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FESTIVAL DIARY – JULY 4 (article first published : 2003-07-8)

Today was a frantic catching-up day. With two days set aside for getting Vergissmeinnicht comfortable in its venue, artSMart had been somewhat neglected so yours truly was locked into the computer most of the day.

However, in the afternoon I saw Janice Honeyman’s full-on pantomime-styled version of a selection of stories adapted for the stage from Nelson Mandela’s Favourite Stories for Children titled Madiba Magic published by Tafelberg.

At the opening, the stage is bare and black with only an arched ramp up-stage. Before long, this image is transformed into a blast of colour with Hazel Maree’s outrageous costumes and Ales Desoul’s over-the-top props. The finely controlled lighting is in the sure hands of Mannie Manim. Sarah Roberts’s set includes impressive designs – some exquisite like a backdrop of stars, powerful in the massive disc representing the sun, or funky as in strands of plastic bottles.

Sourced from all over Africa, the stories are endearing and engaging and one of them deals with an African Cinderella-type scenario and I would venture to suggest that this be expanded into a full length pantomime!

The cast is vibrant and highly energetic – they need to be! – and all have excellent credentials and experience. Putting in beautiful performances are Sonia Esqueria, Elton Landrew, Bruce Little, Sizwe Msutu, Dumisane Mbebe, Zandile Msutwana, Thando Mthi; Irvine van der Merwe and Faniswa Yisa. Notable for her performance was Sonia Esqueria, a delightful actress to watch in the future. Musical director is Camillo Lombard and the production owed a lot to the spot-on timing of backing musician/percussionist Marco van der Merwe.

Providing the book-ends, as it were, for the stories is The Mother Who Turned to Dust which deals with the Sun and his daughter the Moon who is shy and therefore only reveals her full face occasionally. She also weeps for the children of the earth as they learn to cheat, lie and become aggressive or greedy. However, the production sends out the message that the actions of the good and pure can overcome the destruction of the dark ones.

The children in the audience delighted in the riotous imagery and this production, presented by The Baxter Theatre Centre in association with the National Arts Festival, will no doubt go on to be highly successful.

Today a crowd of about 400 people marched down the Grahamstown High Street led by former Archbishop Desmond Tutu. With him were Judge Albie Sachs and authors Antjie Krog, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela and Zubeida Jaffer. The orderly and dignified parade progressed to the Cathedral of St Michael and St George on High Street for a mass ceremony of reconciliation.

Books launched today at Wordfest were My Mother’s Kitchen was a Baobab by Ben Bezuidenhout;For our children which comprises stories of 13 South African women; Don Maclennan’s collection of poems titled Under Compassberg, and Guy Willoughby’s Archangels.

The presence of the KZN Philharmonic, orchestra-in-residence at the festival for its second year (of three), has brought a definite upmarket tone to the Monument. The male musicians in their elegant DJ’s certainly stand out among the regular festino gear of bulky anoraks, coats, beanies and scarves!

The Festival newspaper Cue reported that “The first festival showcase, where artists met international delegates, came to a close yesterday after two information-packed networking sessions and a practical workshop held earlier this week.

“Over the last five days, artists have been selling themselves in the hope of being given the opportunity to tour abroad. Unfortunately, no one was granted their wish, but they did learn what to do if they wanted to reach overseas markets.” The showcase will again be part of Festival in 2004 when it will include “separate sessions for directors, producers and artists”.




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