Posts Tagged ‘Cape Town’

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

New Cape Town theatre opens its doors.
First published in the Sunday Independent, 21 October ‘09
By Astrid Stark

Cape Town’s theatre industry appears to be thriving despite the economic downturn.  The New Africa Theatre Association NATA, in partnership with the Royal Dramatic Theatre of Sweden, has lifted the curtains on The New Africa Theatre in Sybrand Park with award-winning Ian Bruce’s new play, Transit.

Ian Bruce, who is also the Managing Director of NATA, has won among others, the Fleur du Cap award for his most recent work, Groundswell, which has travelled to New York and Stockholm.  Bruce, a keen anti-apartheid campaigner, has been with NATA since 1998.  Here he works with marginalised communities and, together with his wife, he has written several educational and industrial theatre pieces.

The New Africa Theatre is situated along the Klipfontein corridor which borders Athlone and Rondebosch. This makes the venue accessible to Cape Town audiences from the flats’ side as well as Southern Suburb audiences. Bruce explains the thinking behind the theatre’s location. “We have great potential to reach audiences from both sides of the apartheid created dividing line,” says Bruce. “We need this in Cape Town as theatres closer to the central business district are still inaccessible to most Capetonians.  Attracting new audiences to the city theatres, no matter what effort you make, is always restricted by distances, transport and the cost of tickets. We have to still find out how successful we will be, but we believe we are in a much better position to reach marginalised audiences.” Bruce says their vision is to be able to offer good shows while keeping the costs down.

The New Africa Theatre, which used to be a supermarket, is an 80-seater box theatre which Bruce says has the potential to grow a lot bigger. “We actually have architect’s plans to renovate and re-appoint the whole building so that both the academy and the theatre can expand,” says Bruce.  

Sybrand Park is a quiet, little known, suburb with a culturally diverse middle class population which is starting to ignite the imagination of home-buyers and small businesses. “Transit is set in a small space although the story has vast resonances across two continents,” he explains, “I think our little box theatre is like that.  It’s a small space, in a historically resonant area, where we expect to tell many and far-reaching stories.”

Clare Stopford directs Transit which tells the tale of an ill-fated flight from Cape Town to Stockholm.  The plane is detoured by a storm and is forced to make an unscheduled stop in a North African country; which has been destabilised by rebels.  An assortment of Europeans and Africans are forced to wait in the claustrophobic transit area of a military airport. The passengers engage with each other in opportunistic, manipulative, and even physical ways that has sweeping consequences. “My script accommodates a descriptive clash of African and European aspirations and anxieties,” says Bruce, “But it also becomes, more importantly for our times, a cross-continental drama of human need, resilience and possibility.” 

NEW AFRICA THEATRE - TRANSIT Peshang Rad (Sweden) & music maker Ladji Kánte - photo Andrew Brown

For Bruce, writing about the relationship between two continents was difficult, “I didn’t really get the concept right until we had the mixed cast together,” he says, “What we did have was the situation, the metaphor, a kind of suspension somewhere that was neither Europe nor Africa. This became an airport, and the airport became smaller and smaller until it was an all but abandoned military aerodrome in a North African country. That made it uncomfortable and intense enough to ensure that the characters could not avoid interfering with each other or revealing things about themselves.”Pernilla Luttropp of The Royal Dramatic Theatre of Sweden (Dramaten) is also the project leader of NATA. She will be collaborating with Bruce for three months before returning to Sweden. She says she’s enjoying working with the students at The New Africa Theatre. “Teaching them how they can contribute to the future of the new venue by doing outreach programmes,” says Luttropp.  “My vision for NATA is that it will be an institution where young people can start on a new journey in life that could end up in one of all the professions within and around the theatre industry. I hope they will be able to form a theatre company for the new venue and that students will get the possibility to learn all the different skills of theatre.”

True to Bruce’s script, the cast of Transit consists of a mixture of African and European actors.   The established and upcoming actors include Mbulelo Grootboom who graduated at New Africa Theatre in 1998, Bulelewa Sylvia Ntlantlu from Delft that graduated at NATA in 2008, and Melinda Kinnaman, Peshang Rad and Christina Samson from Sweden.   They are joined by a West African Griot, a travelling musician, Aboubacar Ladji Kánte.  Bruce says Kánte was discovered on Facebook by a group of local musicians who asked him to teach them more about the Djambe. “In Transit Kánte plays himself, a griot,” says Bruce, “Even though he says very little, his music is very much a part of the play’s narrative, and his character is central to at least one of the play’s plot lines.”

 Bruce is positive about Cape Town’s theatre industry, “It’s expanding, growing stronger.  New theatre companies are emerging, launching new work and the current theatre venues are booked up far in advance. The voices of playwrights and directors seem to me to be growing stronger, clearer; more resonant. This has to grow; there are so many stories and there is so much talent in this city. Every week I meet young people with ideas. There’s exciting work coming out of the universities.”
Transit runs until 7 November at The New Africa Theatre in Sybrand Park, Cape Town.

The End.

Review:  SwingTime
Artistic Director:  Sean Bovim
Lighting Design:  Patrick Curtis
Set Design: Karl Staub & YWorks
Reviewer:  Astrid Stark

First published in The Cape Times
Give ‘em the old Razzle Dazzle. 

It was a time of smoky cabaret halls where vaudeville dancers toyed with shorter hemlines and hairstyles, wore suspenders, and exposed their limbs; epitomising the liberated spirit of the flapper sub-culture.  It was the roaring twenties.  A time when the Great Depression and prohibition drove rebellious boys and girls underground in search of hedonistic pleasures.  Sean Bovim’s revamp of his 2003 production of SwingTime is an uncommon marriage between Swing and Ballet.  Bovim combines Broadway, jazz and frenetic Swing steps like the Charleston, Hop, Jive and Lindy, with the controlled and delicate beauty of Ballet.  Bovim himself admits, “Putting the Charleston en pointe is extremely hard on the knees and requires a superb sense of balance.”

The curtain rises with the Bovim Ballet troupe performing to the fabulous Sing Sing Sing made famous by Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman.  It takes a little while to wrap your head around the curious mixture of jazz and ballet, but the sheer delight on the dancers’ faces and the foot stomping music soon infects the crowd. 

Karl Staub & YWorks’ stage design is a breathtaking backdrop depicting a New York cityscape, complete with Empire State Building and twinkling lights. For the most part Bovim strategically places his dancers in front of the backdrop to great effect, though it may need another look before it could be considered fully effective. 

KLûK and CGDT, who designed the wardrobe for Bovim’s Tango Nights, again created the most exquisite masterpieces for SwingTime.  Slinky red satin dresses wildly twirl and glide as the dancers are swung through the air. Cute short flapper dresses that display generous amounts of flesh, and figure hugging hot pants around lithe ballet hips, had us all mesmerised.  It also helps that all 16 members of the cast are young, drop dead gorgeous, and glide about on slender limbs which are toned to perfection from punishing exercise regimes.

The musical score include Unforgettable, It had to be you, Mack the knife, Under my skin and many more adored Broadway, Big Band and Jazz hits.  What’s new to Bovim’s 2009 version of the production is the addition of vocalist Franscois Lliam who has performed in Jesus Christ Superstar and We Will Rock You.  I am not convinced of Lliam’s voice and performance as a sultry jazz crooner, but then I am a die-hard Sinatra fan, and so for me there really is only one velvety voiced croon master.  However, Lliam’s presence on stage adds a lovely personal touch instead of simply hearing the recorded music being played to dancing.  Another nice addition is the intermittent performance of a violinist, Francois Arzul.  Lliam only sings a selected few songs including Miss Jones, Fever, Mr Bojangles, and some others. 

The performance tells the story of Mr Bojangles which in turn is punctuated by the various songs and dancers.  Mr Bojangles – in his heyday – was the shining star of a Swing club.  The music takes us from Bojangles’ youthful romantic liaisons with guests at the club and playing rowdy drunken games with sailors, until he finds himself in his old age as lonely caretaker of the club; reminiscing about on his past pleasures.  The story line feels flimsy and can do with a bit more dramatic flourish. Maybe it’s the lighting, maybe it simply gets overwhelmed by the gorgeous, energetic cast, and the timeless music. It just does not really effectively gel the various dance performances together.  Grant Swift renders a heart wrenching performance of Mr Bojangles trying to do a youthful tap dance with his arthritic old body.

The dancing is energetic and the footwork fast and tricky. The choreography is at once old-school, fresh, weird and enchanting.  A dancer is gracefully lifted high into the air, she lands on her feet tapping to the Charleston before doing the splits; it looks very complicated and Bovim must be praised for his bravery and innovation.  At times the dancers seemed a little nervous and quite a few small mistakes slipped into an otherwise beautifully choreographed and interesting performance. 

SwingTime runs at The Baxter Theatre from Tuesdays – Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at     6pm   From 2-12 December the performance will be on at the Oude Libertas in Stellenbosch.


Lion's Head gazing at Robben Island.

Lion's Head gazing at Robben Island.

Our beautiful Cape Town Kids
Our beautiful Cape Town Kids
Cape Town Kids
Cape Town Kids

Sea Point promindade on winter's day.

Sea Point in winter.



Western Cape Canola fields in Spring bloom.
Western Cape Canola fields in Spring bloom.
Table Mountain as seen from Blouberstrand.
Table Mountain as seen from Bloubergstrand.






On a full moon night, Capetonians clamber up Lion's Head with their kids, dogs, sweethearts and picnics.  This photo was taken at aroun 11h00.  The psyco lights are from people's headlamps as they descend the mountain.

On a full moon night, Capetonians clamber up Lion's Head with their kids, dogs, sweethearts and picnics. This photo was taken at around 11h00. The psycho lights are from peoples' headlamps as they stumble down the mountain.

Twelve Apostles overlooking Camps Bay and Clifton in Cape Town - ©Astrid Stark

The Twelve Apostles rest with their feet into the bay of the Atlantic Sea Board. Hikers start the gruelling climb up to Lion's Head to watch the full moon rise.


Misty Cliffs, Western Cape - ©Astrid Stark

I lost my heart. This photo of Misty Cliffs was taken in full colour. The place is just so melancholy. The perfect film setting for a tragic love story. I have the script.