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THE WITNESS HILTON ARTS FESTIVAL (article first published : 2005-09-15)

True to its own benchmark form, the 13th annual Witness Hilton Arts Festival to be held on September 16, 17 and 18 promises to be a dazzling line-up of cutting-edge drama, dance, comedy, music and cabaret, as well as an enticing array of arts and crafts in a bumper programme that features a stellar line-up of hot property South African performers and artists mostly gleaned from the Grahamstown festival in July.

Among the highlights on the Main Festival are musicals: All Shook Up featuring Shelly McLean, Tim Wells and Marion Loudon directed by Evan Roberts with a live band; Behind the Mask (The affordable Phantom!) starring Rory Rootenberg and Lana English with artistic consultant - Ian von Memerty. Life is a Cabaret features Carol Trench and Anthony Stonier with a live band under the musical direction of Evan Roberts featuring music by Kander and Ebb.

Treats on the main festival drama front include the witty and intelligent comedy, Art directed by Greg King; Paul Slabolepeczy’s new piece – The Art of Charf (Lady Lonely Hearts) featuring multi-award winning Elize Cawood and Wilson Dunster; Boston Marriage is a droll comedy of very bad manners set in a Victorian drawing room featuring Clare Mortimer, Belinda Henwood and Janna Ramos Violante, directed by Steven Stead. Veteran actor and rumbustious personality John Whiteley takes audiences on a journey through his mind, memories and machinations in the delicious Don’t Put a teat on the Whiskey Bottle!. Making a welcome festival return is Frank&Stein once again directed by Murray McGibbon and starring Anthony Stonier and the famous clowns of Green Mamba, Ben Voss and John van de Ruit. From the people who brought you Baobabs Don’t Grow Here and Black and Blue comes another finely-crafted tale – Wood for the Trees based on The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. It is directed by Jaci Smith and performed by Gys de Villiers, James Cunningham, Rob van Vuuren and Helen Iskander who created the magical adventure together.

Dance and physical theatre lovers can look out for Attachments – six duets that explore the coming together of bodies, desires, fantasies and territories. Festival regular and physical theatre maestro – Andrew Buckland directs the latest exciting offering by physical theatre performer Craig Morris entitled Hero.

For those looking for a festival laugh there’s Black Mamba, Ben Voss and John van de Ruit’s newest sketch-based comedy showcase which made its debut in Grahamstown in July. It is written by John van de Ruit, Ben Voss and Greig Coetzee and directed by Murray McGibbon. Enjoy a spoof on super-heroes in the form of Captain Entertainment in Musical and Mayhem; outspoken and fearless, leading funnyman Cokey Falkow has recently performed in London and Los Angeles and aims to make audiences laugh with a wry and quirky mix of observations and reflections. Stef the Hypnotist comes to the Hilton festival for the first time with two shows, the Great Escape - which honours Harry Houdini – and his Sidesplitting Hypnosis show

The festival once again will have an eclectic mix of classical music hosted by Christopher Duigan’s Music Revival Concerts. As part of this, the festival is honoured to host the KZNPO in Concert for one concert only on Saturday afternoon. Their programme is a showcase of symphonic classics that features pianist Christopher Duigan in an all Tchaikovsky programme.

This year’s Witness Hilton Arts Festival has a full, busy and eclectic fringe line up on offer to complement its main festival programme. The drama programme includes De Wet’s Dream from the creators of Baobabs Don’t Grow Here – a tale of small towns, fast trains and big plans! KickstArt offers a rare chance to see Berkoff’s From My Point of View - adapted from a short story, directed by Peter Court and featuring Clare Mortimer and Darren King. Written and directed by Janet van Eeden, The Savage Sisters is the third in her Savage Trilogy which explores the lives of the three authors, Jane Austen, Fanny Burney and Mary Wollstonecroft, through the eyes of three actors who are putting on a play about the authors. In a Candlelight Theatre production, Well I Never, Vera Clare and Garth Anderson dramatise the humorous writings of Somerset Maughan, Saki and Guy du Maupassant.

There is a bumper feast for the younger festival goers this year with The Adventures of Jabulani Jo – a delightful tale that will take children on an exploration through the animal kingdom with Josette Eales and Janna Ramos-Violante. For the young and the young at heart is Born through the Nose featuring the inimitable Bheki Mkhwane which reminds us of our social ritual and how to walk with our feet close to the ground. From the boundless imagination of Peter Court and Creative Madness comes three pieces for young audiences: Firelight, an evening adventure where shadow puppets weave their magic spells as flickering stories unfold before your very eyes; Kaleidoscope, a story telling extravaganza and The Ubiquitous Mr Boo is a buffoon. Boring, brazen and brash. Help him solve the riddle of Bazillion before he becomes a bilious and bloated baboon. Ellis Pearson and Bheki Mkhwane are something of an institution on the lawns at Hilton, bringing their unique style of theatre and universal messages with their Wave.

A Hilton highlight is the best of the Blue Monday Platform - a youth initiative that showcases the creative work of local talent in Durban. It is an open mike for performing arts. The Blue Monday Platform has been running at the Catalina Theatre over the last year and is made possible by the Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism and PANSA.

A special musical treat is Ma's Boys -a small group of male voices who have been on the fringe of the Pretoria music scene for some years. Accompanied by Ma Rodseth on the piano, they sing a collection of madrigals, negro spirituals, minstrel songs and modern numbers in two to six part harmony. All door takings go to charity.

There will be a special focus on food and eating again this year with two food areas to choose from: the usual popular food tent with a myriad of eateries offering their wares, and an elegant dining area offering a more sophisticated dining, cocktail and late night experience.

Another theatre highlight this year will be The Fusion Cooking School which offers Culinary Theatre at its best with Shaun Smith and Caryn England. Using the medium of Food Theatre they will expose audiences to an interactive culinary experience in an atmosphere of fun, activity and humorous energy.

Complementing the performing arts as always, there are a myriad of art exhibitions on display throughout the Hilton campus, featuring some of KZN’s top visual artists, and there’s also the annual Brainfest lecture series.

Booking kits available from selected SPAR Stores in KZN and from Exclusive Books (La Lucia, Pavilion and Gateway), Adams in Musgrave Centre and town, Shooters and Shuters and the Witness offices in Pietermaritzburg. Detailed information can be found on www.artslink.co.za/hilton




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