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NAF THEATRE PROGRAMME (article first published : 2004-04-6)

The milestone 2004 National Arts Festival opens in Grahamstown on July 1 with an extensive line-up of South African and international events capturing the spirit of the moment for a broad spectrum of audiences. The programme was introduced at a series of media briefings round the country this week and Festival Committee chair Mannie Manim was quoted saying "it is appropriate that the Festival’s 30th birthday should coincide with South Africa’s tenth year of democracy – a social miracle in which the arts played a central role".

A number of the main events from the Rhodes University Centenary celebrations have been timed to coincide with the 2004 National Arts Festival, making Grahamstown the place to be in the first week of July for everyone who is truly proudly South African.

Tragedy has always made for great theatre and the 2004 National Arts Festival programme promises a hefty dose of thought-provoking catharsis. Sean Mathias (director of the movie Bent) uses Sophocles’ Antigone as a contemporary meditation on political will versus tradition-based conscience with John Kani playing King Creon in this Baxter Theatre production. Breathing In, Reza de Wet’s latest visitation from the Anglo-Boer War period, calls up the darker instincts that lurk in the recesses of the human psyche.

A new production by Young Artist Award Winner Mncedisi Shabangu dramatises the bleak poetry of Cold Stone Jug, Herman Charles Bosman’s prison chronicle. Happy Endings Are Extra by Ashraf Johaardien evokes the hubris of suppressed sexuality that sets a rent-boy, a bisexual man and his fiancée on a collision course. Betrayal is the fulcrum in two other pieces of contemporary social commentary. Bongani Linda’s Skin Deep adds two teenage daughters (one on either side) to the comic Madam and Eve scenario and fault-lines yawn beneath the routines of washing-up and shopping. Pieter Toerien’s production of Honour by Australian writer Joanna Murray-Smith, subverts the wronged wife/unfaithful husband theme with a refreshingly novel outcome.

Going straight to the heart via the funny-bone, a number of Festival 2004 theatre works use humour as the medium for tough messages. Those irresistible rubber men, Andrew Buckland and Lionel Newton, have cooked up a new romp-with-a-message, Fuse, that takes audiences places other comics fail to reach. The protagonist’s of Braam van der Vyver’s Straties are homeless “poor whites” – down but not out, thanks to the phenomenal energy and originality they bring to informal Afrikaans – laugh while you wipe away a tear!

Craig Freimond’s King of Laughter has an emphatically un-amused laugh-track technician speak lines so articulate and witty he tickles ribs as he searches for his own elusive chortle. Pieter-Dirk Uys’s The End is Naai puts the ten-year-old New South Africa in the hot seat with Evita, Bambi and co. as chief interrogators.

Sara Matchett of the Mothertongue Project takes audiences for a joy-ride (literally) with Uhambo (the journey) which uses stories collected in minibus taxis to show how South African life has changed since 1994. Pulsing with delight at the potential of multi-media, 40,000 Sublime and Beautiful Thoughts from the Netherlands uses texts, actors, a video beam and a DJ to create a high energy event that stimulates new ideas about everyday assumptions. Jerry Mofokeng’s Mpolelle (Tell Me About It) celebrates the culture of the Basotho in song, dance and storytelling with lashings of emotional colour.

Emerging artists from their Eastern Cape chosen for their talent and professionalism keep The Studio venue jumping with song, dance, drama and a delicious traditional Xhosa kos – a firm Festival favourite. And for festinos who like their theatre laced with risk and hormones, the Student Theatre Festival’s 11 productions hot from South Africa’s leading tertiary training institutions are essential viewing.

Out in the streets five zingy troupes make theatre that’s free for all. Ellis Pearson and Bheki Mkhwane play three of their golden oldies in rotation: Boy Called Rubbish, Squawk and iLobola. Alfred Hinkel’s Jazzart and Mark Fleishman’s Magnet Theatre collaborate in Rain in a Dead Man’s Footprints to invoke in sight and sound the histories and myths of the /Xam, defying reality with their use of fire, dance, music, puppets and illusion.

The Odd Enjinears in Ten Two One will erect their “Mobile Odd Tower”, a mind-boggling six-metre high musical thingamajig powered by people, machinery contraptions, compressed air and water.

Cherryco and Tekweni Puppetplays alternate two shows: African Fables and Pet’s Tale which both feature puppets, mime, magic and mask work. The Art of the Street sees the youngsters from Grahamstown’s Eluxolweni street children’s shelter back in action with redoubled vigour under project leader Alex Sutherland.

Booking kits will be available at the beginning of April in time and bookings open on May 10. Further information on the website or phone 046 603 1121. The festival is proudly presented by the Eastern Cape Government, Standard Bank, National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, SABC and the National Arts Council.




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