Featured Veterans and innovators abound!

Veterans and innovators abound!

Gracing (disgracing?) the cover of the Festival programme this year are two fictional creations, one a comparatively recent addition to our satirical landscape, the pugnacious puppet Chester Missing, the other a flesh-and-blood institution, Evita Bezuidenhout, who has arguably eclipsed her creator in the minds of those who seldom visit the theatre.


Pieter-Dirk Uys performing at the Festival in 2013.  Photo: CuePix/Mia van der Merwe

Pieter-Dirk Uys performing at the Festival in 2013. Photo: CuePix/Mia van der Merwe

As the Standard Bank Old Artist of the Year, veteran satirist, playwright and performer Pieter-Dirk Uys – who turns 70 in September – has a Festival season devoted to him. There are two world premieres: a one-off solo show at the Guy Butler Theatre, The Echo Of A Noise, and a welcome return by Uys to playwriting, African Times, at the Rhodes Theatre. Uys himself directs a cast of five. The Guy Butler also hosts Bambi Kellermann in Never Too Naked, while her better-known sister Evita returns in A Part Hate A Part Love. The film festival includes three 1980s movies by Uys too.

Although he possibly cares too much to be as savage a satirist as some of his contemporaries, Uys is one of our wittiest political commentators and social critics, as well as a serious playwright.

In 1981, Evita began life as the SA ambassador to the fictional homeland of Bapetikosweti, a puppet state if ever there was one. The other cover star, Chester Missing, is the only Conrad Koch puppet to really to take off: his confrontational lack of political correctness and his even-handed dishing out of verbal snotklappe have delighted television viewers and theatregoers alike, not to mention his famous court case victory, which cemented his place in our satirical annals.

Koch’s show in the Thomas Pringle Hall gives Chester eponymous billing (it’s called Missing), but not everyone will welcome the stubborn inclusion of sidekicks Ronnie the monsterand Hilary the alcoholic ostrich. Missing is part of a Solo Theatre season alongside heavyweights Lee-Ann van Rooi in Woman Alone (billed as an “Arabian nightmare”); Canadian production Hirsch (the story of a Holocaust orphan); and Tony Miyambo in The Cenotaph of Dan Wa Moriri, written by William Harding (who also scripted the delicious Tobacco and the Harmful Effects Thereof, starring Andrew Buckland, which returns to the Festival this year).

The versatile Harding acted in Sylvaine Strike’s extraordinary production of Moliere’s The Miser a while ago, which included an award-winning appearance by Patricia Boyer. Those who enjoyed her bravura performance in Cooking with Elisa at last year’s Festival will be standing in line to see a dominating Boyer in Miss Magarida’s Way, also part of the Solo Theatre season, as is Ewok Robinson’s multimedia YOBO: You’re Only Born Once, and the much-heralded US production Miracle in Rwanda.

Of course, these are just the solo shows promoted by the Festival, but there are dozens of other solo performances, chiefly on the Fringe, but not exclusively. The Arena season includes Cape of Rebels, Tony Jackman’s latest dip into SA history, with Carel Nel as C Louis Leopoldt; and Full Stops on Your Face (FSOYF), Penny Youngleson’s “jihad against gender norms” featuring Iman Isaacs.

On the Fringe, Youngleson also directs Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi in his play A Man and a Dog. If you’re looking for African theatre (as in “black”), the Fringe is where you’ll find it. There’s not a helluva lot of it on the Main stages, although Philip M Dikotla’s Boy: A Note to a Generation foregrounds our country’s youth, while Masote’s Dream, a dramatised version of the true story of a black child who was determined to form the first “all black” orchestra during apartheid, although written by Netherlands director, Dagmar Slagmolen, certainly qualifies.

The Eastern Cape theatre showcase in the City Hall presents New Generation Productions’ Give Us This Day (first staged in 1975, then banned) and Port Elizabeth Opera House’s Inde le Ndlela,
which deals with post-liberation questions. Too few of the student theatre productions seem to reflect local African culture (rural or urban) – notable exceptions are productions by the Market Theatre Laboratory (Noord!) and the Durban University of Technology (Behind Closed Minds).

A cursory sampling of “black” Fringe productions reveals a story of an abused black teenager, Mirrored Flaws; a drama around infertility, Mosadi Lolea; and a Naledi Award winner, Nomzamo, featuring three inspirational women; while Jika, by theatre veteran Maishe Maponya, seeks to find solutions to postrevolution problems. Generally, the Fringe offers a baffling buffet even for the initiated, with more categories than the Main. The physical theatre season includes Waterline (Rob Murray is back!) and After Dark in the Groot Marico, for which Tara Notcutt and Andrew Laubscher team up for their second inventive portrayal of Herman Charles Bosman stories.

This year, talented newcomer Sive Gubangxa joins the team. Notcutt’s Undermined – part of the Princess Alice Hall-based Cape Town Edge – is strangely not categorised as physical theatre
but as drama. This brilliantly performed, inspiring story by Nhlanhla Makhwanazi has some truly magical moments. Notcutt also directs the terrible trio of Rob van Vuuren, Albert Pretorius and Rob Cairns, whose Three Little Pigs memorably took us to dark places in our police service: the 2015 sequel, Three Blind Mice, which is not entirely unrelated to certain high profile court
cases (Pistorius, Dewani, etc.), is on the Main Festival.

Other Main theatre productions that intrigue include Greg Homman and Ralph Lawson’s take on writer and voice of conscience Alan Paton, A Voice I Cannot Silence, in which Lawson portrays Paton; and I Have Life: Alison’s Journey, Marianne Thamm’s story of rape survivor Alison Botha (Suanne Braun), adapted and directed by Maralin Vanrenen. The combination of Thamm, Vanrenen, and returning “exile” Braun should provide a powerful drama.

One of our most influential theatre directors and writers, Barney Simon, is being honoured this year – on the twentieth anniversary of his death – with a production by the Baxter Theatre Centre. Thoko Ntshinga, who was in the original Market Theatre production of Simon’s workshopped Born in the RSA 30 years ago, directs a cast that includes Faniswa Yisa and Emily Child. A recent panel discussion in Cape Town revealed the extent to which theatre-makers were influenced professionally and personally by this much-loved man.

Barney Simon's Born in the RSA returns to the stage (above) while Nicholas Ellenbogen (right) has another installment of the ever popular Raiders. Photos: Rodger Bosch and Cuepix/Niamh Walsh-Vorster

Barney Simon’s Born in the RSA returns to the stage (above) while Nicholas Ellenbogen (below) has another installment of the ever popular Raiders. Photos: Rodger Bosch and Cuepix/Niamh Walsh-Vorster

CN0203 newgfhghThere also happens to be a new production of a Barney Simon-inspiredcum-mentored production on the Fringe, Have You Seen Zandile?, which was written by Gcina Mhlophe, Thembi Mtshali-Jones (who both acted in the original) and Maralin Vanrenen. And the Hexagon Theatre are performing Woza Albert!, Simon’s heartfelt satirical collaboration with Mbongeni Ngema and Percy Mtwa. Jemma Kahn, whose gloriously original Epicene Butcher production delighted so many, has commissioned seven writers to provide seven “deadly new stories” for her 2015 show, We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants. Among the contributors are heavy hitters Lauren Beukes, Louis Viljoen and Nicholas Spagnoletti. The evercreative Lindiwe Matshikiza has been roped in to direct Kahn and Roberto Pombo. (It’s under the poetry section in the programme but don’t let that mislead you).

The Fringe cult shows will appeal to the faithful and may even be visited by curious first-timers: 25 years since the first Raiders, the series continues with Raiders: The Musical, featuring, inescapably, Nicholas Ellenbogen, with three recently graduated UCT drama students, David Viviers, Cameron Robertson and Nathan Lynn.

Rob van Vuuren’s pants are still on fire (now at the Rhodes Music Club); Tim Plewman is still Defending the Caveman; and the Butlers are now paired with the Babysitters. If you missed Godfrey Johnson last year in Lara Bye’s production of Vaslav, a poignant and exciting portrayal of the final years of Nijinsky, don’t repeat that mistake this year. Johnson has never been better.

Talking of last year, in 2014 we were treated to a brilliantly conceived and executed Afrikaans production of Macbeth by Marthinus Basson. The Shakespeare on the Main programme this year is Abrahamse & Meyer Productions’ Hamlet, for which (as in their three-man Richard III production) they have stripped down the actor budget – this time to six, who “play six Jacobean sailors who, in turn, play all the parts”. There are, of course, European theatre productions (slightly fewer than before, as the rand struggles?).

The Flemish multi-media production Another Great Year for Fishing stands out, and puppets are profiled in the Family Fare section (no Chester Missing here!), as Spanish puppet master Carles Cañellas performs Soloist, and the People’s Republic of China presents the Guadong Puppet Theatre. The previously-mentioned Cape Town Edge grouping is not to be confused with “Artscape at the Gymnasium” which presents five productions, ranging from Mike van Graan’s Return of the Ancestors (a contemporary take on Woza Albert!) to a black gay soap, Chomi. Also at the Gymnasium, Wessel Pretorius gives a virtuoso performance in his intense drama, Undone, which won an Ovation Award last year.

Shows that have been seen at Cape Town’s innovative Alexander Bar Theatre are here: Lynita Crofford and Megan Furniss’s delightful Violet Online deals with post-divorce dating (with some thematic connection to Sonia Esgueira’s Love & Prozac) while Ashes, Philip Rademeyer’s latest exploration of violent homophobia, will probably divide critics and audiences.

Spoof shows/titles abound on the Fringe: Game of Groans, Lord of the Flings, Dear Breeder, War Donkey (the Polony Diaries), and – tucked away on page 231 of the programme – a soulful cabaret, The Old and the Beautiful, which will jog a few memories, because it’s presented by Troupe Theatre, and features Fiona Ramsay with Tony Bentel. Troupe Theatre produced – among others – Richard E. Grant, Henry Goodman, Fred Abrahamse and Ramsay herself. On the Main she appears along with The Old and the Beautiful director Janna Ramos Violante in The Imagined Land (a “gripping, witty,sexy, heady drama”) written by Craig Higginson and directed by Malcolm Purkey, who previously collaborated on The Girl in The Yellow Dress (superbly!) and Little Foot (disappointingly). Nat Ramabulana joins Ramsay and Violante. The Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre 2015 is Christiaan Olwagen.

In recent years, winners of this award, defeated by time, have battled to do justice to their recognition – like good food, good theatre takes time to prepare. Olwagen’s production of A Doll’s House, Ibsen’s tale of the original desperate housewife, stars Jennifer Steyn as Nina with Martin le Maitre, Dawid Minnaar, Anthea Thompson and Rob van Vuuren. With a cast like that, Olwagen, who has adapted the play to a contemporary setting, might well pull it off. Think I’d better book. So should you.

Nigel Vermaas
Cue contributing editor

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