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HILTON FESTIVAL REVIEWS (article first published : 2001-09-29)

Here is a selection of short reviews from the Natal Witness Hilton Arts Festival by Peter Mitchell, Christi Naude and Margaret von Klemperer.

Makana - Andrew Buckland's latest piece, which is superbly performed by an excellent ensemble cast - Buckland himself, KZN's Bheki Mkhwane, Noxolo Donyeli and Nyebho Swartbooi - is a uniquely South African story told with energy and vitality and many beautiful visual images. That said, I found it overworked, overtold and over-intense, as if it was just a little too full of its own importance. It could not decide whether it was a narrated story or a piece of physical theatre with an important message, so it switched uneasily between the two, never integrating either into a whole. The use of almost blackouts to change costume pieces is outdated and sought to hide the interesting bits of theatre-making. – Peter Mitchell

Gums & Noses - This is a delightful little piece of black comedy perfectly suited to its cast - Lionel Newton (whose every gesture tells a story), Antony Coleman and Jacques Blignaut. With no pretensions to greatness, it manages to send itself up as it tells the satirical tale of a young copywriter with dreams of success, and his spiral into cocaine 'shnarfing'. It takes the mickey out of the advertising world in particular, and the commercial world in general, with their singleminded focus on financial success. Their style of physical theatre is perfectly and amusingly integrated into the storytelling and makes for a fun evening of theatre. – Peter Mitchell

African Fables - What a pity that the little people's theatre was so shabbily treated. With virtually no space to move and very little visibility from the back seats, African Fables failed to a big extent in what children's theatre is all about: audience participation. Although storytellers Adi Paxton and Pamela Tancsik tried their best to keep their audience's concentration for 50 minutes in the cramped Band Room with three traditional tortoise tales, only a handful could really see and participate in the action, leaving the eager rest frustrated and restless. The huge monster seemed to fascinate everybody, because it was big enough to see and a welcome change from the wire-sculpture puppets which the puppeteers sometimes battled to manipulate. - Christi Naudé

From the Cape Flats with Love - Marc Lottering's engaging stage presence makes this show a delight from start to finish. The man who claims he can "never get enough of white people applauding for me" gets his audience into the palm of his hand from the moment he launches into a discursive explanation of his relationship with his hairdryer. From there, with the hairdryer as a linking emblem, he becomes five Cape Flats characters, portraying them with a sharp, affectionate eye. He has a wicked facility as a mimic, and he laughs at his characters, himself and his audience as he charms his way through an entirely South African and delightfully funny comedy routine. – Margaret von Klemperer

Life X Three - Writer Yasmina Reza here turns a microscope on close relationships and the secrets and lies that work within them. The plot turns on one evening in the life of two couples. The younger pair, attempting to put their child to bed, are horrified when the husband's boss and her wife arrive on their doorstep, a day early for a dinner party. We see the resulting evening three times, in three different ways as the four characters and their interplay unfolds. Excellent direction and performances from Robert Hobbs, Louise Barnes, Fiona Ramsay and Graham Hopkins can't altogether disguise certain problems with both script and structure. Too superficial in some areas and too self-absorbed in others, the play leaves the audience not much the wiser about where the characters are headed when the curtain comes down. Life may be anti-climactic, but theatre needs something more. – Margaret von Klemperer

Hat Trick - Three intersecting monologues from Thomas Hall (who also wrote the piece), Denise Stock and Charmaine Weir-Smith look at the lives of three losers. One is a Barbra Streisand wannabe with no voice and soaring ambitions; one is a sad, downtrodden wife with bigger problems than she realises and the third is an officious, pedantic salary clerk who thinks that when a co-worker nicknames him Benito she fancies his "Mediterranean looks". Although I had reservations about the theatrical device of making one character a ghost, the whole piece, with its fine performances and funny and poignant atmosphere, marks Hall as a talent to watch. - Margaret von Klemperer

Concert: Piano Duo - Lara Jones and Philipp Maier. The accomplished Durban pianists charmed the hearts of their small audience with their power and technique. Definitely the highlight of the concert was the glowing sombre tones and beautifully phrased Fantasy in F-minor of Franz Schubert. This was a perfect blend and balance of the four hands and subtle pedalling. Although well-performed, Mozart's Sonata in F-major did not display the same sense of togetherness in phrasing and timing. The highly rewarding and entertaining recital was ended with Bedrich Smetana's programme music The Moldau (Vltava) from the tone poems Mein Vaterland which portrayed all the delicate moods and colours embedded in the story. – Christi Naudé

Concert: The Kerimov Trio. The Hilton chapel is visually and acoustically an attractive and evocative venue for classical music – pity about the excruciatingly uncomfortable seats for those in the main aisle. So it is all credit to Christopher Duigan, Boris Kerimov and Elena Kerimova that they held the attention of their evening audience and encouraged them to forget their discomfort. We had a chance to hear the virtuoso skills of each performer, as well as their work in combination – notably in the Mozart Trio with which they opened. The classical concerts are an important new dimension to the festival, and this one at any rate had a more than respectably sized audience, suggesting that this is something festival-goers have been waiting for. – Margaret von Klemperer

Brain fest. Humanity and Humour in the Anglo-Boer war: Fransjohan Pretorius. A thoroughly prepared and well structured entertaining lecture, which kept his audience spell bound. The award-winning author and expert on the war and life of the Boer soldier shared his knowledge about the human side of the war, as reflected in various diaries. Humorous anecdotes of "lager loafers", "hypocrites with Bible text eyes" and "useless lords" amused the audience in an almost packed auditorium. Pretorius' singing of the American Ellie Rhee, on which Sarie Marais was based, was well applauded. So were touching diary entries of gruesome scenes after battles like Magersfontein where the Boers were confronted with the staring eyes of their dead enemy and the wounded, pleading for water, which they did not have - "all people sacrificed for the vain purposes of politicians." - Christi Naudé

Douglas Livingstone…We Presume?. This is a fine festival piece – short, slick and easy to listen to. Caroline Smart, Peter Gardner and Patrick Collyer were all friends of Livingstone, and their affection and admiration for the poet comes through in the short anecdotes with which they punctuate the readings. Smart and Gardner read while Collyer gives backing on his guitar and the show divides neatly into two parts, the first dealing with poetry of animals and the African bush and the second with the sea, cities and people. The highly visual nature of the poetry lends itself to this kind of treatment and it should send the audience back to the printed page to rediscover Livingstone's work. – Margaret von Klemperer

The Snow Goose - Although there was something of the amateur dramatics in the rather crackly music and sound effects - and a late start due to the non-arrival of microphones which were incarcerated in a locked cupboard - Dennis Rubin and Eleanor Stewart's skilful play reading presentation of Paul Gallico's famous story of Dunkirk, The Snow Goose still had the power to move its audience. It is a measure of the enduring appeal of this short work that it could pull in a more than respectable audience with a big age range, and reduce a good many of them to tears as they listened to the tale of the lonely hunchback, the young girl and the faithful, wounded bird. - Margaret von Klemperer




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