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ALL-INDIGENOUS THEATRE PROGRAMME FOR NAF (article first published : 2003-05-22)

Eleven new and recent plays, all written by Southern Africans, feature on the theatre programme for the 2003 National Arts Festival (Grahamstown, 27 June – 5 July).

The productions span a broad range of drama’s geography, mapping an emotional adventure replete with laughter, tears, suspense, polemic and brain-gym. There are five world premières, and the South African premières of two works that have already wowed British critics. Big-name and new writers, directors and actors are billed.

"We didn’t deliberately seek out African work," says Festival Director Lynette Marais, "but the fact that our search for relevant, provocative and important productions came up with an all-indigenous result is a marker of South Africa’s increasing cultural maturity. And it justifies the increasing interest from overseas culture brokers in the Festival as a showcase!"

To mark the 100th anniversary of novelist Alan Paton’s birth, Roy Sargeant has adapted his classic Cry, the Beloved Country for the stage. Heinrich (‘Suip’) Reisenhofer’s production has a world première at the Festival. Another world first, Standard Bank Young Artist award-winner Yael Farber’s Molóra (‘ash’) uses themes from Sartre’s The Flies and Sophocles’ Electra to explore a nation’s conscience in the aftermath of a bloodbath.

Auditioning Angels by the big-hearted Pieter-Dirk Uys engages with a national trauma: child rape. Working through the catharsis of pain and anger, his characters learn to believe in angels. This world première directed by Lynne Maree is brought to the festival by Pieter Toerien Productions.

Mothobi Mutloatsi’s smart-talking Tailormade also premières. In the textual equivalent of a tap-dance, his motley troupe of devil-may-cares jump the time-warp in a multi-layered radio play within the stage play. Reaching back into Xhosa history, poet Chris Mann’s Thuthula – Heart of the Labyrinth (directed by Janet Buckland) is based on a tragic real-life love affair that precipitated the devastating battle of Amalinde, according to the legend.

Greig Coetzee’s Happy Natives and Born African (developed by Zimbabwe’s Over the Edge Theatre Company) both return home to Africa trailing clouds of glory from their runs in Edinburgh and London. Happy Natives has a pair of skint actors (Greig Coetzee and Sello Sebotsane) ambushed by real life while they try to create a money-spinning Rainbow Nation PR fantasy. The production is presented by B & R Productions (London) directed by Christine Harmar-Brown. The Scotsman wrote of Born African "Vibrant, brilliantly performed and full of emotion, this astonishing piece of theatre puts the desperate state of modern day Zimbabwe vividly before our eyes. The scenes range from piteous, moving through scorching satire, to whimsical comedy."

Reza de Wet’s mordant humour lends an ominous gleam to Crossing, now translated into French and directed by Caroline Benamza for the Amandla Theatre Company (with English surtitles). In this darkly gothic nightmare twin sisters and a pair of unquiet spirits play sinister psychological games. Cape Town dramatist Nadia Davids contemplates the ongoing dilemma of being born a Muslim woman in Africa. In a virtuoso performance, Quanita (Valley Song) Adams gives earthy voice to Davids’ ensemble of characters. A musical feast, Xoli Norman’s Our Father, Ma’s got the Blues, Amen sets the full-throated gospel of the devout Mthembu family against the unleashed blues of Sis Joyce’s shebeen. Golden-voiced Joyce (Abigail Kubeka) is the pivotal character for conflicting social values.

And to round off the programme: sheer celebration when Janice (Queen of Pantomime) Honeyman boogies with Nelson (King of Hearts) Mandela’s favourite African stories. In her sparkly story-theatre event, Madiba Magic, a singing, dancing cast romps through some of Nelson Mandela’s favourite stories – adapted from the book published by Tafelberg.

This feast of theatre is presented by The Eastern Cape Government, Standard Bank, The National Arts Council, The National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund and the SABC. The 2003 National Arts Festival Booking Kit is available from selected branches of the Standard Bank and booking is at Computicket nationwide.




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