Theatre Review: Laugh the Buffalo.

Posted: November 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

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I have been dreaming about those 10 day silent retreat meditation courses. Imagine 10 days shielded from cars, sirens, phones, Facebook, and that tiny but greedy Twitter bird screaming to be fed. I imagine the only sounds heard would be the delicate crunch of fat happy cows grazing in evergreen fields and the gentle gurgle of a silver mountain stream. A very zen looking couple of an indistinguishable age will lead us into a trance with a nod of their graceful heads and we will remain thus, only occasionally, to the sound of a gong, we’d take a break to nibble on some organic, spring water hydrated organic vegetables harvested by their home-schooled children in hemp sarongs. 

An agent of the secret police on a training mission does not really quite fit in with this picture and that is only part of what makes Andrew Buckland’s one man performance so unusual, hilarious and farcical. Part Mister Bean, part Pink Panther, but thoroughly South African, our secret agent man, Buckland, stationed at the silence retreat is not the sharpest tool in the box. Perhaps that is exactly why he is the one chosen to sniff out a whistle-blower in hiding. Of course, all this spying and conniving needs to be done in silence. Our man bends over backwards, falls over his own feet and becomes a one-man comedy of multiple errors in his quest to uncover the truth. Initially everything slowly starts unraveling and then it all abruptly falls apart when The Buffalo God arrives.

Buckland who is a veteran performer, director and writer uses his prolific acting, miming and clowning skills to tell the hilarious tale of the hapless secret police agent. The plot is interesting enough but it is really his energetic and perfectly timed physical antics on the stage that steals the show. A very minimalist stage design focuses the attention on Buckland’s perfectly theatre trained body. He hops, flips, bends his limbs and as if by magic he transforms himself into the various characters. He is chilling as he becomes the sickening Buffalo God and then only seconds later he has the audience roaring with laughter as he turns into giant pair of lips.

Much credit has to go to award-winning director Janet Buckland. They have teamed up again to create the perfect dynamic and energetic performance. The direction of the play feels as natural as breathing with every gesture and word perfectly keeping the tightrope taut as we are carried away by the story. 

The themes at play are serious: the potential impact of the Protection of Information Act on a nation that refuses, or are too ignorant, to act on it and the deeply satirical depiction of pathological politicians bloated by greed and high on power.  He rapidly fires social and political comment at the audience in as much through his words as his body language. A great feat of this play is Buckland’s ability to play the hilarity and seriousness of the situation off against each other with a cleverly balanced performance. Laugh the Buffalo is especially relevant now that our country’s dear politicians are gearing up for the election. They are wearing shiny suits, double faces, dance in the streets and make golden promises with forked tongues.  Truth really is stranger than fiction right now. Buckland’s hilarious tale tells many bitter truths but at least he has the grace to take the sting out of it.

His original plays have won a total of twenty national and international theatre awards. He received a Standard Bank Standing Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival this year in recognition of the significant and long-standing contribution he has made to the theatre industry,

Laugh the Buffalo is a clever, fun and intellectually layered performance by a highly skilled performer clearly deeply passionate about his craft. We should all go and have a laugh with Buckland and then buy our politicians a one way ticket to a faraway silence retreat.

 Laugh the Buffalo runs until 30 November at 8.15 pm at The Baxter Theatre. Tickets for performances from Tuesday to Thursday cost R130 and on Friday and Saturdays they cost R150. Bookings through Computicket 0861 915 8000 or www.computicket.com.

 

I have to confess that I am a Godfrey Johnson groupie. I follow him all over the Mother City whenever I can. I loved him in the little launderette/theatre, Tabula Rasa, his lovely voice mingling with the smell of fresh laundry. He was phenomenal at Beefcakes as he strutted his stuff in Tainted Love with Christine Weir. And that is just licking the tip of the iceberg.

His current show, Mr Johnson Presents, at the gorgeous Kalk Bay theatre certainly does not disappoint.  Johnson has this uncanny ability of mixing pathos with humour and a good dollop of sauciness within the change of a key on the piano – which by the way – he has mastered.  On the night we were there, we were treated to a mix of his own work as well as the work of renowned artists such as Prince, Leonard Cohen, and Pet Shop Boys. It is however his rendition of Brel’s, If You Go Away, that floors me every time. Johnson presents this song with so much heartbreaking emotion that it feels as if the audience is holding its breath throughout.  However it is mostly giggles and gags as he puts his own spin on classic songs. Kalk Bay theatre is perfect for this intimate production. It feels as if Johnson is sitting in your lounge and is playing just for you.  It makes for a wonderful night out at the theatre. In fact, go early to avoid the traffic and grab a bite at the harbour or at the theatre itself.Image

Some of his one man shows include, “Alice sal Regkom”,The Importance of Being Harnessed”,”Songs my Lover Forgot to Sing to Me”, “Flirting with Coward”,”Behind Every Man”,”Stories of Crime and Passion” and “The Shadow of Brel”.

Mr Johnson Presents is on at Kalk Bay Theatre until 26 October.

To book visit  www.kbt.co.za

Imagine seeing your children only once a year, or once a month. It used to be common practice in South Africa, for some it still is, to have your domestic servant live in your house or in a tiny little room at the back of the house for the better part of the month or year. She did everything, including raising your children like her own. It was ‘normal’ to see a black woman with a white baby strapped to her back hanging up the washing, or doing the ironing. What she could not do is raise her own children. The job, zeitgeist, and long-distances did not allow that.

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Pic by Ella Nahmedova

Creator and director of A Woman in Waiting, Yaël Farber, aptly describe these women as stoic; “they seemed to have the waiting thread knitted inextricably into the fabric of their souls.”  He goes on to say, “women have always been the filters for a society: the vessels through which the pain of a community flows.” A Woman in Waiting tells the story of one such woman, Thembi Mtshali-Jones.

And between this accomplished actress, the director and all the designers of the production, this woman’s heartbreaking story springs to life. Mtshali-Jones has a long and impressive record as television, film and stage actress.  And she can sing. Beautifully. She has recorded several albums. She uses all her talents to bring this stoic woman’s story to us.  To see her longing for her child as she cares for the madam’s little one is just tragic and indicative of cruel times. The first 50 minutes of the play is mesmerizing. Clever props assist Mtshali-Jones’ storytelling as she herself effortlessly slips in and out of the various characters. She is incredible as she transforms herself into a little girl. It is flawless up to the final few minutes where the story, for me, became a little too self-indulgent. However for the most part, it is a magical piece of theatre making and a provocative story that has to be told and heard. It is beautifully written with great sensitivity and the evocative stage lighting enhances the performance.

A Woman in Waiting is on at the Baxter Theatre until Saturday.

If you are keen on cycling the 2014 Indian Adventure, http://tourdafrique.com/tour-overview/?t=an-indian-adventure from the famous Taj Mahal in Agra, to the southern tip of India at Kanyakumari, this is a book you really should have on your list. Image

 

Oliver Balch is fascinated by the transitional India, or the New India, as he calls it. He has travelled to the country numerous times and during his latest exploration he follows the curious trail of entrepreneurs and successful modern Indians as they embrace the ever-changing landscape. Not only is it a well-researched and informed read, but it is also brilliantly written in a very engaging manner that neither judges nor belittles the people he meets. From billionaire self-starters and mavericks, to rag pickers and teah wallahs, Balch searches for the characters behind India’s expansion of its middle classes: the everyday man who has created an extraordinary life for himself.  The people that Balch meets are colorful, creative and truly inventive. They see obstacles as challenges and meet them with a gleeful approach. They are experimental and fearless.

 

Through numerous interviews, expertly captured by Balch, whispers of ancient India can be heard as the New India bubbles and boils to a vivid life. There’s a lot of detail in the book. It is not a quick read but rather a slow languorous journey of meeting people who offer us, through the empathic eyes of a professional journalist, insights into an ever-changing country. Balch has clearly taken no shortcuts whilst capturing India’s zeitgeist.  A must read.

Book Review – In Patagonia (Vintage Bruce Chatwin)

Posted: August 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

“The book that redefined travel writing”, reads a comment in the Guardian. Another review by prolific travel writer, William Dalrymple, states, “The pendulum of fashion has swung against Chatwin”.Image

 

In Patagonia was published in 1977. Is it dated? I have to disagree with Dalrymple. Chatwin’s writes carefully pared prose about roughshod characters and peculiar places vividly painted from a unique perspective. Dangerous and intriguing encounters in foreign landscapes, brought to life from the pen of a gifted writer, will surely never become dated.

 

The first chapter is a real cracker. Chatwin, the child, becomes obsessed with an old leathery bit of skin stuck onto a card with a rusty pin – his granny’s possession. She tells him it was from a brontosaurus. He goes on to tell the story of how this alleged Patagonian brontosaurus fell into a glacier, and was trapped in a ‘prison of blue ice’, until it was discovered by his granny’s cousin Charley, who shipped the skin to her house. Chatwin never took possession of the much desired treasure. After granny’s death his mom carelessly threw it out. But his fascination with Patagonia kept growing when the first tremours of the Cold War were felt and he figured Patagonia as the safest place on earth.  And so it all begins.

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The book is divided into short chapters. Obviously they’re all linked to make one travelogue, but you may isolate one or two and read them as a short, short story: just a few pages opening with a meeting of an odd character, or a glimpse into the life of one drought-stricken family desperate to elk out a living, whom he meets on his travels. “At every place I came to it wasn’t a question of hunting for the story, it was a question of the story coming at you,” writes Chatwin. Ingenious, dangerous, capricious, daring, heroic and desperate: you get to discover Patagonia through the people he meets along his journey.

 

One of my favourite characters is the adventurer and self-styled sheriff, Martin Sheffield. Rumoured to look a bit like Hemmingway, Sheffield suffered from gold-fever, womanising, and general drunkenness. He went to Patagonia with only a white mare and an Alsatian for company – ‘Poor as Job’. He would do anything to find his personal Klondike: most of it illegal. “He shot trout from the rivers, a cigarette packet from the police commissioner’s mouth; and had the habit of picking off ladies’ high-heels”, writes Chatwin.

Yes, maybe Dalrymple is right after all, they don’t make them like Sheffield, or Chatwin, anymore.

 

1.  Don’t be a voyeur. The Punta is a sexy sweaty Garifuna dance style practiced in Belize. It sort of involves you and your partner shaking your hips and thighs at each other at a relentless pace. Visit a bar, have a typical Belizean Rum cocktail, get off your butt, and ask the barman/lady to teach you the Punta. They are generally happy to oblige. It’s a lot of fun, a great work out, and it can be your new party trick back home.   Image

 

2.  Don’t dive the Blue Hole. Ok if you’re a commercial junkie, love crowds, and you just want to tick it off your braglist. Go for it.  Sure you can see it from outer space with the naked eye, and it looks pretty gorgeous from the outside. But the water circulation is poor, therefore not much sea life about, and at $250 for 3 dives it will take a neat chunk out of your budget.

Rather opt for Shark-Ray Alley & Hol Chan Marine Reserve (Northern Cayes and Atolls). Also great for snorkeling: guaranteed to see schools of large stingrays and nurse sharks.

Or Caye Caulker (Northern Cayes and Atolls): Easy accessible snorkeling, very laid back and much less crowded than its popular neighbor, Ambergris Caye.

After a hectic cycle on the Doomsday Ride, http://tourdafrique.com/tour-overview/?t=la-ruta-maya-the-doomsday-ride, I needed to get away from the crowds. I found great snorkeling all along the islands next to the village of Hopkins, deep in the south of Belize. Affordable and few crowds. Book your SCUBA or snorkeling trip with Hamanasi Adventures for the best support and great crew.

3.  Don’t go abseiling down waterfalls – IF you have just cycled over 2700km. Rather opt for cave tubing. “Butts up!” is a national slogan in Belize. It comes from the screech of your tour guide as you are gliding along, butt hanging down in icy water, through a dark cave on an inflated tyre, and there’s a shallow rocky area approaching. After all the cycling your butt needs a rest, this is a non-strenuous way to learn about the Mayan culture.

4.  Don’t stay in Belize City for long. A day should be enough. It’s busy, a bit pricey, dirty, and I did not feel all too safe roaming through the streets. Generally the city is used as the centre from where all adventures depart.  Rather head out and visit the temples, or a jaguar retreat. There are luxury spas aplenty if that’s your scene. Generally the further you go away from the city, the more authentic your experience.

5. Don’t think you will have lunch in a tropical forest, next to an ancient Mayan temple, surrounded by the sounds of howler monkeys and parrots. Unless you are on the http://tourdafrique.com/tour-overview/?t=la-ruta-maya-the-doomsday-ride of course. They know people who know people. On the last day of the tour cyclists ambled through the ruins, blessed the site with rum and enjoyed an impromptu meal next to the Lamanai temple.

You better Belize it!

More info on this incredible adventure here:

http://tourdafrique.com/tour-route/?t=la-ruta-maya-the-doomsday-ride

Book Review: The Last Train to Zona Verde

Posted: July 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

In the final chapter of Theroux’s anti-travel, travel, novel, he keeps asking himself, ‘What am I doing here?’ over and over again. And I could not help but wonder then what I was doing still reading his book at that point.’ Image

 

The Last Train to Zona Verde is bound to leave you feeling morbidly depressed, not only about the African continent, but the world in general. Throw in Paul Theroux’s tedious grappling with his mortality and his peculiar obsession with urban and rural African squalor and depravity and you will start thinking of surfing the travel channels from the safety of your couch.

 

I rather enjoyed his previous African jaunt, Dark Star Safari, and more so The Great Railway Bazaar, despite his jaundice eye, very subtle racism masquerading as irony and dark comedy, and inflated ego. The man can turn a beautiful phrase when he is on a roll. His brave adventures into the back roads are admirable as is his very public display of trying to understand the political and social heartbeat of the various countries. However, reading The Last Train, especially the first and last chapter, was like chewing on an old sweaty sock.

 

The book opens with his description of the Namibian Ju’hoansi people, ‘I then resumed kicking behind a file of small-bodied, mostly naked men and women who were quick-stepping under a sky fretted with golden fire…pouch-breasted women laughing among themselves, an infant with a head like a fuzzy fruit bobbing in one woman’s sling, men in leather clouts clutching spears and bows – and I was thinking, as I’d thought for years traveling the earth among humankind: The best of them are bare-assed.’Image

 

And so he continues describing what he sees and experiences, his opinion, ego, tiresome philosophizing, and amateur stabs at anthropology, drowning out the essence of the people and a balanced view of the land.

 

The Ju’hoansi people perform a demonstration of their traditional way of life for him and he is utterly gutted when he discovers it is all just a show. I find this incredibly naïve for a man who has lived in Africa for many years and extensively explored the continent.

 

His endless rants about celebs, such as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Bono, providing aid in Africa, feel petty and become tiresome. His commentary and thoughts appear schizophrenic at times as he laments that traveling through perfectly pretty seaside villages leaves him slightly bored and with nothing to write. Yet when he tosses himself into the great writing fodder of African squalor and misery he gets squeamish, homesick and depressed. It’s a little confusing.

 

Perhaps the most difficult bit to handle is his repetitive references to the poverty, bandits, beggars, filth and utter desperation that for him makes up the sum of Angola.

 

‘That was how Angolan laughter sounded to me – insane and chattering and agonic, like an amplified death rattle.’- he writers. For him Angola is only ‘broken signs, slumping power cables, burst-open boxes of garbage, a tidemark of muddy litter, a muttonish smell in the air as of goat breath and decayed meat.’

 

Maybe this is an accurate description of Angola, I have never been. But I have traveled through the armpit of countries and it’s never just all decrepitude and despair. I suspect it is more a sign of Theroux’s travel weary mind urging him to go home. And he himself finally admits it at the end when he ironically doesn’t even make the last train to Zona Verde.

 

Despite the above criticism I would recommend the book purely for its chapters on South Africa. Skip the utterly boring bit where he rambles on about living in his super luxurious hotel and everything he ate there, yawn, and go straight to his description of the political situation in South Africa. It is brilliantly written, spot on, and a hilarious take on our bizarre leaders and their shenanigans.  In South Africa we have visitors, mostly foreigners, to some of our worst townships and squatter camps. We call it township tours and applaud it for innovation. Theroux calls it poverty porn, which I found rather apt and darkly humorous, because of the truth of it.

 

Oddly enough it appears that Theroux, the budding historian and amateur anthropologist, is the one travel writer who has made a living out of writing about how much he hates traveling.

 

Astrid Stark