection in a world that seems to have rejected them. Beautifully performed, delicately and sensitively realised, the performances are only slightly let down by a script that requires some editing to make it more of a cut and polished gem, rather than a diamond in the rough. - PM

Cokey Falkow: To quote the programme, "I never know what I'm going to talk about before I get on stage" - I should have been warned. He still didn't know when he left the stage. His brand of - dare I call it - humour appealed greatly to the under 18's in the audience (as well as the slightly inebriated men who were highly relieved that they didn't have to sit through another piece of 'theatre') and didn't come out of the toilet bowl for an agonising hour and twenty minutes. I waited for his 'wry and quirky mix of observations and reflections' and am still waiting. Are we spoiled by British and American standups on television and radio? No matter what the subject matter, one expects it to be clever. Not this one - his physical antics can be very funny, but they need to be backed up by intelligent material. - PM

Ma's Boys: There is something magical about a male-voice choir. The richness of two to six part harmonies sung by male voices in perfect balance can be a restorative for the soul. And this group of Pretoria men who sing for the sheer joy of music, have it all going for them; they use exquisite arrangements, they sing a wonderfully eclectic range of material from madrigals to spirituals to light popular music, and they have a good range of voices. But unfortunately they have a serious lack of timing, probably as a result of not enough rehearsal time, which leaves them firmly in the realm of amateur performance. And this is not good enough in a festival that sets such high standards. - PM

Hero: Having seen the highly skilled Craig Morris earlier in the day in the marvellous Attachments, my expectations were high for his appearance in Hero, directed by Andrew Buckland. He didn't disappoint. In a tour de force of physical theatre, he wove the story of wannabe super-hero Chris, bent on saving the City of Gold from the forces of evil known as Crime Wave. There are many brilliant sequences in this work and Morris produces a number of credible characters, but overall Hero is too long and convoluted. We are often in danger of losing the plot which takes away from the compelling power of the ending. - CS

Wood for the Trees: It is hard to live up to a huge previous success, and I was disappointed in this show, following as it does on the brilliant and simple Baobabs Don't Grow Here. There are still some lovely touches in the tale of a lonely man who keeps returning to a remote part of the earth where a solitary figure is growing trees and creating a forest. The audience can see some lovely visual sound effects - and a spectacular giant puppet figure, but the story lacks the charm and coherence of Baobabs. The performances are all excellent, but there is an unwelcome hint of didacticism and not enough of the warmth that characterised the earlier piece. - MvK




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