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FESTIVAL DIARY – JUNE 26 (article first published : 2003-06-28)

We arrived late the night before having been warned off from travelling through the Transkei because of the delays caused by the major upgrading of roads en route.

So we opted for going the looooong way round, circling Lesotho – via Harrismith, Ladybrand, Clocolan, Aliwal North and Queenstown. It was a gloriously beautiful scenic route and it was good to unwind and prepare for the Festival but it took about 14 hours. We’re definitely going back through the Transkei – roadworks or no roadworks!

I have directed Clinton Marius’s Vergissmeinnicht which was to have its world premiere at the National Arts Festival yesterday evening. Starring Clinton himself and Thomie Holtzhausen, it’s a powerful drama about two Afrikaans brothers quarrelling about inheritance.

But first, we attended the premiere of Thomie’s one-man dramatic piece, Georgy Porgy adapted from Roald Dahl’s short story of the same name. This was very well received although it was a small audience.

Vergissmeinnicht’s premiere was notable for stunning performances from the two actors. Faced with proper lighting and sound systems and a real stage for the first time, they responded with a honed and focused presentation which deserves full houses for the rest of the run.

After that we headed for Nombulelo Hall in the township to see Brett Bailey’s iMumbo Jumbo. And here a heartfelt thank you to the Festival official who not only directed me from the Recreation Centre (which I had mistakenly assumed was the venue) but insisted on coming with us to ensure that we reached Nombulelo safely.

I missed iMumbo Jumbo the first time around and was happy to get to see it finally. Brett Bailey’s brilliance is very evident in this piece which joins Ipi Zombi and The Prophet (now released as a book titled The Plays of Miracle and Wonder.)

iMumbo Jumbo is on the Fringe Festival this year and director Brett Bailey and his highly skilled Third World Bunfight Company can be proud of another highlight in their already highly-acclaimed and respected achievements.

The show explodes into a joyous celebration of welcome as the show's sangoma host, Chief Nicholas (vigorously played by Vukile Ka Handula) launches into the story of the journey to retrieve the skull of King Hintsa kaPhalo to eradicate crime and violence. It seems that the problem stems from the fact that the King's head which is buried somewhere in Scotland needs to be returned to South Africa where it will be reunited in burial with his body allowing his spirit to move forward in peace. Playing the young chief Nicholas and putting in a great performance is Monde Abey Xakwe.

In a gloriously chaotic set that incorporates a mixture of the contemporary to the traditional - skin drums, plastic bowls, live chickens, grass mats and ceramic corgis, the audience is treated to a fast-moving and ever surprising sequence of scenes played out against an art deco cross.

Differences are explored between religion and tribal customs as well as opinions of Parliamentary leaders versus the amakhosi,. Expect to see a Jesus in gold lame loincloth and a lighted red heart. The masked Hurricane spirit wears an outfit patterned like a black and white square crocheted blanket. Other stunning images were gigantic spirits in flowing garb and water spirits hiding in reeds at the water's edge while angels made out of Coca Cola or beer cans hinted at corporate sponsorship.

This is a cultural experience full of humour and there are some memorable moments such as the stand-off between Hurricane Spirit and the Sky TV News camera and the young Nicholas's call to help to Jesus via a cellphone. I did think the production flagged towards the end and came to a rather muddled and unnecessarily confrontational conclusion. Apart from that and the use of live chickens in a sacrificial (albeit symbolic) scene made for an exciting and stimulating production.




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