Posts Tagged ‘Cape Town’

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.


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.

A Physical and philosophical exploration of existentialism.

This adaption of J.M Coetzee’s novel is a visual and cerebral feast from the beginning to its heartbreaking end. As it is the work of a Nobel Prize winner and directed by an award-wining director, my expectations were perhaps unrealistically high, however this powerful piece expertly delivered by a phenomenal cast, certainly did not disappoint.

The story is set in an imaginary place only referred to as the Empire. To those who live inside the Empire this seems to be the last vestige of the ‘so-called’ civilization with the Barbarians waiting at the door.  The setting is an abstract figment of Coezee’s fertile imagination. It reminds me of Waiting for Godot in as much as both locations appear to be surreal, timeless, ageless and almost afloat only as a philosophical exploration of existentialism and a struggle with the definition of morality.

Grant Swanby is the Empire’s magistrate who watches as his outpost is slowly destroyed by fear and paranoia fuelled by the truly evil Colonel, expertly played by Nicholas Pauling. The Colonel believes that the Barbarians are about to attack and he sets out on a counter attack.  Here it all becomes a little abstract as we are left to wonder if the Barbarians actually exist or if they are the embodiment of an internal struggle between the ‘civilization as we know it, and a primal call to return to the land and a simpler truer life.

The concept of the Barbarians physically arrives in the form of a captured Barbarian girl, Chuma Sopotela.  The girl is tortured in a heart-breaking exquisitely depicted scene and she is left blind and crippled.  I can never get enough of watching Sopotela perform. She is simply magic. Her performances are understated and utterly believable.

Grant Swanby, Chuma Sopotela in Waiting for the Barbarians, pic by Rodger Bosch

Sopotela’s arrival and torture is the catalyst that takes us to the second half of the play. Swanby’s character in truly spectacular form complete falls apart both physically and mentally. He decides to look after the Barbarian girl in and is tormented by his constant sexual fantasies, desire and his struggle with morality.

He often visits a prostitute, Chi Mhendes.  Swanby and Mhendes’ performances are perfectly played out against each other. He brings to the stage a wealth of experience and a superbly controlled style whereas Mhendes is younger and less controlled which she uses with great effect. Her performance is raw and very real and you can’t take your eyes off her.

Swanby’s character decides to return the Barbarian girl to her people and together they undertake an epic journey. Upon his return he is thrown in jail, tortured and humiliated, for deserting his post and fraternizing with the enemy.

Swanby’s deterioration and psychological struggle in the second half is powerful and expertly performed.  More themes such as colonialism, and the very the nature of beauty and love are explored. It is a multi-layered, complex piece that should have you mulling over it long after curtain call.

Owen Manamela-Mogane, Alistair Moulton Black, Ruben Engel and Anele Situlweni all bring to the play equal amounts of passion and excellence.

We are spoiled in South Africa to have some of the most incredible set designers.  However, Craig Leo has taken this design to another level entirely. By his imagination he has brought to life this mythical otherworld, the wastelands and the prostitute’s room. I will say no more so as not to spoil the magic. It simply has to be seen to be believed. The costume design is also by Craig Leo. I found the accompanying music at times quite distracting, threatening to drown out the dialogue, and perhaps the first half was a little slow to get off the ground, other than that I cannot have enough praise for such a perfectly executed play.

The multiple award-winning director Alexandre Marine, recipient of the Distinguished Artist of Russia award, has directed more than 70 productions all over the world and he brings to the play a very keen eye and a wealth of experience.

The play is set to go to Montreal for a run and I would venture a guess that it will completely blow the Canadians away and that there are a couple of awards awaiting this piece.

First Published in The Sunday Independent, 26 August 2012

Waiting for the Barbarians carries an age restriction of 14 years. The play runs until 1 September at 7pm nightly. Booking is through Computicket on 0861 915 8000, online at or at any Shoprite Checkers outlet.

The End


Big Boys Don’t Dance.

It has been a long year. Who is not in need of rambunctious laughter, an easy plot to follow and lots of loud and hearty music dished out with impressive bits of dancing? This show offers all of that and a dash of slapstick to keep it all going.

Bradley and Ash Searle play the role of two brothers. The one is about to marry his sweetheart and the other is torn between his own ambition to be a dancer and the  jealousy of losing being the centre of his brother’s world, all the while trying to be the supportive sibling. In the style of the Movie, The Hangover, the brothers have a last ditch rowdy bachelor celebration which, yes, involves a stripper, a vanished car and a good bout of memory loss. Desperate to keep his girl, Bradley’s character reluctantly gives in to his brother’s dream of making a wad of cash in a dancing competition.  This is of course to replace the father in law’s car that seems to have evaporated with the stripper. What follows is the two brothers’ funky, funny interpretation of various genres of music through dance as they remember their school days while they practice for the big competition.  Remember those awkward hormone fuelled school dances and the eruption of break dancing and geeky fashions in the eighties? Well they do a good job of capturing the zeitgeist of the various eras.

Bradley is a tall, fiery, ginger and he likes to have a bit of fun with his hair, often making self-depreciatory jokes. He is a likeable character as the nervous husband to be and the audience loves him. He is complement by the skilled Ash who is a technically trained dancer who has performed all over the world and locally in a variety of shows including African FootprintChicago, Fame and We Will Rock You.

The Kalkbay Theatre has a lovely small stage and you really get to see the bobs of sweat bouncing of their heads and the raised colour in their cheeks as they energetically dance in front of you. It can’t be that easy to perform almost in the lap of your audience but it ads to the intimacy of the show.

 Perhaps there is a bit too much dialogue when you are expecting more of a dance show but it all still feels good and hearty and its not too cerebral for this time of year.

It is mostly a family friendly dance entertainment show.  The real for me was watching two brothers having a great time on stage playing with their talent and their dance skills.  Theatre tickets to a happy and hearty musical production is a great Christmas present and you can enjoy a meal before the show.  Or better still, go and grab some freshly caught fish at any of the little vendors in Hout Bay and enjoy sundowners at the magical Polana’s before heading to the theatre.

Directed and choreographed by Vanessa Harris.  With Bradley and Ash Searle. At Kalk Bay Theatre until 8 January at 20h30, except Sundays when the show starts at 19h30.


Tickets cost R95. Tickets to the New Year’s Eve performance cost either R285 per person to include a ticket to the show and picnic basket. Or R360 to include a ticket to the show, picnic basket and bottle of sparkling wine per 2 hampers ordered. All bookings can be made on

Mary and the Conqueror.

First published in the Sunday Independent in October 2011


Imagine spending the greater part of your life writing and obsessing about a long-dead historical figure and then getting the fantastical opportunity to have a discourse with him. This is the basic premise of Juliet Jenkin’s new play which sees Mary Renault, best known for writing historical novels set in Ancient Greece, meet up with the protagonist of many of her works, Alexander the Great.

In the play both have shed their mortal coils, however Mary, played by Diane Wilson, seems to still be chilling out in Limbo, drinking beer, when she meets the object of her life-long fascination, Alexander, performed by Armand Aucamp. The story is a mixture of Mary Renault’s factual life and Juliet Jenkin’s imagination of the possible conversations to be had between the two at such a meeting.

Thrown in the mix is the same sex relationship between Mary and her lover, played by Adrienne Pearce, being played off against that of Alexander and Hephaestion’s relationship. Although Alexander’s homosexuality has often been insinuated at, it is unconfirmed in ancient texts. The writer is engaging us with the hypothetical possibility of his homosexuality. The play is not intended to be factual but rather imaginary.  Mary lived in Camp’s Bay and her novels during the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s became iconic works, especially for homosexuals, dealing as they did, with love and war, their sexuality, and heroism during key periods in the history of Ancient Greece.

The premise sounds interesting and one can only imagine the questions that will be asked and the tales of high drama, love, lust and betrayal that would fly between the one of the world’s finest warriors and an iconic writer. However, this production ended up leaving me rather disappointed. The dialogue, rather than sparkle and crackle, fizzles out and seems lacking in tension and drama. 

Diane Wilson, last seen in her award-winning act of Careful, delivers her usual studied and consummate performance.  However, her given dialogue does not convince me that her character, Renault, has studied Alexander for decades. The passion and excitement of such an imagined meeting is just not there.

Adrienne Pearce playing the part of Renault’s long-term and doting lover injects some life into the play with an excellent performance.  The relationship between the two women comes across as tender and very real as both actresses delicately dance around and with each other.  Pierce’s character suffers from bouts of severe depression and she delivers a very believable performance of a woman suffering the mental anguish of dragging herself out of the darkness for the sake of her own sanity and the love of her life.

Armand Aucamp’s portrayal of one of the world’s most successful commanders of all time – by the age of thirty Alexander had created of one of the largest empires in ancient history – feels somewhat whimsical and lacking in emotional depth.  He struts about the stage in a very tiny pair of white hot pants, which distracts from the dialogue and action on stage. I am not at all convinced that Aucamp’s Alexander can ride his steed into battle, let alone conquer entire countries. His dialogue is lacking in depth and it does not do a great job of painting a vivid or believable character of such a great man.

Francis Chouler in the role of Hephaistion – Alexander’s lover – delivers moments of very sincere acting. He seems to be fully immersed in his role and he is clearly enjoying all the action on stage. There is also a lovely gentle and very tangible good energy which passes between Chouler and Aucamp, which may be further explored. Unfortunately their European accents were not steady throughout the performance and at times it sounded quite fake and even a bit camp.

Alfred Rietmann’s stage design recreates an otherworldly afterlife, or peculiar place of limbo, were Alexander and Renault have most their discussions. Long blue and white drapes, tall columns, and soft strategic lighting add a slightly surreal and fantastical tone to the performance.

Mary and the Conqueror is a commissioned play for the 7th Artscape Spring Drama Season’s and is directed by Roy Sargeant.  The other plays in this year’s Spring Drama Season are The Beneficiary by Sinethemba Twani (20 October to 5 November);  Hol by Nicola Hanekom (10 November to 2 December);  Seashells by Rafiek Mammon (15 November to 3 December) and a showcase performance of Other People’s Lives by Amy Jephta on 16 and 17 December.

The play runs until 15 October at 20:15, with matinee performances at 14:30 on Saturday 8 and 15 October. Tickets at R60.00 and R80.00 and can be booked at Computicket or Artscape Dial-A-Seat, 021-471-7695.

Review:  CATS
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Produced by: Pieter Toerien
Resident Director/Dance Captain: Duane Alexander
Resident Choreographer:  Anitra Davel
Sound Design:  Mark Malherbe
Musical Director:  Louis Zurnamer
Review:  Astrid Stark
First published in the Cape Times, 10 December ’09
Pieter Toerien’s much anticipated production of Cats has finally opened at the Artscape Opera House and fans of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, and large and loud musicals, are attending in droves.   Toerien has promised a bigger and better production of Cats and it is certain that no expense was spared to create this spectacular show.

A large cast disguised as every imaginable variety of furry feline gives a high-energy performance set to the popular music of Andrew Lloyd-Weber.  The costume design on its own is something to behold.  The ‘cats’ are wrapped in plush layers of fur, their fluffy ears and tails jiggle and wiggle as they dance, flip and prowl through their routines. Their sculpted bodies are accentuated by skin tight body stockings painted in a variety of catlike fur colours and patterns.  It’s the cast’s dynamic dancing and enthusiasm that makes the show truly special. The dancers are lithe and perform breathtaking sequences, tumbles and jumps throughout the nearly three hour show.  The choreography is inspired by cats which original choreographer, Gillian Lynne, says are, “At once aloof, hypersensual, cold, warm, completely elastic and mysterious.” 

Darren Stack as Macavity the villainous ginger cat

Most of the musical’s lyrics are based on T.S. Elliot’s poetry from Old Possums’ Book of Practical Cats. It tells the catty tale of lust, love, power, magic and rebirth.  The tribe of Jellicle cats reunite once a year for a raucous ball celebrated through song and dance.  Throughout the merriment we are introduced to a variety of cats with quirky personalities that sing about their lives filled with high adventure and drama.  Macavity cat is the powerfully built villain that terrorises the clan throughout the night’s festivities.  At the end of the ball, the leader of the tribe, old Deuteronomy, will choose a cat that will be reborn into a new Jellicle life.  

All this action takes place on the stage that has been transformed into a giant junk yard filled to the rafters with recreated scrap yard paraphernalia.   The cast use the old tires, drums, an oven, and heaps of layered junk to perch on, crawl around, and play in; just the way cats turn your lounge into their playground. Combined with the elaborate lighting and soundscapes, the overall effect is very powerful, mostly effective, but at times simply overwhelming.  The complex dancing sequences are sometimes lost in the very busy background and the action becomes a bit chaotic and tiresome.

Very entertaining is the dancing duo of Mungojerry, played by Grant Almirall, and Rumpleteaser played by Chireen Fereirra. The nutty duo performs a funny and acrobatically breathtaking dance which is an instant crowd pleaser.    An outstanding performance is also delivered by Darren Stack as Macavity as he takes on the clan in a dangerous-looking but very impressive fight sequence. 

One of Cats’ weaker points is the singing.  Often the vigorous dancing appears to muffle the sound from the singers’ microphones, and the lyrics are lost, which is a shame as the quirky words are very much part of what makes Cats unique.   Angela Kilian, as the old glamour cat Grizabella, bravely takes on the almost impossible task of singing the popular song, Memory, which was immortalised by Elaine Page in the original Cats production in the 80’s. It is a very tall order to follow and expectations are high.  Kilian clearly has a beautiful singing voice but somehow the performance lacks conviction and it comes out a little flat.

Exceptional is the singing by Growltiger and Griddlebone, played by Robert Finlayson and Anne-Marie Clulow, during their duet in Growltiger’s Last Stand.  Their singing finally makes you feel like you are listening to something very special being performed by consummate professionals.   Spectacular also is the choreography and design of Growltiger’s Last Stand, during which Growltiger is caught up in a battle with the Siamese.

Jaco van Rensburg as the magical Mr Mistoffelees delivers a breathtaking dance and magic act as he conjures up the kidnapped old Deuteronomy in flashes of light and smoke.  Rum Tum Tugger, played by Earl Gregory’s, rendition of this signature song fails to impress.  However his performance as the raunchy womaniser throughout the show is very dynamic and displays flashes of the genius of Rocky Horror’s Frank N Furter.

After a bit of a slow first half, with the dance sequences that carry on somewhat too long, the second half presents itself as much smoother and far more interesting.   The ending is spectacular as may be expected.

Lovers of Cats, Andrew Lloyd-Weber, flashy musicals, and all thing feline will enjoy this extravagant production. If you’re more into stylised, simplistic, and sweeping dramas with deep psychological and social messages, this might not exactly be your idea of theatre.  However, bear in mind that it is often the production of large scale musicals suited to the masses, that makes it possible for committed producers, like Toerien, to bring us the more avant-garde plays such as God of Carnage, which may otherwise not have seen the light of day.

CATS run at the Artscape Theatre until 10 January 2010.  Tickets cost from R150 to R375. Bookings may be made through Computicket, Or by calling Tracy Cahill at Tel: 021 438 3301 or Family Packages are available.

The End

The Greek and the Turk find each other on common turf; A glass of milky anisseed something or another, damn nice.

Ah those beards!  Like ZZ Top, dropped in from a forgotten era. Stuck in a time warp; a happy hubbly bubbly of self-created bliss.

In the heart of the Mother City there is a magic garden, well there may be more than one, but this one… ah well it is special.   A 6-tiered garden, so close to Table Mountain that it feels as if the mounting is sitting inside the garden, lives in Higgovale.  Each level is laced with indigenous plants and flowers.  On every platform is a resting point with the mountain on your lap and the city below at your feet. The owner is an ex- American who lived a long time in Jamaica – doing everything imaginable there is to do – everything.  Anything to stay alive.  “But everything fails in Jamaica,” Says owner Allen, “The economy is just so screwed. Nothing lasts.”  Allen has a bold, voluptuous grey beard that is reaching for his belly button. His buddy, soul mate, best friend, Jason, has one too – a ginger one.  He looks like a pale jesus; thin and fragile with expressive eyes that nervously dart around, never really settling. He is also a damn fine chef.

The German Emilio Estevez parties it up with Freshleyground's double....

The real Estevez. But who can tell the difference right?

On the night he serves Angelfish smothered in a delicate orange jus, served with perfectly roasted butternut and salads.  There is a chicken pot roast. The chicken falls from the bone.  The table is made of plastic, the chairs too.   At my table there is a Turk, a few Germans, a South African and a Greek.  It’s an evening for languages.  The Turk looks dangerously handsome, or more dangerous than handsome. His broken English makes his words portent. The Germans are looking a little glassy eyed; the art of communication is taking its toll.  The Greek is comfortable, enjoying the mixed company. And then there is the girl that is still trying to find herself and at 26 she is getting worried that she is running out of time.  And now they are talking about extending the human life to 140 years with stem cell research.  ‘You can find yourself 10 times in a life time and still have time left’, I tell her.   Then we dance. 

The Greek and the Turk do a shuffle, the Greek squirming a little at the Turk’s enthusiasm.  The glassy eyed Germans alive now.  One looks like Emilio Estevich. I tried to explain to him later in the kitchen – who Emilio is. He stares at me desperately trying to understand.  I give up and pour us some wine.  Jason, the Ginger jesus chef, tells me he is a little tired of this. I tell him to take a road trip. His eyes light up.  Later, we say goodbye and stumble out into the busy city.

They were not my friends when I met them.  But they opened the door and said, if you want to, we can be.

Anyone can do this trip; you just need a few bucks and an open and curious mind,

They also have reggae, storytelling, and soccer trips… aaah life is good in the Mother City.

The little theatre that can.

First published in the Cape Times, November ’09

A laundry masquerading as a theatre? This is Cape Town and anything is possible.  Cabaret artist extraordinaire, Godfrey Johnson, inaugurated a new quaint little theatre named Tabula Rasa with his Uncut show.  

Set in Upper Canterbury Street in Gardens, Tabula Rasa is a fully functioning Laundromat during the day.  As you enter the slightly industrial loft style building, the smell of fresh laundry drifts by, and the gentle hum of a dry cleaner provides background music.  The theatre area is an improvised space where the ironing usually takes place. Slightly tatty old couches and casually scattered chairs resting on a whitewashed, and somewhat dented wooden floor, create a bohemian ambience and an air of expectation.  A black sheet provides the background.  The bathrooms are set behind the vibrating dry cleaners and are lit only by candles.  As expected, there are fistfuls of fresh hand towels to use.  On the night of the little theatre’s baptism, Johnson introduced Uncut to appreciative audiences. During the evening Johnson performs a diverse range of popular numbers by artists such as Depeche Mode, Jacques Brel, Supertramp and the Barenaked Ladies. Sanjin Muftić, who also directed Johnson in Behind Every Man and Flirting With Coward, again collaborates with Johnson in Uncut.  Johnson’s incredibly swift fingers simply fly across the piano’s keys as he puts his own satirical twists and turns to well-loved songs; giving them new quirky personalities.  However, he is not afraid to go dark and deep when needs be.  Johnson’s performance of Jacques Brel’s, If you go away, brought huge lumps to my throat.  Singing, I love Paris in the springtime, he gently slips the knife into a jolly song by lamenting that he’s only actually been to Parys; the one in the Free State. 

He also presents a number of his own songs throughout the first half of the evening.  And this is where he really let’s gives it gas.  Hugh Grant is a sexy, slightly seedy, tongue-in-cheek ode to the handsome actor, who makes Johnson’s ‘lipstick melt’.  Wet Dream Blues and Nude are two more of Johnson’s creations that are filled with unusual piano arrangements, and lyrics that are laced with irony, social commentary and witticisms; giving a feel of resistance cabaret.

At most the theatre will be able to seat around 50 people, but at the moment it is catering for a much smaller audience.  Sitting in the soft, low couch right in front of Johnson, and sipping on a delicious red wine, it feels as if you are in your living room listening to your own private entertainer. It’s very intimate, immediate and a rather unusual experience. 

Tabula Rasa came about as Johnson, frustrated by the process of finding venues suited to his schedule, was approached by his friend and businessman Marcus Hoelper.  As owner of the Laundromat, Hoelper, was feeling the pinch of running such a large operation and he saw a business opportunity in the making.  Johnson had a look at the building and he spotted its potential as a performance venue.  He then roped in director, Sanjin Muftić, and Jon Keevy of Yawazzi Theatre Productions and so Tabula Rasa was born.   Muftić says Yawazzi will offer monthly performances at the theatre but that the idea is also to invite other theatre makers to use Tabula Rasa as a performance space.  He admits the theatre needs a bit of work, such as creating a proper backstage area and more seating arrangements, but the foundations are there.  Muftić says the space is ideal for edgy, avant-garde shows, and as a trial space for new productions.   In 2010 Johnson, together with Yawazzi, will stage a performance featuring the music of the enigmatic Jacques Brel.  Yawazzi has been invited to perform in Kigali, Rwanda, as part of its first children and youth theatre festival, where they will show their multimedia production, Under The Stars, Above The Tree.  In 2010 Yawazzi will also stage a production at the Out the Box Festival’s main programme.  This production Muftić calls, “An energetic comic-book in homage of West African pop literature.” It tells the story of three aspiring authors who are competes for the woman who makes their blood flow in the opposite direction; interesting.  Tabula Rasa, meaning ‘clean table’ or ‘blank slate’ offers a quirky, economical solution to the often cash strapped theatre makers with big imaginations and tiny pockets. With so many spaces unused at night it makes good sense to start these kind of collaborations that will hopefully give birth to really edgy and visionary productions that may otherwise not see the light of day.  These kind of eccentric spaces can also incorporate art of photographic exhibitions to give young artists a platform from which to launch their own careers.

Godfrey Johnson Uncut runs at Tabula Rasa until 19 December.

Bookings may be made by calling 072 112 1566 or by e-mail:

Production:  Cape Town Spoken Word Festival
Master of Ceremonies: Quanita Adams, Reggae artist Teba Shumba, Jy!7, JP and the All Elements Band, EWOK, and Keeno Lee.
Reviewer: Astrid Stark
First published in The Cape Times, 19 November ‘09 

 “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion.” – Dead Poets Society.  During this film – released in 1989 – Robin Williams’ unorthodox character teaches his students the importance of non-conformity, finding their passions, and the might of words.  Back then it was a powerful film. Today our country is riddled with politicians gorging themselves on taxes, violent outbursts of xenophobia, and a frail health care system; Williams’ message is now more important than ever.  It is then with disappointment that I watched Cape Town’s first ever Spoken Word Festival unfold at the Baxter Theatre.  Where’s the angry youth rapping about a failing education system?  And the griots, travelling singers and poets of West Africa, passing on the oral traditions which must surely be under threat of extinction?  The line-up included a lot of music and the messages of a lot of the artists were neither terribly profound nor very clear.

Award-winning actress, singer and presenter, Quanita Adams MC’d the affair and opened the evening with a beautiful poem about the Cape Doctor that blows with constant sorrow through our people’s hearts and lives.  Her golden voice and timing of the poem is brilliant, but it is also the only highlight of her appearance on stage. Adams spoke lightly and briefly of campaigning for the rights of women and children and made the men in the audience stand up in support of this issue; which saw them shuffling nervously about for a bit.  


Next up, Reggae artist, Teba Shumba, delivers his music and poetry flawlessly, but it does not come across as a memorable performance with a strong message.  Reggae often speaks for the downtrodden and those who cannot, or are not given a platform, to speak for themselves.  Our country is filled with these voiceless people; does this really speak for them?   It’s only when the hip hop artist EWOK rocks onto the stage that the audience sits up and responds.  EWOK is an actor, a graffiti artist, a writer, a poet and an activist.  He was born in the Eastern Cape to a Kenyan mother and an American father.  He could be South Africa’s EMINEM but he quickly changes our perception when he angrily attacks the misplaced American hip-hop gangster-bling culture.  With a super-smooth tongue and rhyming slam that explodes from his microphone, EWOK confronts consumerism, and the youth’s lack of direction.  He raps about the ‘the bomb style’  – the trend of youth wanting to become suicide bombers – lamenting the slavish following of the fanatics, “Fashionable figure heads for us figures without heads.”  He has a strong opinion on the digital revolution, “The revolution will not be broadcast. It is going straight to DVD.”  In the 80’s video killed the radio star. In 2009 the internet is killing the TV’s fading star.  Maybe the SABC should be paying better attention? 

At last I feel as if the festival is reaching deep and coming up with meaningful and memorable material.   This is what Spoken Word festival needs more of and the excited whistles and shouts from the audience is proof that EWOK’s message is hitting home. 

The rest of the line–up included a interesting but somewhat unremarkable performance from Jy!7.  This duo handle the very important issue of preserving the Khoi and San languages and culture, and it has a few endearing moments, but lacks final impact.   Singer and performer Keeno Lee, dedicates a proportion of his stage time to the struggle of the working classes and the fallen soldiers with his a very touching poem, ‘Sukkel’, which translates as struggle. His poem, ‘Mooi van Ver, en Ver van Mooi,” is a cheeky and funny poke at the misplaced vanity of some girls. His singing voice is beautiful but there is just far too much singing and not enough spoken word.  He is also somewhat outdone by his nimble fingered guitarist, Julian Carson.  

The evening ends with a too long performance by Jazzhop group, JP and the All Elements Band.   It is great to have a Spoken Word Festival introduced to Cape Town, and its potential is surely enormous.  At the recent slam poetry sessions held at the Franschhoek Literary Festival it was obvious that we have an abundance of raw, untapped poetic beatniks with a lot on their minds, in the Western Cape.  Hopefully the next Spoken Word Festival will rake in extraordinary talent to address social, political and personal issues with word and song.  In the words of EWOK, “I have value, I am worth more, I am not just a cog in a machine, my eyes are open and my voice can be heard.”

The Cape Town Spoken Word Festival runs at the Baxter Theatre until 21 November.  Tickets may be booked through Computicket by calling 083 915 8000.


Performance:  QUACK!
Director: Rob Murray
Starring:  Liezl de Kock, Lysander Barends, Emilie Starke, Taryn Bennett, Marlon Snyders, Jori Snell, and introducing Tomri Steyn and Christopher Beukes
Review:  Astrid Stark
First published in The Cape Times 17 November 2009

Afro-Gothic tale of greed is an instant thriller.

She slowly rises up like fog escaping from the trees. Her frail body is draped in broken white lace, stretches of silk and ragged cloth.  Her wooden face is set in an expression of permanent wonder.  She is the hopes and dreams of the people; inside her veins – the elixir of life.  An awful figure wrapped in black, with a face like Lucifer, pounces on the newborn waifish creature, and with a heavy syringe, extracts from her all that is good and chaste.  And so QUACK!’s diabolical plot slowly unravels before your eyes. 

Clare Louise Thomas

QUACK! is the latest production by theatre company, from the hip Khulumakahle (FTH:K).  With its dark storyline and spine-tingling soundscape it may best be described as a new age Afro-Gothic romantic thriller.  QUACK! has it all; political greed, oppression, a bittersweet love story, and death; gently laced with sporadic bursts of black humour. What is really interesting is that the storyline moves forward without a single word spoken.  The multi award-winning theatre and education company, FTH:K, develops opportunities for deaf and hearing performers within the performing arts.  The concept is that their productions are accessible to both hearing and deaf audiences. 

The cast of QUACK! wear expressive and slightly unnerving masks and the story is told through clowning and miming.  However, it is less of a Boswell Wilkie Circus, and more like Stephen King, kind of clowning that takes place.  The twisted tale starts with a dying man who, ravaged by fever, escapes into a parallel universe where he becomes a spiritual healer.  He travels across the country as a quack, dodgy politician, incoherent motivational speaker, and alchemist that harvests the hopes and dreams of the people.  He escapes into his laboratory and sets his twisted imagination free.   The story and characters display elements of The Bride of Frankenstein and Rocky Horror Picture Show, however it retains a distinctly African flavour. It is an original, somewhat sexy, and deliciously disturbing production. 

Lysander Barends is a deaf performer that plays the role of the maniac dictator/ Dr Frankenstein.  Barends, who also did a great job with his role in FTH:K’s GUMBO, seems to become one with  his evil mask and delivers a convincing performance.  It is however Liezl de Kock, playing the role of the dictator’s long suffering companion, that really makes her mask speak a multitude of emotions. De Kock who also performed in FTH:K’s GUMBO and Pictures of You knows just how to juxtapose her mask and the angles of her body to describe her tormented character.  In fact the entire cast deliver engaging performances.  By using masks the performers’ movements seems exaggerated and emotional.  Exposed hands become very expressive, and with their being no verbal dialogue to drive the plot, the production lends itself to a variety of interpretations. The opening scene depicting the dying man, the surgeons, and the movable bleeping heart is sensational; as is the final dramatic ending. 

It’s the first time the FTHK has worked with such a large cast and at times the story feels a bit difficult to follow. There are undertones of evil and a few spine-chilling moments but one never really gets the feeling that events will spiral out of control.  The plot can be a bit darker for my taste.  However if you get lost in the story, it is easy enough to allow yourself to be mesmerised by the production’s visual decadence and haunting soundscape.  Director Rob Murray keeps dissolving boundaries with his daring work and should be commended for his fearless stomping down on conventional thinking.    Jesse Kramer was set loose to create bizarre props and a clever stage design. On opening night, in a lonely corner, a bedraggled pile of shoes dangled from their laces with a little signboard that reads “Lost Souls”.  Just before entering the theatre a tin bath filled with water invites guests to baptise themselves; weird, wacky and fun.  Leila Anderson’s elaborately layered costumes with interesting textures add neatly to the gothic feel of the production.

The expressive masks by Janni Younge are mesmerising creations that sets the imagination free. Younge has recently received the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year Award for Theatre for her puppet and mask designs.  It is difficult not to fall in love with the enthusiastic cast and crew of FTH:K. Their viral marketing is innovative and they add sweet little extra’s such as a speed dating night after a Friday’s performance.  The QUACK! cast have been invited to perform at the QuestFest in the USA  after which it will run at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. 

QUACK! runs at Cape Town’s Intimate Theatre until 21 November.  Tickets cost R50 and concessions for students, pensioners, and the deaf and disabled, are R40.  For bookings contact FTH:K on 021 448 2838 or  Fans can keep up to date with FTH’K’s activities by following their blog


Review:  The Tent
Written and directed by:  Megan Choritz
Cast:  Nicola Hanekom, Sizwe Msutu, Pierre Malherbe, Tandi Buchan, Leon Clingman, Albert Pretorius, Nelson Chileshe Musonda and Lungelo Sitimela
Review: Astrid Stark

First Published in The Sunday independent, 8 November 

Powerful South African drama explores the human condition. 

In a dusty village called Treurigheid (sorrow) a small conservative community has spun around itself a superficial cocoon of secrets and lies.  Their local petrol station is the gathering point for much malicious gossip.   Overnight a tent appears behind the petrol station and the collision between the liberal inhabitants of the tent and the conservative villagers shatter many carefully constructed lives. This is the basic premise for Megan Choritz’s play, The Tent.  Choritz also directs this sensitive piece that explores the nature of mankind within a South African context.

Nicola Hanekom as Ruth and Nelson Chileshe Musonda as Samson. Photo by Hannes Thiart

Nicola Hanekom as Ruth and Nelson Chileshe Musonda as Samson. Photo by Hannes Thiart

 The play opens with a charming, almost poetic, monologue by Sizwe Msutu’s character Sello, who runs the petrol station for his white ‘baas’.  Msutu who is perhaps better known for his roles in Interrogation Room and Shooting Stars, is a mesmerising storyteller that brings Choritz’s words to life.  Multiple award-winning Choritz, whose most recent work was the futuristic Noah of Cape Town, which she co-wrote with Graham Weir, has that special gift of writing for the ear. Her dialogue is realistic and captivating – it’s like watching a Wimbledon final.  Choritz also seems to possess astute powers of observation.  Many of her characters are stereotypes that most audience members will be able to relate to yet they are not caricatures of themselves. They are merely vessels filled with the typical characteristics that are often tattooed onto our psyche from early childhood by our parents and teachers.  They serve as messengers or mirrors that reflect our own bigotry or suppression.  Willem the owner of the petrol station, played by Pierre Malherbe, initially comes across as a caricature of your typical white, homophobic and racist male.  As the play progress he confesses that his brother is gay and that they have not seen each other for decades. Through his inner conflict and conversations with Ruth, we learn that it’s not his own beliefs, but those that the conservative villagers imposed on him, that has prevented him from seeing his brother. And that he is a desperately unhappy man because of these ‘adopted’ bigoted values. 

The inhabitants of the tent, Ruth played by Nicola Hanekom, and Samson played by Nelson Chileshe Musonda, by merely being together as white woman and black man, are an instant threat to the villagers.   To make matters worse, the women in the village soon flock to Ruth who reads tarot cards and has visions.   Some of the women begin to rebel against their abusive husbands and the false and fragile equilibrium of the village is destroyed.

Perhaps Choritz has cast her net a little wide by trying to deal with so many issues in one play.  Xenophobia, homophobia, patriarchal households, racism and the meaning of love and loyalty are all explored as the characters collide.  This makes the play quite emotional and somewhat challenging but it also means that it will appeal to a broader audience.  

Hanekom’s portrayal of the self-sacrificing Ruth is painful and moving and it is clear that she has totally immersed herself in the role. In fact the entire cast give superb performances and it is difficult to highlight specific actors.  ‘BP’ Hendriks, played by Albert Pretorius, is for me the most hopeless and sad characters of all as he is so warped by his own chauvinistic beliefs and his racism that he has completely lost touch with reality.  He sleeps with his housekeeper who falls pregnant, and in his frustration, he abuses his already brow-beaten wife.  His wife, having gained courage from Ruth, leaves him and Hendriks takes his anger out on Ruth and Samson, instead of directing his gaze inwards, thereby perpetuating the cycle of hatred and violence. 

 Pierre Malherbe as Willem  Nelson Chileshe Musonda as Samson and Nicola Hanekom as Ruth. Photo Hannes Thiart.

Pierre Malherbe as Willem Nelson Chileshe Musonda as Samson and Nicola Hanekom as Ruth. Photo Hannes Thiart.

Alfred Rietmann’s set design and lighting instantly transports us to a backwater village garage that we all have, at one time, stopped at or driven past. A small battered tent sit next to towers of old tires, empty plastic bottles, a broken washing machine and a bicycle seat.   Pitchie Rommelaere’s soundscape is haunting.  It is at once gothic and futuristic and has undertones of the impending disaster. 

The hour and ten minute performance simply flies by.  It is an entertaining production that leaves you with much to mull over afterwards.  My only problem with theatre is that once it is over you are left with nothing tangible, apart from a ticket stub, and the memory of the performance.  It would be great if more scriptwriters, like Pieter-Dirk Uys, would make their scripts available online so that we can go back and dip into our favourite scenes; as one does with a much loved novel or poetry collection.

The Tent was one of the showcase productions of last year’s Artscape spring drama season programme.  After its successful short run it is now the third and final main production of the Artscape’s new writing programme.  This year’s Artscape showcase productions are Sindiwe Magona’s Wake Up!  and Gideon van Eeden’s The Myth of Andrew & Jo which will be shown at the end of November.

The Tent runs at Artscape until 14 November.
The End