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WITNESS HILTON ARTS FESTIVAL FRINGE (article first published : 2007-09-8)

A feast of intimate, funny, musical, original, whimsical youthful - and international - pieces characterise the fringe programme on this year’s annual Witness Hilton Arts Festival which comes to the Hilton College from September 14 to 16. There’s a dazzling line-up of cutting-edge drama, comedy, music and cabaret, as well as an enticing array of arts and crafts in a bumper programme that features a stellar mix of hot South African performers and artists mostly gleaned from the Grahamstown festival in July.

There are invited productions on the Main festival, and a huge selection of productions on the Fringe. This year’s flagship production is the delicate and magical The Travellers which the festival has been trying to get for their programme for the past three years. The Travellers is Sylvaine Strike’s enchanting miniature journey of astounding theatrical magnitude which was one of the hits of the National Arts Festival fringe 2005. It won the Naledi Theatre Award for Best Cutting Edge Play 2005 and features Toni Morkel; Shelley Meskin and Daniel Buckland. It is directed by Sylvaine Strike with assistance from Brian Webber and design by Chen Nakar.

One of the festival highlights this year is the astonishing Savannah Theatre Project which is a collective of international innovative, imaginative theatre creators and performers headed by artistic director Thom Pasculli. They will bring three vastly different international productions to the festival - Freedom! And the Sticky End of Make Believe; Hungry Tigers and Contes Fantastiques et Agite.

Freedom! And the Sticky End of Make Believe is presented by an American company of actors from across the United States: Thom Pasculli (artistic director/ playwright/ actor), Allison Talis, Marina McClure, Jeremy Pickard, Hannah Chodos, Julia Riggs,Teeny Lamothe and Katie Maguire. It’s an absurdist, cross-disciplinary performance about a fragmented family coming-of-age in the pressurized microcosm of an “American” neighbourhood. Fast-paced and ruthlessly poignant, this quirky satire explodes with physical imagery and visceral storytelling. Contes Fantastiques et Agites features Sylvain Cebron de Lisle who was born in Nantes, France, in 1967. He began telling stories for comic books and children’s camps before he started travelling internationally as a professional storyteller. Sylvain Cebron de Lisle, recounts a vivid collection of his favourite tales from Brittany and Northern Europe. With mischievous verve and odd-ball humour, the stories invite you to embark on a strange journey of images and ideas, daring epics and dark legends. Follow him on a journey for all ages to the ends of the world and back. Hungry Tigers is directed by Else Marie Laukvik from Norway and is a comic delight created and performed by the Danish-English acting couple Mia Theil Have and Max Webster. Throughout the performance they are a skilled mixture of human beings and cats and, as the title suggests, are very hungry - between the musical numbers they fantasise about the food that they desire so much. It is painfully funny and scarily musical as the pair change between guitars, saxophone, flute, percussion and piano – the last of which is played with toes, behind the back, and even with the noses as two clucking hens. It has real musicality, timing and humour.

Following the Hilton Arts Festival, this company is hosting an International Theatre Symposium at The Savannah Africa Wildlife Preserve outside Johannesburg from September 19 to 24. The Symposium will include performances, training workshops, discussions and a community exchange with professional artists from South Africa, Europe, America, and Canada. For more information email the company at tstp.company@gmail.com, or browse their website: www.thesavannahtheatreproejct.org

From closer to home on the fringe are a myriad of new theatrical works: Lisa Bobbert’s Chronicles of a Carguard; Jakob, a whimsical fantasy piece using lights and shadows by Mike Broderick, and Mike van Graan’s new production of Mirror Mirror featuring senior drama students from UCT which is a biting and witty satire about contemporary South Africa and the role of artists in it, set against the backdrop of a fairytale castle in medieval times. There’s also Michael de Pinna in his Old Boys Back in Town; Annie Grealy reprising her sell-out supper theatre murder mystery from last year with a new whodunit – the Strange Case of the Midlands Heiress, and Frogs directed by Ingrid Wilde and featuring versatile quirky physical performer Taryn Bennett in a beautiful one-woman show with barely a word being spoken.

Something fun and quirky for the first time this year will be Marc Kay and Clinton Small’s roving street theatre entitled Actors Unemployed. In the words of their publicity blurb: “Fresh from their university debacles, Marc Kay and Clinton Small have discovered that life as an actor is not all it is cracked up to be…. Having spent all of their meagre earnings on booze, gambling and a copy of the Complete works of William Shakespeare, you can find them out and about at the festival reciting sonnets and monologues and even fencing a duel or two from some Billy the Bard’s best work. They will work from small donations but only if you agree not to laugh at their foppish costumes, drunken slurring and terrible ham acting. Keep your eyes peeled and your daughters locked away. They are unemployed actors on the loose.” In the programme, the venue is logged as “everywhere”!

Also on the fringe is Ma’s Boys which is described as “happy exuberant entertainment” featuring 12 professionals / businessmen / scientists and academics under the musical direction of “Ma” Rodseth. No stranger to the Hilton festival, this 12 strong male choir sings a repertoire from negro spirituals to barbershop songs. They characteristically donate their door takings to a charity every year – this year they will be donating all their door sales to child patients’ ward at Kalafong Hospital in Pretoria.

As always there is a strong focus on works for younger audiences – two pieces of interest to families include the Actor’s Co-op and their delicious fairy-tale Princess and the Pea which has been given a distinctly South African setting, and Janna Ramos Violante’s charming play for children: The Secret of Mrs Moppet’s Garden. For scholars, there’s an stage adaptation of Marguerite Poland’s Shades titled Shades of Marguerite Poland which, apart from its entertainment value, will be highly beneficial to those learners who are studying the work.

The Fringe offers plenty of opportunities for lovers of music – from a workshop and a recital about bamboo flutes; the popular drumming workshop entitled Talking Drums and fringe music recitals entitled Four Seasons Café and Four masters in concert – both in the Chapel. On the cabaret scene is Anthony Stonier in Noel and Cole; Shelley McLean and Marion Loudon in It’s a Man’s World; and Darren King and Marion Loudon in A Touch of Pink. For a glimpse behind the obvious - there will be a series of Thinkfest lectures and discussions on a myriad of interesting and diverse subjects presented by leaders in their respective fields.

On the Main festival, one of the most eagerly-awaited highlights is Mike van Graan’s new production – Bafana Republic. In the words of Cape Times reviewer Marianne Thamm: “Mike van Graan’s is a welcome new voice in the South African satirical landscape. Better known for his uncompromising and often hilarious newspaper columns and his provocative stage plays, this is his first foray in the satirical boxing ring….Bafana Republic brims, crackles and sparkles with Van Graan’s often outrageous humour and caustic satire…you’ll enjoy a great, subversive night at the theatre.”

For the second year there will be a curated art exhibition at the festival, as well as the usual art which is so popular. Karen Bradtke, of artSPACE Durban, will curate the exhibition in the Normand Dunn Gallery in the Main Theatre building. This year there will be a focus on local arts and craft with regular arts workshops as part of the festival programme to take place at the Art School which is situated next to the Drama Centre. Scrap-booking, bread-making, flute-making and beading workshops will be scheduled into the event programme.

There will be a special focus on food and eating this year with two food areas to choose from: this year festival regular and food buff extraordinaire Terry Sterling, and RoyalSechaba Food Services will be responsible for both tents - the usual popular food tent will have hearty meals on offer throughout the day – with breakfast, lunch, supper and late night after show snacks being served … all with good coffee. There is a smaller separate coffee and gateaux area for those in need of a sweet pick-me-up at any time; and there is the elegant fine dining area – called the Courtyard Bistro and Bar - which will offer a more sophisticated dining, cocktail and late night experience. Evan Roberts will make sure that there is fabulous entertainment on tap in the fine dining tent with the whose-who of the KZN theatre and cabaret scene taking turns at the piano and mic. The festival once again will have strong focus on classical music with an eclectic mix of a dozen concerts hosted by Christopher Duigan’s Music Revival Concerts featuring a myriad of special guests and soloists.

It is strongly advised you book your accommodation early at one of the many B&Bs and hotels in the area. Booking kits will be available from selected SPAR Stores in KZN. Kits can also be collected from Exclusive Books (La Lucia, Pavilion, Liberty Mall and Gateway), Adams in Musgrave Centre and town, Cascades Bookshop and the Witness offices in Pietermaritzburg. Also from leading galleries and theatre foyers. Detailed information can be found on www.artslink.co.za/hilton. For more information or a full programme and booking kit – visit http://www.artslink.co.za/hilton / www.artslink.co.za/hilton or the Hilton Festival hotline on theatre@hiltoncollege.com or phone 033 383 0126.




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