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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 30 (article first published : 2008-07-2; last edited : [an error occurred while processing this directive])

This morning, I took a quick trip down to the Village Green where I was astonished to see the number of stalls outside the designated Village Green area - even down in the viaduct under the little foot bridge. Wire craft is now reaching new heights and I was particularly impressed with some glorious blue fish as well as a superb standing lamp. The light bulb was situated in a rattan centrepiece which splayed out strands of orange, gold and brown beads reaching up and down to its shoulder-high whole.

News is that the figures and ticket sales are up (see separate article on these pages) and certainly those productions on the Main I have attended have played to capacity.

Having been so impressed with Craig Morris in Blood Orange, Bar Flies was an obvious choice. The setting is a bar with a deceptively slim counter – obviously far sturdier than it appears – ringed with metal bar stools and offset by the odd table and chair.

The barman (Craig Morris) arrives at work, tidies up the place, sets his glasses and bottles and waits for his customers. He isn’t kept waiting long – enter a drop-dead gorgeous redhead (Rayzelle Sham) in a slinky sensuous dress. She is the object of his desires and he’s putty in her elegant hands. Following bar code rules, which require him to be virtually invisible and not engage in full-on conversation unless it’s initiated by the other party, he silently fills her glass with wine. She savours the smell, the appearance and the initial taste, before getting down to the serious business of drinking – a lot! Aided and abetted, you understand, by our ever-attentive barman.

Then in walks big trouble and major competition in the shape of a macho cowboy (Gerhard Bester) who is so wound up in his own ego and slicking back his hair that he takes a while to notice the redhead. They eventually become hypnotised with each other and launch forth into the Argentine tango while the barman does his level best to separate them, without much success.

This is a brilliant piece of physical theatre where every nuance, come-hither raised eyebrow, sexual glance or extended leg speaks volumes. All three are such splendid performers, you feel frustrated that you sometimes can’t watch all of them at the same time

Roslyn Wood-Morris has created exhilarating on-the-edge (literally!) choreography, with the bar counter taking the brunt of all three bodies as they hilariously get in each other’s way. The more the two drink, the more seemingly uncoordinated they become but one false move here would surely result in broken arms or legs! At one stage, Rayzelle (in stiletto heels) and Gerhard were teetering on the cushioned top of the bar stool. I think I stopped breathing at that point for a few moments!

Tuesdays are not good days in the life of about-to-be teenager Claudia, the title role in I, Claudia. Her parents have split up and another woman has come into her father’s life, threatening her close relationship with him. She has two “homes” – her room at her dad’s and her “real” one with her mother, a room which her mother keeps threatening to go through with a “fine toothcomb”. Now, this won’t do at all because there are things Claudia doesn’t want her to see with any kind of toothcomb, let alone a fine one!

She spends Monday evenings with her dad, so having to leave him make Tuesdays a miserable day. However, there are a precious 20 minutes when she’s on her own in his downtown apartment which she puts to good use, taking away such things as one sock (to see if he notices) and a coffee mug which has a meaningful date on it.

With her mother and her toothcomb in mind, she takes her treasures to the basement of the school where loose bricks provide good hiding spaces as does the electricity junction box for the socks. Her activities have not gone unnoticed by the school’s janitor – one Drachman, a former actor, dramaturge and translator who understands the child’s need for her own space. He doesn’t report Claudia but rather protects her privacy – even so far as creating a safety barrier in the junction box for the socks so there’s no danger of an electrical short.

Under the sensitive directorial eye of Lara Bye, it’s poignant moments like this that make I Claudia one of the most beautiful pieces of theatre on the festival. Excellently portrayed by Susan Danford in highly effective masks made by Melani-Rene Louwrens, we also meet Douglas (Claudia’s vague and dithery grandfather) and Leslie (her father’s new love interest). Considering that masks cover the most expressive areas of the face – the eyes and the forehead – actors have to rely on body movement, their mouths and speech to get the character across, which makes Susan Danford's performance all the more commendable.

Claudia is prone to staring at herself in the mirror – an indication of her continual self-analysis and those of others. Drachman’s final line is beautifully placed.

Bar Flies and I, Claudia have definitely been festival highlights for me so far. Caroline Smart




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