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

NAF, GRAHAMSTOWN, JUNE 28 (article first published : 2008-06-30)

National Arts Festival, Grahamstown: June 28

After Friday’s observation that the posters were all neat and tidily displayed, I was disturbed this morning to see so many lying around crumpled or tattered. They obviously didn’t survive the rain the night before and perhaps some weren’t secured properly but it made things look really messy. I think it should be in the contract of production companies to do a quick trip round their poster positions every day to see that they are still secure and in good condition. Those that have fallen down should be thrown away.

KZN featured well in Cue this morning with a photograph of Sdumo Mtshali who is appearing with Ellis Pearson in Impisi, a humorous piece dealing sensitively with the issues of discrimination experienced by various differently abled groups. When he saw Ellis Pearson’s work for the first time, UK based writer and community arts facilitator Clive Essame (himself in a wheelchair) decided that Ellis was the right person to work with on this production. Impisi is directed by Brian Pearce and produced by Sue Clarence Promotions.

Jacobus van Heerden for Catch! and Liam Magner for Spun as well as Iain “Ewok” Robinson had good coverage as did Clare Mortimer and Darren King for From My Point of View. They performed this production to great success in 2005 and hoped to return in 2006 but Darren King’s near-fatal accident put paid to these plans. Now fully recovered, Darren joins Clare in a festival re-run of this powerful Steven Berkoff play.

My first show of the festival was, appropriately, a KZN one: Kobus Moolman’s Stone Angel directed by Clare Mortimer and featuring two of Durban’s finest actresses, Janna Ramos-Violante and Josette Eales.

Kobus Moolman has made his name at the festival before with his first play, Full Circle which received critical acclaim. He reaches the same strong standard of drama with Stone Angel which was joint winner of the 2007 NLDTF/PANSA Festival of Contemporary New Writing. It’s about two women. One is living at the time of the Boer war and considered by her family as a freak, because she is allergic to the sun and therefore rarely ventures outside in the daytime. The other is a modern day good-hearted albeit dysfunctional soul who tries to earn a pittance as a car guard but is also battling with an abscess on her foot which is slowly turning gangrenous. One thing the two women have in common is their eyes – clear and all-seeing. Death, decay, exploitation and manipulation seriously impinge on these inherently trustworthy souls.

Clare Mortimer has done an excellent job in directing this sensitively-written play and Janna Ramos Violante (Poppie) and Josette Eales (Dollie, based on a real character) explore the many levels of the characters to produce two strong-minded women. Iain “Ewok” Robinson provides recorded vocal back-up such as the letter from the British soldier and vehicle noises. Josette Eales is not Afrikaans-speaking but, after working under the tuition of actor Thomie Holtzhausen (a regular personality at the Grahamstown festivals), she has produced an accurate accent.

Stone Angel is a compelling drama reaching across the span of over a century. My poor knowledge of Afrikaans meant I missed much of the storyline from Dolly’s point of view but I could follow enough to believe that this play could be developed still further. Perhaps the introduction of two more characters - the soldier and Poppie’s mother?

Dada Masilo, 2008 Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance, created a new production of Romeo and Juliet for The Dance Factory to appear on this year’s festival as part of her award. She was assisted by PJ Sabbagha and Gregory Maqoma, the latter being responsible for the electrifying ball sequence.

Dada Masilo is completely mesmerising. No wilting violet, this Juliet, but capricious and flirtatious until she meets and falls in love with Romeo (strongly portrayed by Daniel Mashita), I had to keep forcing myself to take my eyes off her to watch the other dancers.

Gustin Makgeledisa presents a stern Capulet so irritated with his recalcitrant child that he bodily picks her up and deposits her at the feet of her suitor, Paris (Lesego Ngwato). With her expressive face, Nicola Haskins is a delight as the nurse. Other performers worthy of mention are Vishanthi Arumugam (an elegant Lady Capulet), Songezo Mcilizeli (Mercutio) and Lulu Mlangeni (the volatile Tybalt) – yep, Tybalt was a lady in this production.

If you know your Romeo and Juliet, you’ll need to keep your eyes wide open to spot the characters as the storyline is more suggested than explicit. If you don’t know Shakespeare’s play, then just sit back and enjoy an incredible dance piece! I enjoyed David Hlatswayo’s lighting design as well as the choice of music which was mainly taken from Nigel Kennedy and Vanessa-Mae interpretations of Bach and Vivaldi works.

Then it was off to Paul Slabolepszy’s new play For Your Ears Only presented by SAfm in association with the National Arts Festival. The action takes place in a fully equipped radio recording studio, which meant that I felt right at home. For the last two years, I have been working as a freelance radio drama producer for LotusFM in Durban and have had the privilege of introducing the magic of radio theatre – in the entertainment style of Springbok Radio - to a new generation of actors.

Listening to comments from audience members afterwards, I got the feeling that many had gone expecting something completely different. The remark “But it’s not a play” was heard more than once. Well, it is actually a play within a play with a sub-plot. The structure itself is a play, dealing with an irascible radio producer (Michael Richard), the cast of his popular serial (Louise Saint-Claire, Esmeralda Bihl and Ralph Lawson), the writer (Samson Khumalo), a new actor (Sibusiso Radebe) and a crusty maintenance man (Paul Slab himself). Then there’s the play – or rather the drama series – they’re trying to record although the cast keep getting side-tracked in reminiscences, arguments or explaining the studio equipment to Sibusiso and only really get to grips with it towards the end … and then “play-acting”, as it were, from two characters whose relationship is not what it innocently seems.

To me, the production was a brilliant master-class on radio theatre. In amongst the amusing repartee and hilarious gags - and Michael Richard has some exit lines to die for – are reminders of the power of this extraordinary medium. With the threat of more power cuts to come from Eskom, remember that you don’t need electricity for a battery-charged radio – so get tuned back into the theatre of the mind, where the hero or heroine looks exactly as you want them to and the décor, surroundings and locations are as vivid as your imagination! Viva radio theatre, viva!




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