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THEATRE AT NAF (article first published : 2005-06-12)

Theatre breaches the boundaries between life and art at the National Arts Festival taking place in Grahamstown from June 30 to July 9. Contemporary joys and dilemmas are cathartically reviewed in a varied programme that includes classics, comedies, music and dance theatre, social critique and spectacle, each one with an edge of topicality.

All the world’s a stage, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet said. The words are given new meaning in renowned international actor/director Janet Suzman’s production of the great tragedy, a Baxter Theatre presentation which has its premičre at the Festival. Even the cast list announces an innovative take on the action: John Kani plays King Claudius with Dorothy Ann Gould as Queen Gertrude, Rajesh Gopie as Hamlet and Roshina Ratnam as Ophelia.

Acting and living (seeming and being?) is at the nexus of a vivid new Dutch production of August Strindberg’s 100-year-old Swedish classic The Stronger (played in English). The scene could be played out for real in any 2005 Festival dressingroom: two actresses locked in an emotional power-struggle as they strip off stage persona, make-up and costumes.

Part of Michael Frayn’s hilarious West End hit, Noises Off, also romps through the dressing-room. Farce hits the fan and onstage action implodes in backstage mayhem as a nine-strong cast headed by Ralph Lawson leaves the audiences howling with laughter. This Peter Toerien production premičres at the Festival.

Along with these new productions of timeless scripts, Festival audiences will also be the first to experience world premičres of five brand new works from hot theatre makers.

The song/dance/drama spectacular, Newtown aka Mother of Rain-Mmapula is scripted by British Black Theatre guru Don Kinch, directed by Aubrey Sekhabi and presented by NuCentury Arts (Birmingham, UK) and the State Theatre. Against a background of urban renewal, a family seeks to propitiate the ancestors, heal the present and build a bridge into the future. The production team includes choreographer Zenzi Mbuli and the cast includes Vusi Kunene, Hope "Sprinter" Sekgobela and Slindile Nodangala.

Playing out in a much darker terrain, Kobus Moolman’s Full Circle argues that even extreme political and religious fundamentalism are not proof against cynical old corruption. The script was the Jury winner at the 2004 PANSA Festival of New Writing. Direction is by Charmaine Weir-Smith with Michael Richard, Anriette van Rooyen, Hannes Brümmer and Samson Khumalo.

Dressed up in a business suit, more corruption struts centre stage in Mike van Graan’s high adrenalin satire on BEE, Hostile Takeover. The stakes (and the guns) are loaded; the loser will die in this volley of lightning repartee fired off by an apartheid diplomat turned escort agency baron (Martin le Maitre), a hired assassin (Lindelani Buthelezi), and a high roller (Mpho Molepo) who would shoot wives and rape daughters in the interests of ‘economic reality’. Malcolm Purkey directs this Market Theatre presentation.

Young Artist Award Winner for Theatre, Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom takes a scalpel to moral degeneracy in a community of ordinary people with Relativity: Township Stories which he co-scripted with Wesley Chweneyagae. Incest, promiscuity, sexual abuse, revenge, and murder all come up for unflinching critique. Grootboom is a development officer at the State Theatre and has co-written a number of plays with Aubrey Sekhabi, including Not with my Gun and The Stick.

Asserting the power of the individual, of joy and of human goodness in the face of wicked self-interest, Wood for the Trees uses music, visuals and movement in a magically physical retelling of Jean Giono’s visionary text. A world premičre directed by Jaci Smith and performed by Helen Iskander, James Cuningham, Rob van Vuuren and Gys de Villiers, this promises to be a fabulous successor to the team’s acclaimed Baobabs Don’t Grow Here.

Spice Root, another extraordinary multi-sensory theatre piece, explores the Java/South Africa connection which is rooted in slavery. Director Rehane Abrahams presents a heady blend of Javanese dance, shadow puppets, gamelan music and spicy food (prepared onstage by Cape foodie Cass Abrahams).

Dreaming of creative liberation, the heroines of Ambie Sistas, are Kimberley song and dance girls who encourage a grandmother to revisit through music and story the pain of her own pilgrimage on the road to fame. Hope and young energy prevail in this upbeat treat presented by the Northern Cape Theatre Conservatoire in association with the State Theatre. The script is by Moagi Modise and Kholofela Kola directs with Mbongeni Ngema playing mentor director.

More feel-good values shine through Angels Everywhere, a lively and heart-warming play set in the hectic gang-ruled streets of Mannenberg. Direction is by Oscar Petersen with Caramel (the cat), Grant Powell, Bronwyn Van Graan, Charlton George and Abduragmaan Adams – the Mannenberg homeboy who co-wrote the script.

In the 2005 dance and drama programme at The Studio Eastern Cape theatrical movers and shakers present two pieces which also exploit the dramatic potential of every day life in Mzantsi Afrika. Silulama Lwana’s Sinners tracks a corrupt government official who has played fast and loose with other people’s money and is now trying to dodge the bills. Seasoned director Lindile Diniso of the Lovedale P/Fet College Arts Academy, and his talented cast tell the story of The Moja Man, aka Reverend Lepuko who is on the hop, trying to protect his comfortable status from the sleazy secrets of his bad-boy past.

More innovative fare awaits audiences in the Student Theatre programme. Ten new productions from tertiary training institutions showcase emerging talents and offer a sampling of the way young people are using theatre to get to grips with life here and now. And to ensure that no festino goes home culturally hungry, there’s a plethora of theatre on the Festival Fringe where big established names and exciting newcomers dish up their best in Grahamstown’s every available performance space. This 31st National Arts Festival is proudly brought to you by the Eastern Cape Government, Standard Bank, the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, the SABC and the National Arts Council. Booking kits are available at selected Standard Bank branches and Computicket or further information can be obtained on the website www.nafest.co.za or by telephoning 046 603 1103.




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