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HAPPY NATIVES (article first published : 2003-07-3)

Durban writer/actor/ director Greig Coetzee has written a "wickedly amusing satire" - Happy Natives - which wowed international critics and audiences at last year's Edinburgh Festival and is about to embark on a nation-wide tour which kicks off at the National Arts Festival in June before going to the Baxter in July.

In the new South Africa where the brightly branded "rainbow nation" is divided by memories of apartheid; enormous economic and social disparities; uneasy relationships and impossible expectations, two mates "Kenneth" (Coetzee) and "Mto" (Sello Sebotsane) are desperate to get a government contract using theatre to sell the country to foreign investors.

Kenneth - all froth, ideas and ad agency lingo - has been working overseas but is back living with his parents now that his work permit has expired. The affable Mto - the son of a freedom fighter - is getting established as an actor, and has bought a house in a previously-white Durban suburb. The two realise that the Government commission comes with a price tag - the cultural minister is only interested in a glowing squeaky clean portrait of South Africa -the truth of course comes a poor second to the imperative of selling the country as a success story.

Coetzee and Sebotsane jointly play a host of characters - a total of eight or so roles: a TV woman project manager; Prudence the neighbour's domestic worker; Jimmy the patronising gun-toting ex-border guard neighbour, and the cultural minister.

"Happy Natives began as a facetious comment during the Edinburgh Fringe 2000 - a response to my growing concern that theatre from Africa presented outside of Africa, seemed to follow one or more of three themes: "wretchedness", "triumph over adversity" or "happy dancing natives". While I do not dispute the validity and relevance of these stories (my own piece White Men With Weapons is a tale of wretchedness), it is unfortunate that they appear to overwhelm the many other stories to be told about a very complex continent," explains Greig.

"Coetzee's play is excellent at showing misunderstanding and suspicion as part of the fabric of life, but never becomes bludgeoning," comments Ian Shuttleworth of the Financial Times. "an absorbing gem of a snapshot of modern South African life." Says the Metro's Eddie Harrison.

Happy Natives is presented by B&R Productions in association with Soho Theatre in London. It is directed by Christine Harmar-Brown and Mark Rayment, designed by Emma Donovan and lighting design by Flick Ansell.

After its performances at the National Art Festival at Graeme College (July 3 at 21h00; July 4 and 5 at 14h00 and 19h00, Happy Natives moves to Cape Town to The Sanlam Studio Baxter Theatre from July 8 to August 2 then on to Johannesburg Sandton’s The Liberty Theatre on The Square from August 5 to 30.

The production has a run in Durban at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatrefrom September 2 to 14 before appearing at the The Natal Witness Hilton Festival from September 19 to 21 and then to Pietermaritzburg at the Hexagon Theatre from September 23 to 26.




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