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GRAHAMSTOWN DRAMA CONTENT (article first published : 2002-06-3)

Leading play-makers and actors, complex onstage psyches and stories with a twist characterise the theatre programme for the 2002 National Arts Festival, to be held in Grahamstown, 29 June to 6 July 2002.

The roll-call is the recipe for a powerful theatre cocktail: John Kani, Janice Honeyman, Lara Foot Newton, Yael Farber, Paul Slabolepszy, Zakes Mda, Pieter Toerien, Rajesh Gopie, Pamela Nomvete, Pieter-Dirk Uys, the Sibikwa Players, Dambisa Kente, Andrea Dondolo ...

All these and more will converge on Grahamstown with a diverse programme of nine theatre pieces for the main Festival stages. And running through their offerings is a distinct tendency to stronger narrative, foregrounding the psychological motivation of individuals, rather than political or social context.

Tennessee Williams' explosive classic, A Streetcar Named Desire, set in Soweto by Lara Foot Newton, dramatises sex and power games between two sisters and a man in a working class milieu.

New plays written by John Kani and Zakes Mda talk about exile not as an idea, but as a metaphor for lies, secrets and silence. Kani plays opposite Pamela Nomvete and Dambisa Kente in his Nothing but the Truth, directed by Janice Honeyman.

Professor Mda's The Bells of Amersfoort, billed as music theatre, was commissioned by The Niew Amsterdam and the Sibikwe Players for their co-production which is currently impressing audiences in Europe.

Rajesh Gopie's important new work, The Coolie Odyssey, rescues untold personal sagas of indenture which pay tribute to the feistiness of the human spirit.

Writer/director Yael Farber and Duma Khumalo of the so-called "Sharpeville Six" have dramatised the human story behind the headlines in He Left Quietly. Khumalo spent seven years in prison (three on death row) and was then released without having his name cleared. This extraordinary piece of narrative theatre was commissioned by the House of World Cultures, Berlin for In Transit 2002.

Narratives and their healing power are the subject and the medium of Beading my Soul by Andrea Dondolo who performs with Faniswa Yisa with Sarah Matchett directing.

Paul Slabolepszy's Mooi Street Moves, takes an evergreen tale (innocent country boy comes to town) and turns it on its head. Mncedisi Baldwin Shabangu's new production of the South African favourite puts new humour into the interchange between a hardworking plattelander and one of Hillbrow's smoothest operators.

More humour - witty, light and subtle - runs strongly through Pieter Toerien's latest hit offering: the production of Noel Coward's Private Lives which has been all the rage on the West End this season.

Laughter rises to a roar of delighted recognition with Pieter-Dirk Uys's Foreign Aids. The hilarious impersonations that have won him international acclaim are accurately rooted in close observation. And laughter opens ears to the serious message contained in his tomfoolery and zippy chat. Denial, drug companies and leaders with their heads in the sand all come up for ridicule.

The National Arts Festival is proudly sponsored by the Eastern Cape Government, Standard Bank and the National Arts Council, with support from Shamwari Game Reserve.

Booking for the 2002 National Arts Festival is at Computicket. For more information, visit www.nafest.co.za.




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