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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MAKANA (article first published : 2001-07-2)

We are on Robben Island. To the left of the stage is a muddle of wooden structures which we are to discover belongs to one Plaatjies. It's his boat, one of 38 he has made in order to escape from the island - or, rather, it's the same boat he has made 38 times because the guards keep discovering him and smashing his efforts.

This is Makana: the missing lynx presented by Mouthpiece Productions and featuring Andrew Buckland and Bheki Mkwane appearing on the main frame of the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Makana/Nxele/Lynx - many things to many people. The production explores the questions: was he a hero, a scheming power-hungry political climber or a timely and charismatic leader? Perhaps he was all three. Certainly he made his mark by becoming the first prominent leader to be incarcerated in Robben Island.

In 1819, he led 10,000 Xhosa warriors armed only with spears and a few guns against the massive cannons of the British in The Battle of Grahamstown. This is considered one of the most important periods in the history of South Africa. The amaXhosa were forced towards the Fish River and before the following year was out, British settlers (the 1820 Settlers) arrived in the area having been given the go-ahead from the colonial government to settle there.

Deftly and tightly directed by Janet Buckland, Makana is not an accusatory piece or one which demands apologies for the past. Rather, it is a highly humorous, clever and fast-moving interpretation of Makana's life.

The four cast members - three men and one woman - take this saga of thousands completely in their stride. There are some wickedly funny caricatures of British soliders as well as several very moving scenes, particularly from Noxolo Donyeli and Nyebho Swaartbooi.

Andrew Buckland and Bheki Mkwane work well together, almost as well as Bheki does with his alter ego Ellis Pearson now, how about that for a highly imaginative trio?

Giselle Baillie has created a backdrop which alternately features the outline of Table Mountain or Makana's Kop. Many of the beautiful moments in the production are due to the Francois le Roux's music.




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