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NAF THEATRE (article first published : 2006-03-20)

The National Arts Festival takes place in Grahamstown from June 29 to July 8. (See story in Festivals) The Main theatre programme is as follows:

Social and theatre history come vividly to life in the theatre programme for the 2006 Festival. In Sizwe Bansi is Dead, John Kani and Winston Ntshona recreate the roles they workshopped with Athol Fugard, winning a Tony Award in 1975. Aubrey Sekhabi directs this new Baxter Theatre production.

In a new Sibikwa Theatre production of Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’ Imbokoda (You Strike a Woman You Strike a Rock), director Phyllis Klotz revisits a seminal piece about the 1956 women’s mass march to the Union Buildings. It was conceived by Itumeleng Wa Lehuere and, together with the cast, Klotz workshopped the original in 1986. Its core theme is the plight of women under the yoke of poverty, still starkly relevant today.

History is examined under a different lens in The Shooting Gallery, an exciting Dutch multi-media production presented by the Market Theatre. The focus is a media picture editor; the tragic protagonist is a conflict photographer who won an international award for the image of a starving child. The real-life reference points are inescapable.

Janice Honeyman directs Marius Weyers in another Fugard gem, Booitjie and the Oubaas – the kind of heart-warming story-enactment that keeps audiences enthralled. This is a world première.

Standard Bank Young Artist Award-winner Sylvaine Strike collaborates with co-director Sue Pam Grant, performers Gerard Bester and Brian Webber and musician/composer Phillip Miller to devise Coupé, a funny/sad train-ride into the soul of the ordinary psyche.

Two new pieces from award and training programmes bode well for the growing body of South African theatre texts. Hans Pienaar’s funny and sharp Three Dozen Roses directed by André Stoltz was a winner in the NLDTF/PANSA Festival of Contemporary Theatre Readings 2005. Juliet Jenkins’ The Boy who Fell from the Roof directed by Roy Sargeant comes out of the Artscape New Writing Programme. With bittersweet wit, it taps into the contradictions of white middle-class youth culture.

Seasoned stage and television star James Ngcobo directs his own adaptation of Es’kia Mphahlele’s story The Suitcase, a Market Theatre production. Also adapted from prose fiction and presented by Pieter Toerien Productions, Around the World in Eighty Days by New Yorker Mark Brown, is a light-hearted romp with Jules Verne’s Victorian travel novel. Alan Swerdlow directs and Graham Hopkins plays Phineas Fogg.

The heartbeat of the free Street Theatre programme, Durban’s Ellis Pearson and Bheki Mkhwane are joined by jazz muso Baba Ndiko Xaba and his self-crafted instruments, they tell the story of The Hungry Heart and a raging sensual appetite that can devour you.

Consumed and then discarded, the nameless protagonist in Expeditions to the Baobab Tree (based on Wilma Stockenstrom’s poetic novel) is stolen as a child, used in a harem and then left to wander until she finds a kind of home in the hollow trunk of a tree. Heike Gehring directs four senior students from the Rhodes Drama Department.

Homelessness is reality, not a metaphor, for the young folk from Grahamstown’s Eluxolweni Children’s Shelter who transform their lived experiences on the street into funky theatre pieces in collaboration with the Ubom! East Cape Theatre Company and Rhodes University. Wacky musical instruments, giant puppets, masks and stilts feature in Camille’s Way the delightful story of a discontented giraffe written and directed by Durban-based Jean van Elden.

From the ancient art of story-telling Street Theatre audiences are swept forward into the fascination of sci-fi technology with Photobot, an engaging gizmo that clings to the inside of a shop window inviting you to strike an eye-catching pose and take a picture of yourself which will then be posted on an internet gallery site.

The Student Theatre Festival shakes the box with a jigsaw puzzle of uncensored moves, media and voices. Fit these challenging bits together and you have a map of what preoccupies young people now and where theatre is headed in the future. Participating groups hail from the University of Cape Town, City Varsity Cape Town, the Durban Institute of Technology, the University of the Free State, the University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg and Durban campuses, The Market Theatre Laboratory, the University of Pretoria, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University, the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of the Witwatersrand.

More young theatre is on tap at The Studio, a special project dedicated to identifying and spotlighting fresh Eastern Cape talent.EastCape Opera presents The Clay Flute, a new jazz piece set at the University of Fort Hare and groups from Idutywa and Butterworth re-enact a traditional wedding (Umtshato) through dance, drama and storytelling. In Under Pressure, Grahamstown artists tell a cautionary tale about an innocent young girl who goes to the big bad city; and the Butterflies Drama Group from Queenstown presents Break the Silence, a hard-hitting piece about abuse.

Booking opens in May. For more information on the National Arts Festival, contact 046 603 1103/1164, fax 046 622 3082 or e-mail: naf@foundation.org.za or visit www.nafest,co.za The Festival is supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, the Eastern Cape Government, Standard Bank, SABC and the National Arts Council.




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