Category: Theatre FP

The 2015 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre, Christiaan Olwagen, presents A Doll’s House in Grahamstown on 11 July 2015, at the National Arts Festival.  (Photo: CuePix/Mia van der Merwe)

I n between showings of his fast selling out adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House, Cue managed to grab director and 2015 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre Christiaan Olwagen for a quick chat and a photoshoot. Olwagen made his name at Festival directing the self-described appropriation Woza Andries? in 2010.

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Nat Ramabulana and Janna Ramos Violante perform in The Imagined Land at Vicky’s, Grahamstown, 10 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival. The Imagined Land is a new play by acclaimed writer Craig Higginson in which a famous Zimbabwean novelist, modelled on Nadine Gordimer and Doris Lessing, is confronted by her biographer with difficult memories from her past. Photo: CuePix / Jane Berg.

The National Arts Festival pretty much reflects the theatre scene as a whole. There is still not enough black theatre, and there are not enough black audience members. It’s largely a matter of economics but it’s also related to artistic will.

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Ralph Lawson in A Voice I Cannot Silence at the 2015 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. The play, directed by Greg Homann, is based on the life, stories and poems of Alan Paton.
(Photo: CuePix/Sithasolwazi Kentane)

Decades ago, when I was a first-year student at Rhodes, I met Alan Paton. He was fulfilling one of his many speaking commitments; this was rather bizarrely combined with an inter-house debate, in which I took part. The students’ content was frivolous; Paton’s, needless to say, wasn’t.

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Christian Olwagen’s production of Ibsen’s enduring drama, A Doll’s House, is driven by a clear directorial vision and performed by a powerful cast.

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Lee-Ann van Rooi performs in Woman Alone at the Hanger, Grahamstown, 10 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Woman Alone is based on the autobiographical novel of Dannelene Roach a South African nurse who was incarcerated in Saudi Arabia. Photo: CuePix / Jane Berg.

In style and some substance this solo theatre performance has much in common with Miracle in Rwuanda: a skilled actor tells a story in the character of a woman in a terrifying situation, a woman whose Christian faith assists in her having the strength to survive three months of hell. It also has similar elements to I Have Life – Alison’s Journey, also adapted by the director from a book about a truly horrific experience.

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Actor Lionel Newton is in The Return of Elvis Du Pisanie showing at the St Andrew's Hall in Grahamstown for the 2015 National Arts Festival. (Photo: Hlumela Mkabile)

Lionel Newton knocks back a Black Label, takes a long draw from a cigarette, and walks onto a spare stage of St Andrew’s Hall. All through his startlingly good turn as Eddie du Pisanie, a 49-year-old Witbank man entangled in the wreckage of his unresolved biography, Newton slakes his thirst from the beer bottle. It is not just gritty characterisation that prompts Newtown to use this prop. Contained in Paul Slabolepszy’s story of a disillusioned man confronting the truths of his youth is a very physical performance. By the end of his hour-long performance in this abridged version of the 1992 original, Newton is sweating profusely. A beer and the occasional cigarette on stage, hell, why not?

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Fiona Ramsay performs in The Imagined Land at Vicky’s, Grahamstown, 10 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival. The Imagined Land is a new play by acclaimed writer Craig Higginson in which a Zimbabwean novelist, modelled on Nadine Gordimer and Doris Lessing, is confronted by her biographer with difficult memories from her past. Photo: CuePix / Jane Berg.

“All criticism is a form of autobiography,” said Oscar Wilde, according to the programme note. Gulp! Playwright and novelist Craig Higginson at his best is a beautiful writer, and he’s at his best in The Imagined Land, promoted as “a new state of the nation play”.

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Iconic musician Michael Masote is a guest of honour at the opening of Masote’s Dream, at the Transnet Great Hall, Grahamstown, 10 July 2015, at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Based on Masote’s biography, the play is about how he pursued his dream to become a violinist in the face of penury and South Africa’s racist apartheid regime. Photo: CuePix / Jane Berg.

This show is good: but don’t trust me, trust the man himself. Shortly after the South African premier of Masote’s Dream, Matlhaela Michael Masote, on whose life this musical is based, wept, saying the play reminded him of how far he – and we as a nation – had come.

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Zanne Solomon performs in Similar To at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, 09 July 2015. Similar To follows two unnamed characters that have been locked in a cramped room for unspecified reasons. (Photo: CuePix/Tamani Chithambo)

A woman lies at the back of the stage, unmoving. A man paces around, lost and confused, clenching and relaxing his fists. Both are dressed entirely in white. The rest of the set is bare. The audience files into the venue and the lights go down. Similar to is renowned poet and writer Genna Gardini’s latest offering directed by fellow Horse’s Head Productions founder Gary Hartley. The play tells the story of two unnamed characters locked in a room with no access to the outside world. Their only escape from unmediated boredom is through a video game – The Sims.

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Joseph Putter performs in To4rm on 8 July 2015 at the National Arts Festival.  To4rm is a workshopped piece using the principles of physical theatre combined with personal story telling.  (Photo: CuePix/ Amanda Horsfield)

The lights come up and the cast start screaming. They are each kneeling in front of a metal bowl with a small pool of water in it. There is a pile of soil by each of their sides. As they scream, they wash their hands and then add the soil to the water and mix it. They are suddenly silent as they stand and then step into the bowl. The show is called To4rm.

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