So the Blue Iris’ run has been extended to 4 August.  Not surprising really as Athol Fugard has once again let loose his imagination and finely tuned craft with his usual fervour and skill.

CuePixHaroldGess photographer.webjpg

As the sun dries up the Karoo landscape and the lack of food and water kills every living creature around them, a small family slowly falls apart along with the landscape.  It is a very tragic story virtually from the get go. You can almost see the husband and wife’s love and compassion for each other slowly seep into the dry soil and eventually slip into the cracks. More tragic is that whilst this is happening there is love and hope blossoming around them but they fail to see it as they are too wrapped up in their own misery. The metaphors are ample and beautiful.

The final scene is not going to see you joyfully bopping out of the theatre or even leave you with a trace of optimism.  However, as always with Fugard, you are left with a lot to mull over.  Lee-Ann van Rooi’s character offers a fresh new perspective on the typical Karoo family unit.  Graham Weir is every bit the tortured and remorseful farmer. Only Claire Berlein’s brief ghostly appearance seems a bit discombobulated to me. Perhaps that is the idea.  However, her monologue does not feel as if it seamlessly slides into the rest of the play.  And then there is the appearance of the Blue Iris. It becomes quite a strong character in the play.

Blue Iris’ set design sets a brooding tone to the events that are playing out on stage.  A lovely, thought provoking piece, although for me it is not quite Fugard’s strongest production. But then he has set the bar very high by penning masterworks such as, Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act, Master Harold…and the Boys, and my personal favourite, The Captain’s Tiger performed beautifully as Die Kaptein se Tier.

The Blue Iris is directed by Janice Honeyman and features Claire Berlein, Graham Weir and Lee-Ann van Rooi. Pusetso Tshibedi is the Assistant Director, with lighting design by Mannie Manim, set design by Dicky Longhurst and costume design by Birrie le Roux.

It will be at The Market Theatre in Johannesburg from 21 August to 7 October 2012.
Tickets for The Blue Iris playing at the Fugard Studio Theatre range from R110 to

Listen with your eyes.

I never thought a story about office politics could bring a big lump to my throat. But then again, when last have I seen a FTH:K production? Too long ago, obviously, since I have just about forgotten what magic they weave without words.

I left the formal office environment years ago exactly because of the tale Office BLOCK has to tell, only to discover that the ‘office’ as FTH:K enacts it, is in many ways a metaphor for life.

In this clever production four office workers trample all over each other, and ultimately betray themselves, along the scramble up the corporate ladder. It is ugly and messy but beautifully dispersed by moments of tenderness and gentle humour. And it is all conveyed without spoken words. Miming, dancing, clever stage choreography and set pieces tell the story. Marlon Snyders, Christopher Beukes, Sinethemba Mgebisa and Asanda Rilityana all deliver passionate and memorable performances as the ‘grey’ office workers. The originality of their approach and performances are so refreshing, Jayne Batzofin’s clever set design becomes a character in the play that energetically moves the action forward. The soundscape is magical and transformative. Office BLOCK is a reminder of why visual theatre company FTH:K, producers of  shows such as Womb Tide, QUACK! and GUMBO, won the 2011 Fleur du Cap Award for Innovation in Theatre.

Worth a visit even if you just want to see a water cooler weep.


ps: I really think this review captured it well:


FTH:K is a young, independent theatre company whose non-verbal, visual theatre integrates the deaf and hearing communities,

On at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio until 21 July.  Bookings can be made at Computicket 0861 915 8000

Sam Shepard breathes again – theatre review.

Posted: July 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


A farming family’s tragic, horrific, and complete demise – by their own design – lies at the heart of Sam Shepard’s play, Buried Child, which has been translated into Afrikaans by Saartjie Botha.  Director Janice Honeyman has cleverly assembled a perfectly balanced cast, comprising of experienced actors, and exciting young guns, to create a gripping piece of theatre.

Shepard’s Pulitzer prize-winning play is considered one of his finest works. It tells the story of a Midwestern American family’s complete disintegration due to an Oedipal indiscretion, and eventual murder, which they try to hide from the world through lies and denial.  Their demise is, in part, symbolic of the disintegration of the American Dream. The husband is the last in the line of patriarchs who, he believes, let down his family, his lineage, his land and himself.

Saartjie Botha’s Afrikaans translation sets the story in South Africa during the 90’s.  Gys de Villiers is Dodge, the failed farmer, father, and husband of a philandering, bible-punching wife. He is drinking himself to death on his couch. His wife, played by Anna-Mart van der Merwe, incessantly bullies him into even further emasculation. He has two sons, Bradley who is physically challenged, played by Albert Pretorius, and the mentally challenged Tilden, played by Oscar Petersen.  In walks Tilden’s long lost son, ready to re-introduce himself and his girlfriend, to his family.  Tilden appears not to recognise his son and slowly the horror of the family’s secret is revealed.

Gys de Villiers is superb as Dodge, a once proud man who so effectively disintegrates before our eyes that we begin to ponder whether he has always been a ghost.  This mixture of surrealism and realism is accentuated when Vince’s girlfriend Shelley, played with a crisp spunkiness by Thenjiwe Stemela, remarks that she feels like the only person alive in the house.  The family has become the skeletons in its own closet. This feeling is perpetuated by Dodge’s lament that he has seized to matter as he is just one in a line of cadavers. In Doodsnikke it becomes clear that the living and the dead are inextricably bound. Shelly is the catalyst which sets in motion the family’s inevitable confrontation of the truth.

Anna Mart’s performance as the bitter and racist wife is simply brilliant, perhaps one of her finest, most convincing, roles yet.  Her command of Afrikaans and her presence as a consummate actress is impressive.  In a tragic-comic manner, her character totters in and out of insanity as she flirts with the local preacher, while her family is imploding. She has turned to religion to mask her infidelity and her role in the family’s ugly secret.  She bullies her husband to hide her own immense failure as a mother and a wife.

Tilden wanders into the house with arms full of beautiful corn and fresh carrots which he says he has harvested from the back.  Dodge says his land has lain barren for years. Again surrealism, and a flickering of dark humour, creeps in as we ponder whether the land is barren or not. It becomes clear that Dodge has literally jailed himself in his house which is disintegrating with him. Oscar Peterson fine performance as the mentally challenged son evokes equal amounts of pity and revulsion.

Patrick Curtis’ stage design depicts the inside of an old farmhouse.  A battered old couch becomes the centre of the action. The inside of the wife’s bedroom is filled with crucifixes. Combined with Mannie Manim’s intuitive lighting, the house itself becomes a grotesque, and tragic, living and breathing character in the play.

Albert Pretorius’s portrayal of the maniacal Bradley is disturbing and darkly comic. The scene where he sticks his hand into Shelley’s mouth, despite its understated simplicity, equates to rape.

In Travis Snyders’ character as the young Vince, we want to believe in renewal and rebirth for the land, and the house, and the family.  But we are can’t help but wonder what will become of the next generation of this tragic family.

Sam Shepard’s writing is controlled and filled with beautiful and thought-provoking metaphors. And whilst the director did a fine job to recreate the play as a South African piece, for me the strongest message I found in this work, is the reminder of our universal frailty as human beings. Our flaws, our weakest moments, and our animalist lack of self-control and inability to allow reasoning to season our deeds.  And then our remorse, which ultimately destroys the fragile mind.  Aldous Huxley says it best in Brave New World, “Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. Rolling around in the muck is not the best way of getting clean”.

Astrid Stark

Pieter-Dirk Uys is the kink in our koeksister. He is the sorghum in our umqombothi beer, and he is as entrenched in our history as a well-soaked rooibos teabag in a tin pot.

I simply can’t do without my dose of giggles from the master of South African political satire. This time around Uys has dusted off some of his characters from his Adapt or Dye performance from 30-years ago. Mrs Evita Bezuidenhout makes a brief appearance, as does Pik Botha, the funny Nowell-I am not a racist – Fine, and of course Madiba. He’s also added the new players on our political stage. The beleaguered ex-ANC youth league leader, the dancing president, and Thabo Mbeki, all get a poke with his sharp tongue.

The show starts with Uys impersonating Adolf Hitler. He wastes no time but straight away points out the similarities between Hitler and our own Julius Malema. It is all very chilling and it sounds like a racy Hollywood thriller as Uys reminds us that we are hanging on to the edge of our continent by our fingernails. “But what lovely manicured nails!” he then softens the blow.  Uys laments, “At the end of the war Hitler at least had the decency to commit suicide, which is more than what you can say of our Apartheid leaders.” Uys reminds us to support Juju since he promises us, ‘The goldmine at the end of the rainbow’.

What follows is a nostalgic trip through the memory lane of our political history and Uys’ own phenomenal career as a performer and activist. Uys lays out the rich tapestry that makes up our colourful country.  That he has always chosen to tackle difficult issues such as racism, HIV/Aids, freedom of speech and human rights, head on, is clear from the sheer volume and bravado of his performances and written work over the last 30 odd years.

Uys is having a field day with the inspiration and material supplied by our hotchpotch of eccentric politicians.  From Helen Zille to Kgalema – blink and you will miss his presidency – Motlantle, they all get a turn to dance center-stage. The recent police chief saga is dragged into the lime-light and I suspect as things develop on the political front over the next month, it will be worked into his performances.

Very funny is Uys’ sketch featuring a converted Piet Koornhof who is now a fierce ANC supporter. ‘Hypocrisy is the vaseline of political intercourse,’ Uys reminds us.  The Pik Botha sketch is funny, and chilling, as Botha ‘categorically’ states, ‘My conscious is clear. I never used it’.

The show is all done in good humour but the underlying seriousness of the topics and the grim transgressions of our politicians are glaringly obvious.  At times some of the material feels a bit dated which is perhaps inevitable given the time-span and the historical context of some of the work. The script feels as if it can do with just a small injection of something totally fresh and new.  However, Uys is still our number on Icon when it comes to political and social satire and his work and words commands respect wherever he performs.

It was PW Botha who gave Uys the title Adapt or Dye all those years ago. And ironically, in 2012 Pieter-Dirk Uys found inspiration by a politician who said, ‘adapt or fly!’ We seem to have come full circle, but as Uys says, ‘As long as we can laugh at our fear, we are still in charge of our future’.


* Tickets are from R100 to R140. Bookings at

Astrid Stark – First published in Cape Times

First published in Cape Times June 2012.

It has been a long time since an injustice inflicted on a character left me feeling this outraged.  Accomplished actress, Anthea Thompson’s character Gabby is the protagonist whose circumstances left me feeling quite provoked.  The fact that I am a woman, and one of the key topics rape, probably fuelled my fury even more. Mike van Graan’s razor sharp writing and relentlessly paced plot certainly contributed.

Mike van Graan

Gabby is the white personal assistant to a prominent black minister with an impressive anti-apartheid struggle record. One dark night he rapes her, or ‘allegedly’ rapes her, depending on which side of the fence you are most comfortable on. Her ex-husband, who is the ruling party’s smooth-talking crack filler, is sent to dissuade her from pressing charges which would obviously be very damaging to the party’s reputation, especially considering that it is only 6 weeks before the country’s next election. However this is only the basic plot. There are lots of little sub-plots that add to Gabby’s dilemma as the complicated relationships and situations are laid bare by the actors.

The story is presented as an edgy courtroom drama thriller with a strong and unique South African flavour. The dialogue is snappy, and pared down to the very fine bone of necessity. Images projected onto a screen create a modern feel.  Green Man Flashing gives stalwart crime drama television shows, such as CSI, a good run for its money.

It is not fair to try and single out a performance, or actor, as the entire cast is clearly committed and very skilled. Performances are honest and brutal but without unnecessary melodrama.

When van Graan’s production opened in 2004 it was considered ground-breaking, brave, and very relevant, especially in the light of President Jacob Zuma corruption scandal, and ‘alleged’ – there is that word again – rape case which followed shortly after the play’s release.

Today the characters and their situations are as fitting as ever. Gender based violence in South Africais still one of our biggest scourges, as is the HIV and Aids infection rate, especially amongst women.  On the one hand you have Gabby presented with an opportunity to lay bare the violent sexual act which has been committed against and to give thousands of women a voice. On the other hand you have the men who selflessly saved thousands, maybe millions of lives from apartheid’s oppression. And then there is the omnipotent fist of corruption which, today, is holding our country in a deadlock by threatening to impoverish the state coffers and by bringing service delivery to a grinding halt.

Fortunately van Graan’s play does not preach to its audience or force us to pick sides. Rather, it allows us to grapple with the issues at hand, given our own circumstances or point of view.


* Tickets are from R50 to R85. Bookings via Computicket, 08619150000 or 0214217695.

GREEN MAN FLASHING. Written by Mike van Graan. Directed by Hennie van Greunen. Lighting Design by Hennie van Greunen and Jeanne Steenkamp. Set design by Marcel Meyer  With Anthea Thompson, Susan Danford, Thami Mbongo, Charlton George and Wiseman Sithole. Artscape Arena Theatre at 7h30Pm on Monday and Tuesday. Thereafter at 8h15PM. Until 23 Jun. ASTRID STARK reviews.

First published in Sunday Independent, March 2012

Elizabeth first made eye contact with Akon through the porthole of his spacecraft.  Selene, her white Arabian mare and constant companion, stood valiantly on the hill in front of the hovering ship. The propulsion forced the long dry grass down and up, like seamless waves against the soil. Elizabeth stared unflinchingly into the wide-set and magnetic eyes of the man whom she had been searching for all her life.

elizabeth klarer with the sculpted bust of Akon

When she saw him again his spacecraft was nestled in the hollow of the mountain on the family farm in Natal. Akon stood before her, his tall lean body clad in a silver suit, and his long silver grey hair caressed his strong shoulders. He stretched out his arms, and Elizabeth ran to him. “This time you are not afraid of me”, he said.

It sounds a bit like Mills and Boon meet 2001: Space Odyssey, but for Elizabeth – respected meteorologist, environmentalist, pilot, wife, and mother – it is the story of her life. Elizabeth was born in Natal in 1910 as the descendent of a long line of professionals and musicians. She wrote her non-fiction autobiography, Beyond the light barrier, which documented her love affair with the spaceman Akon, and their son Ayling which she left behind on planet Meton, where father and son lives. Her biography also contains detailed information of UFO sightings, her experience on Meton, scientific papers, and a very strong environmental message from beyond the stars.

Beyond the light barrier, has been met with scepticism and enthusiasm – depends on who you’re talking to. In 1973 her research papers were presented at the General Assembly of the United Nations. Two years later she was given a place of honour as guest speaker at the 11th International Congress of the UFO research group in Wiesbaden which included 22 leading scientists from around the world. Here she received a standing ovation.  Yet, back home it took a long time to get her autobiography printed as publishers declared it science fiction. She refused.

Elizabeth’s story has been the object of fascination for filmmaker Uga Carlini since the story first broke in the Huisgenoot. Uga was 8-years old. Today, after countless patient negotiations, Uga received the rights to Elizabeth’s story from David Klarer, Elizabeth’s son from her second husband. Production of Good planets are hard to find – the documentary is in full swing. Uga’s production company, Towerkop Creations will then start working on the full feature film Beyond the light barrier and prominent Hollywood producers are eagerly awaiting Uga’s script.

“As a kid I had big plans to visit Meton after my mom read me Elizabeth’s story,” Uga recalls. “Now, my fascination is not with the planet anymore but rather with this incredibly brave woman whose love story of interstellar romance spanned space, time and credibility. It is also a bona fide mystery story, sprinkled with verifiable facts, close associations with top brass military personnel, vanishings and claimed government protection programs.  She could even fly planes in between raising children, tending to the planet, and sharing advanced scientific knowledge from international podiums!”

The documentary focuses on Elizabeth the environmentalist, ‘and her foresight and knowledge that is alarmingly accurate and prophetic to this day’, Uga explains.

Uga, who received her degree in acting and directing at Stellenbosch University, recalls some of the sites where they have already started filming the documentary, “We shot scenes in the Peninsula and Hermanus, venturing to the Northern Cape, Johannesburg and Natal Midlands. I loved it, the people, the hospitality, and the genuine Ubuntu wherever we went.”

Uga reminisces on filming in Chernobyl, “Drinking radio-active vodka, the threat of wild wolves, tour guides with knives and guns that probably shoot vodka bullets, temperatures plummeting to minus 8 with the sun shining and certain areas still so radioactive it’s life-threatening to even drive past.”

“I loved the romantic and beautiful hills of Cortona in Italy. Here I went, rebel without her crew, due to budget constraints.

The Parlotones will be providing the documentary’s soundtrack.  How did she get this super popular group on board? “I just asked them,” Uga says. “I felt that without them realising it, many of their songs had parallels with Elizabeth’s story and journey. I am also a huge fan of their music and environmental work and felt it was a great fit.”

The promo of ‘Good Planets’ was recently one of 500 shorts chosen out of 7000 international entries for the prestigious InterFilm Berlin shorts competition in Germany.  It also screened during March at the Cape Winelands Film Festival.

Uga wanted to make movies, and be in movies, for as long as she can remember. “When I hit 14, being the last kid in my school to get a VHS player, I very quickly made up for the lost time,” She recalls. “I watched every single video available to rent at our local video store. My sister got to see classics like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Shining at the ripe old age of 8.”

Uga lives in Fish Hoek with her husband and a menagerie of pets including one cat from Australia and two from Fiji, tortoises, fish, birds, and Rocky the Boxer who is the canine inspiration behind a radio play that she recently completed.

“Towerkop is the original name of our house,” she explains. “The name can be seen hand carved into a piece of granite in the 70 year old rock wall against the foot of the beautiful Brakkloof Mountain behind us. When I researched the history of the house, I found the reason why it was called ‘Towerkop’ was because an underground river runs through it, making the soil extremely fertile. I also discovered that previous owners and oldies from the area could remember how one could often hear beautiful singing coming from under the Milkwood tree – no human anywhere in sight. Even though I haven’t heard the singing yet, my heart hasn’t stopped singing since I moved in and Towerkop Creations, my production company was born.”

Uga’s house is reminiscent of the magical Owl House in Nieu Bethesda. Large sculptured mermaids and owls live all along the walls and in her garden.  She clearly believes in the magic and the mystery of people and objects.  She is a fierce supporter of environmental and human rights. She publicly handed Cape Town Major Patricia de Lille an enormous pink envelope with testimonials from people who lost loved ones, or were injured, by reckless drivers along the dangerous Kommetjie road, which passes in front of her house.

She was voted as Extraordinary Woman of March by Xtraordinary Women, a platform that leads, inspires, supports and recognises women entrepreneurs in South Africa. Uga is just not the type to sit back and wait for opportunity to come knocking.

Uga ‘s hard work and perseverance paid off in double dividends when she received the rights to create a documentary and feature film about Alison Botha’s life story as written in her best-selling  book, I have Life.

Alison’s well-know story recounts her horrific real-life ordeal which took place in December 1994. She was abducted, raped, her throat slit 16 times, disembowelled by being stabbed over 30 times in the abdomen, and left for dead. However she cradled her intestines in a shirt and crawled 90 metres to the road where she was rescued.

Uga’s documentary on Alison is called Second Chances and its central theme considers that ‘not all second chances are created equal’. Alison used her second chance to inspire others. Her attackers, who were out on bail for rape at the time, utilised their second chance by raping again and trying to murder Alison. Seventeen years after her attack, Alison’s story has once again made headlines with news from the Department of Correctional Services that her attackers, together with 5000 other hardened and extremely dangerous criminals are suddenly being considered for parole.

Alison’s story really grabbed Uga, “For me, this is the most miraculous and inspirational story ever. And it is South African,” she explains. “Think about it, the book is still on the Penguin best seller’s list, since 1998, and has been translated into 7 different languages. This incredible lady should not be alive. Doctors still can’t believe that she is and not only is she, she’s been changing lives around her for the better ever since.”

“Alison is my sister from another mother,” Says Uga, “And a long lost friend I never knew I had. She is just such an incredible honey to work with and a match made in heaven for a business partner.”

In 2011, The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) sent Uga to The American Film Market (AFM) in Santa Monica where she presented both her projects which were very well received.  She is currently in negotiations with several major Oscar award-winning producers who have taken a keen interest in her work.

“As one attends film festivals and film marts world wide, one really starts getting a sense, that as filmmakers, we really are equal in some of the challenges we face,” Uga explains. “An Oscar win doesn’t necessarily guarantee the funding to come in overnight for the next project and you are only as good as your last project. The work never stops and often filmmakers forget that its movie business after all. The business side is as important as the creative side and the one cannot stand or function without the other.”

Uga’s mission is to keep making female driven heroine films that inspire and entertain. “To eat more chocolate,” she smiles, “Have lots more animals, green our house completely, raise children to whom environmentalism is not a term but a given and to make my investors so happy with their returns that they start phoning me . And to make the kind of movies for you that make you come back for more every time.

©Astrid Stark

Alison Botha & uga carlini

It’s oh so ugly!


A concoction of greed, lust for power, and anarchy, lead to madness and murder in one of the Bard’s most tragic of tragedies.  King Lear, Graham Weir, is ready to hand over his Kingdom to his three daughters, but petulantly forces the three to declare, and prove, their unwavering love and devotion to him. The apple of his eye, Cordelia,  Deborah Vieyra, refuses to give into her father’s request which sets of a series of events leading to a horrendous and inevitable tragedy.

Guy de Lancey’s direction of this bleak affair hits straight into the eye of the abyss, and it stays there, with only Nicholas Pauling’s Fool occasionally lifting it out for sporadic bursts of comic relief.

Weir’s character starts off in the play as the confident, if already a bit dotty, retiring King.  However, when his beloved Cordelia does not give in to his whim he literally throws his toys out of the cot in a very un-kingly fashion. His disbelief turns to anger and rage.  Madness starts seeping in as his two venomous daughters, Goneril, Juliana Venter, and Regan, Emily Child, turn on him as soon as they inherit their wealth. “Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend, More hideous, when thou show’st thee in a child, Than the sea-monster.”- Lear laments as he realises he favoured the two greedy sisters over the honest Cordelia and her servant Kent, Adrian Galley. Kent appears to be the last honest man standing and Galley delivers a fine performance.

Venter and Child’s evil Goneril and Regan are chillingly effective as the wicked manipulating older sisters.  Their final demise is truly horrid to behold.

There are many sub-plots creeping in from all angles to add to the drama.  Edmund, Adrian Collins, is the delightfully despicable and evil manipulating bastard son of Gloucester, Jeroen Kranenberg who lusts after power. Edmund plots a smear campaign against Gloucester’s son in a bid for ultimate power. Edmund and his cronies are perhaps representative of the new world’s youthful disregard for respect and hard work in favour of greed, instant gratification, and a hunger for power.

Whilst all the actors in King Lear are clearly passionate and deeply emerged in their roles, there were a few elements of the play that were disturbing. The entire floor stage floor is covered in stark white gravel which, when combined with the minimalistic lighting and black surrounding walls and roof, gave the striking and surreal appearance of a cold wasteland –  the abyss – perhaps reflective of the King’s inner turmoil. Visually it is very effective, however whenever an actor crossed the stage the gravel made quite a noise which became distracting at times when it overpowered the actors’ voices.  The smoke machine’s rapid bursts were equally distracting at times and it even appeared to disturb some of the actors on stage.

At times the actors’ voices did not quite carry across the theatre, and their words became a little incoherent.

All the elements and performances considered, Guy de Lancey manages to capture the bleakness and despair of play very well and he clearly knows how to coax his actors into fearless performances.   Weir makes a good Lear in that he evokes a plethora of emotions in us as he wrangles with himself, those around him, and ultimately, his sanity.

The Mechanicals’ Die Rebellie van Lafras Verwey recently won the Fleur du Cap Awards’ People’s Choice Award, as well as Best Director (Albert Maritz) and Best Actor (Carel Nel), for the same play.

Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Guy De Lancey. With Graham Weir, Jeroen Kranenburg, Nicholas Pauling, Adam Neill, Adrian Collins, Adrian Galley, Darren Arraujo, Pierre Malherbe, Shaun Acker, Matthew Alves, Kim Kerfoot, Nicholas Dallas, Juliana Venter, Emily Child, Deborah Vieyra, John Skotnes and Gerhard Rasch. Lighting Design by Guy de Lancey. Wardrobe by Leila Anderson and Alicia McCormick.  Intimate Theatre. Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7h30PM until 5 May.


* Tickets are R140. Bookings at call The Little Theatre on 021 48 0 7129