Posts Tagged ‘theatre review’

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.

First published in the Sunday Independent 10 January 2010

 A French poodle on stilts is being chastised by a busty dominatrix bedecked in a scarlet velvet dress; she too is on stilts.  A bride in full white wedding paraphernalia, having lost her groom, is running around in circles.  The depressed penguin, fluffed and primed like Cruella de vil, shuffles forlornly from one side to the other.  Then a five-breasted woman glides across a sky filled with white cotton clouds, and golden birdcages to which are attached blood red wings.  And this is just the warm-up to the spectacular that is the newly opened Vaudeville supper club in Cape Town. 

The 300-seater club is adorned in a Moulin Rouge meets Milan fashion style with the typical blood red and burnt orange velvet drapes that drip and dangle from the walls and the roof.  Italian style golden-sprayed, and somewhat kitsch, moulds cover the dining booths.  The lights are sensually low and the band plays corporeal music that is morbidly fascinating. The sparkling wine flows. 

Clearly the brains behind what they call, a Vaudevillian burlesque club, were going big on this project.  Robert Sawyer and Tom Pearson-Adams had a vision to create Cape Town’s most sought after nightclub.  For Sawyer, Vaudeville is his 100th venue opening and his business partner Tom Pearson-Adams has around 15 years experience in and around the European music industry.

 Sawyer says they spotted a niche market for a supper club in Cape Town.   Pearson-Adams discovered the old Cape Town rubber factory on Mechau Street in the Foreshore. “It was perfect,” says Sawyer, “It already had a makeshift stage and different levels that included a mezzanine level which stretches out over the main floor.” The mezzanine level is now part of the newly opened Moroccan themed Fez night club.

The show varies somewhat, but on average you may expect around 21 circus-like acts delivered during your three-course meal.  Sawyer and Pearson-Adams harvested some of the performers from the Madame Zingara crew that travelled around South Africa and Europe. “It was a bit like, Ocean’s Eleven, getting the crew together,” Sawyer laughs, “Pulling in the Zingara performers and the rest from crew ships and Joburg.”  Some of the international acts include a strong man; who lumbers between the tables and rips packs of cards in half and bends everything on sight; and a Romanian gymnast performs the most stupendously graceful acts.

The gorgeous hoola-hoop fire girl charms the audience dressed only in a pair of tiny black satin knickers and little red flame patterned nipple stickers.  It’s a slightly bizarre and very vibrant show. It’s also a lot of fun.  The spunky Irit Noble compères the show; backed by the To Do Sisters and a quartet of sexy showgirls. A feuding tap-dancing duo brings back nostalgic memories of the Gene Kelly-era; with a modern twist. 

Vaudeville review, photo 3, the Vaudeville BBOys Duane and Jed Lawrence, Carl van Vrede, the Penguin Man and Albert Pretorius as Ringmaster Photo by Robin Sprong

The evening includes a three-course dinner by chef Andrea Foulkes from DISH.  During opening night the house was filled to its embellished rafters and Sawyer afterwards filled me in on the last minute disasters, caused by recent floods, that threw them a bit. They only had time for two dress rehearsals and they hastily had to put the final touches to the order of events and decor. Still, the food was not great. Sawyer assured me that they are working on perfecting the menus. Five different menus will be rotated every two weeks.  On opening night the Mezze platter, though nothing outrageous or particularly burlesque, went down well. Freshly grilled aubergine slices, hummus, spiced butternut, ricotta paté, and more, served with ciabatta are perfect to vacantly nibble on while you gape at the quick changing acts and the decor. The free-range Namibian Sirloin, I was told by my carnivorous table mates, was tough and somewhat tasteless.  My vegetarian risotto was bland and dull and quickly pushed aside.  We felt the basket full of home-made biscuits, chocolates, and heavenly marshmallows were tasty and appropriate. The wine list is not very extensive or exiting.

Throughout the evening, Jinx, the 5-piece band, performs in between acts.  Sawyer says the band actually found them, “It’s so strange,” he smiles, “The lead singer’s name is actually Vaughan de Ville. They approached us, and it turns out their music is a perfect match for the ambience we are trying to create.”   Jinx’s blend of Nine Inch Nails meets Marilyn Manson, with dashes of circus Balkan and a lick of emo-goth does not disappoint.  Part of the team behind Vaudeville combines the talents of producers Will Hutton and Andrew Florenca of The Sunroom, and party architect, Dirk Vervaeke.

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 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:

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

Production:  partly god
Director : Lara Foot
Choreography: Ananda Fuchs, Sbonakaliso Ndaba, Ina Wichterich, John Linden, Alfred Hinkel and Jackie Manyaapelo.
Designer:  Craig Leo
Music Composed & Performed by: Neo Muyanga
Reviewer: Astrid Stark

 First published in Cape Times

 Disturbing entertainment seeks to offer message of hope.

 He is on his back. His legs are strapped to the arms of a rusted wheelbarrow.  Someone rushes at him and kicks violently at the wheelbarrow.    The force whips the captive man’s body into the air before it cracks back to the floor – shuddering.  Another man rushes at him; and another. The sadistic process is repeated countless times, with increased brutality, until the vicious mob’s energy is spent and the man’s body lies lifeless on the floor.

This scene performed by a troupe of Jazzart dancers embodies Partly God’s themes of trans-generational trauma, hatred, and xenophobia and mob violence.  Through the use of dance, music and poetry, the violent nature of humankind is dissected and exposed.  It is not an easy performance to watch; yet it’s morbidly fascinating. It is weird, violent and disturbing.

The performance’s narrative is that of a young man’s journey to find his father.  His spirit guide is a boy soldier that leads him along a path of hatred, fear and violence to eventual healing and enlightenment – thus supporting the notion that we are all partly god. The stage is filled with the writhing, lithe young bodies of 33 young dancers that tell this story of transcending violence and redemption. The dancers’ perfectly sculptured and toned bodies tell a story of complete dedication and rigid training.   

No less than six choreographers worked on this project and, to my taste, this resulted in various degrees of success and failure. A slow opening is followed by an uneven and not all too pleasing pace.  It may be said that dancing does not necessarily lend itself to a linear narrative, I find pleasing ebb and flow and an underlying, even if faint, rhythmic pulse to a production an essential ingredient.  At times the performance sagged and events were over-performed and endlessly repeated.  For Example Douglas Griffith’s portrayal as the protagonist enters a scene with his ‘father’.  Griffith’s character as the son seeks affection from his cold, father who aggressively rejects his son. Both actors’ performances are heart-breaking portrayals of the sadistic and masochistic relationships that we often nurture, and even seek out, in our quest for love and acceptance. It is beautifully choreographed and thought-provoking but it just carries on for far too long. I get it and want to move on. However perhaps this repetition is deemed necessary to drive the message home and ensures that it lingers on.   

That said, it appears as if the influence of so many, and varied, choreographers created astounding dance and movement combinations.  The exploration by the choreographers of our unique African rhythms and moves turns the spotlight on our distinctive style that will hopefully become ingrained in the world’s history of dance.  The dancers’ energy and passion is without fault.  It is difficult to highlight individual dancers as the entire cast is obviously completely committed to their craft. They glide across the stage and perform daring acts that involves masterful balancing and rhythm.

Set designer Craig Leo cathedral with ramps, platforms, and broken gothic arches creates an apocalyptic feeling.  A large net is suspended from the ceiling and it’s here that some of the most breathtaking action takes place.  Without wanting to give away too much; the net is used for heart racing stunts that only superbly trained, strong and confident dancers could accomplish with such ease and skill. The net becomes a metaphor for, among other things, a dividing wall that the dancers have to conquer. The net is the Berlin wall, Apartheid, hatred, and our own debilitating fear that we must overcome.  The result is a vivid, disturbing and brilliantly choreographed scene that lingers long after the show has ended.

The sound needs some attention as most of the poetry and spoken words were inaudible from the back.  Neo Muyanga’s original score of music sets the pace and mood of the performance reflecting the violence but also the themes of rebirth and hope.  Director Lara Foot says working without words, which is her usual theatrical medium, was at once challenging and liberating.  Her admiration for the dedicated cast has no bounds and she is a firm believer that dance and the arts can be the answer to the challenge of transcendence.

partly god runs at Artscape until October 25. The End.

The danger of narratives of hate (poem from partly god)

transgenerational violence.

I have to pass you my narrative
I’m sorry that it is one of shame
It was passed to me by my father
And before that by his father to him

You can wear it quietly
You can hide it somewhere on your person
You can try to peel it from your skin like an orange
But it will be there and it will be told

It is not yours, but it will become you
It is hungry and it will eat you
And it will kill you
As it has done me
As it has … done me

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.


Directed: Janice Honeyman
Cast: Thembi Mtshali-Jones
Review: Astrid Stark

First published in the Sunday Independent Sunday 4 October ‘09

A young Valedictorian and fervent human rights advocate is driving her friends home after a long day’s work. It is 1993 and she has been helping residents in the volatile township of Gugulethu register for the country’s first democratic elections. Tomorrow she will leave South Africa and return to her parents in America. Suddenly her car is surrounded by a mob of angry youths chanting ‘One settler one bullet’. The windscreen is smashed. She is pulled out of the car, beaten, and finally stabbed to death in front of her horrified friends.

Thembi Mtshali-Jones photo by Eric Miller

Thembi Mtshali-Jones photo by Eric Miller

This was the murder of Amy Biehl which shook the shook the world because of its brutality and injustice. When author, poet and playwright, Sindiwe Magona heard about this tragic event, she realised that it took place close to her house in Gugulethu and that one of the perpetrators was her neighbour’s son. Magona thought about how easily it could have been her own son caught up in the violence of the time. So it came that Magona wrote her first novel, Mother to Mother, which has been now been adapted for stage by herself and Janice Honeyman.

The subject matter of murder, political turmoil, hatred and racial divide may not exactly appeal to the masses, which is unfortunate, because Magona and Honeyman’s approach to the one-woman play focuses on an angle that perhaps not too many people have considered; the viewpoint of the distraught mother of one of the culprits. Do you love your child less after he has killed someone? Mother to Mother is an exploration of what happens when two mothers’ worlds brutally collides through the actions of their children and how this leads them on a journey of understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation. What makes this an exceptional story is that not only did the murdered Amy Biehl’s parents forgive the murder accused, after they were pardoned by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; they also started the Amy Biehl foundation which develops and empowers youth in the townships. What is even more remarkable is that two of the convicted murderers are now working with Amy’s mother at the foundation; proving that the Truth and Reconciliation Committee –despite some of its flaws – in principle, works. Two men who would have spent most of their lives in jail now have the opportunity to reform themselves and others around them.

Award-winning Thembi Mtshali-Jones, brings this one-woman drama to life as the mother of one of the murderers. Her character is instantly recognisable as the domestic worker, the silent woman that lives next door, raising her children alone and in a violent society. We have all seen her, but our guilt sometimes makes us blind to her plight. Mtshali-Jones is known for, among others, her roles in SOS, Scoop Schoombie and Madam and Eve. She has been nominated for an International Emmy in 2004 for her role in the sitcom, Stokvel. Her performance is very powerful and touching as she takes us through the journey of discovering that her dear, but very troubled son, has killed a foreign girl. She weeps as she says that Amy Biehl’s mother can at least live with the knowledge that her daughter was a good person, whereas she herself has to live with the guilt and sorrow of producing a child that became a murderer.

Mtshali-Jones convincingly delivers Magona’s beautiful, almost poetic, writing. Magona who has been published internationally, again proves herself as the accomplished storyteller, and the audience remains spellbound for the full 80 minutes of the production. Magona’s intelligent writing introduces us to the private thoughts and feelings of a domestic worker; rare opportunity.

Janice Honeyman’s direction is deliberate and the pace steady. Honeyman whose work has won multiple awards, recently produced of I Am My Own Wife, which is returning to the Baxter for a third run.

Mother to Mother is a production which all South African should see. Witnessing people transcend tragedy and pain through understanding is a life lesson that we all could benefit from. Without understanding there can be no forgiveness or reconciliation. Most of us can learn how to forgive, but to actually immerse yourself in ongoing reconciliation must take superhuman effort, and this is what makes Mother to Mother such a remarkable story.

Woman to Woman runs at the Baxter Theatre until 10 October.

The End.

Performance:  Nando’s Cape Town Comedy Festival
Director: Paul Griffiths
Starring:  Kira Soltanovich, Loyiso Gola, Michael Mittermeier, Angelo Tsarouchas, Ahmed Ahmed, Dean Edwards and Simon Clayton.
Review:  Astrid Stark
First Published in the Cape Times Tuesday 29 September.


A Greek-Canadian, a Russian-American, A German-German, an Egyptian, a New Yorker and a Gautenger are just some of the funny men and women that are raking in the laughs at the Cape Town Comedy Festival’s main arena.    

Angelo Tsarouchas is the larger-than-life Greek-Canadian host that uses his ample girth to poke fun at himself and other obese people.  Mutlitple-award winning Tsarouchas has an American one hour show named Bigger is Better, and he jokes that in America he is actually perceived as quite slim, even athletic.  Well he actually isn’t, and though he’s intercultural observations are quite sharp and even funny, one can’t help but feel quite concerned for his well-being, and that of the audience members in the front rows.  

Tsarouchas sets the tone for the evening; the international performers use their various cultural and geographical backgrounds to make fun of our many human idiosyncrasies and in doing so illustrates that we are actually the same peas from different pods.  And this is what comedians do best, they gather incriminating evidence from our past and present that showcases us at our bigoted, racist best, and just as we laugh raucously at how dumb other people can be, they swiftly turn the mirror on us; laughter turns to an embarrassed grin.  

Loyiso Gola

Loyiso Gola

On this night, the limelight belonged to the black boys and one white girl.  Our own Loyiso Gola has a refreshing way of looking at the world and his observational commentary has quite a sting to it.  From Gugulethu, he asks the audience if they know where it is.  Before they can answer he hollers, ‘You – insert lots of expletives here – should know where it is since you, – more vicious swearing – put us there!’

At this point it is good to note that there really is a lot of swearing during the show. It works.  Rather than coming across as vulgar, demented and a cheap ploy to get a reaction, most of the comedians effectively use it as expressive punctuation in their jokes.  Gola makes some unsavoury comments about the very unfortunate Caster Semanye saga and parts of the audience giggle shyly; others are shocked into silence.  Following Gola, the British Simon Clayton, makes a similar scathing remark about Semanye and the audience hiss and boo at him. On cue Clayton says, “Oh it’s fine if one of your own makes fun of her, but not a foreigner, eh.”  There’s that turning mirror again; followed by more embarrassed laughter.

 Kira Soltanovich was born in the former Soviet Union and raised in San Francisco.  Her brand of female immigrant humour is intelligent, vulgar and very funny. Her good looks and eloquence is a boon.  She plays a leery female, does a little mini-pole dance that looks like a cat scratching its bum against a pole, and she shares an evocative slice of Russian culture.

 Then of course there is the German comedian, which in itself is very funny. It’s not often we find funny Germans on our shores. Michael Mittermeier, who has performed with U2 and has had more than 3000 solo performances since 1987, accurately picks up on some of our typical South African traits.  His skit involving a Mexican pot smoking cockroach that lives in Woodstock and is immune to insect repellent is hilarious.  His strong German accent comes across as very camp and it is enough to make you giggle uncontrollably.

Dean Edwards totally embodies New York.  He has featured as a cast member of Saturday Night Live and his performance is well rehearsed, slick and very cool.  He dresses up his handsome looks and lean body in trendy New York gear and is a pleasure to watch. 

Personally I am a little tired of hearing 9/11 and suicide bomber jokes. Unfortunately this constitutes the strongest part of Ahmed Ahmed’s performance.   Ahmed who was born in Egypt and raised in California is also a television and film actor.

The Russian American, Kira Soltanovich,

The Russian American, Kira Soltanovich,

Loyiso Gola’s comic brilliance is a reason for even the most sceptic South Africans to feel very patriotic.  Catch Gola on his one man tour across the country named, Gola for President. I wonder what South Africa would be like with a comedian for president? 

The Comedy Festival runs until 4 October at the Baxter Theatre.  Tickets are from R120 – R150.00.  Discounts are available for block bookings.  Book online through Computicket.


The End