Posts Tagged ‘theatre’

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.

First published in the Sunday Independent

©Astrid Stark

Once you are seized by love’s first raptures, it ravages reason, and swiftly disengages all logical brain patterns.  The wise prophet, Kahlil Gibran, wrote on the nature of this beast, “When love beckons to you, follow him, Though his ways are hard and steep.  And when his wings enfold you yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.”

The desperate lovers in Stephen Simm’s latest play, Under the Fig Tree, find themselves helplessly trapped in their illicit love affairs.   The story is set in an era when interracial relationships were not only severely disapproved of, but also carried with it the very real possibility of a death sentence.  During this time a young couple, played by Diaan Lawrenson and Jody Abrahams, fall deeply in love.   Defying all laws and traditions, the embattled pair continues their love affair under the Fig tree, away from the watchful eyes of a conservative society.  Soon enough their relationship reaches a crucial point and this is when they find a box of old letters that was written by another couple many years ago. The two stories of four lovers gently intertwine and unfold as secrets are unveiled and hearts broken.

Jody Abrahams and Diaan Lawrenson, Photo by Andrew Brown

Jody Abrahams and Diaan Lawrenson, Photo by Andrew Brown

Diaan Lawrenson, much loved for her role as Paula in 7de Laan, co-owns Jester Productions with Jody Abrahams, which produced Under the Fig Tree. Dressed in spectacular costumes by Hip Hop and with her flowing golden tresses, Lawrenson’s character personifies the young, beautiful and aristocratic daughter of a rich farmer.  Her flighty mannerisms and cocksure attitude toward her lover, whose social status is far below hers, is perhaps fitting for the times under which they lived. However, every now and then it felt as if 7de Laan’s Paula was on stage, which is somewhat distracting.  That said, Lawrenson acts with great confidence, and she does have a very engaging stage presence.

Her partner in crime, Jody Abrahams, is a multi-award winning actor that has performed all across the major international stages; from Broadway to the West End.  Abrahams received his big break in David Kramer’s Kat and the Kings and he is a consummate television actor.  Even though both actors delivered solid performances, it did feel as if Lawrenson, with her spectacular costumes and sparkling presence, somewhat dominated the play.

The set design is simply gorgeous. An enormous photograph of an ancient Fig Tree dominates the background and is displayed in panels, which set designer Leopold Senekal says, facilitates the journey between the two couples’ worlds.  Distressed furniture and an old swing convey a rustic, almost pastoral, landscape. The stage has the intimacy of a fabled forest scene, complete with soft lighting that looks like slivers of sunlight streaking through leaves;  perfect for romantic trysts and tempestuous love affairs.    Senekal has just recently returned from London where, among others, he has produced work for Beggars Opera and the Edinburgh Festival.

Haunting melodies and the romantic set design create a dreamlike ambience which permeates the entire piece. Musicians, Faizel Davids, Gertjie Besselsen and Yazeed Williams, provide the background music that effortlessly enhances the undertones of desire, longing, and the fragility of the human condition. 


The theme of love at any cost has intrigued playwrights for centuries; just think of the many staged versions of Romeo and Juliet and Madame Butterfly.  Under the Fig Tree is a bit like South Africa’s own Pocahontas. Lovers of romance and fans of Abrahams and Lawrenson will enjoy this intriguing saga.  And we will heed the words of the Kahlil Gibran, “Love one another, but make not a bond of love:  Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”

Now on at the Sanlam Studio, at the Baxter Theatre, until 30 May.

It’s almost time! Time to trek down to the Karoo and sleep under the stars. Time to rush like a maniac from show, to art exhibit, to beer tent and back to show: inhaling dirt, getting sunburnt, and lost in all the drama. Time to let great, weird, wonderful art, people, music and conversations blow our minds apart.  I can’t wait.  I will be blogging live from the Festival, cramming this delightful experience into 4 days! Skandaal.   I have my list of shows ready, my tent is waiting and my camera charged and idling…

Koos Kombuis - Van Babilon tot Bloedrivier.

Van Babilon to Bloedrivier - Koos Kombuis

Here is my  list of favourites…with more in the pipeline…

*It took me about two days to work through the festival program.  Hectic.

The Magnet Theatre’s Every Year, every Day I am walking, which is a stirring account of the imprint left on the human psyche by the recent xenophobia.

Theatre legend Sandra Prinsloo in Die Naaimasjien which won the 2008 Nagtegaal text prize;

Schalk Schoombie’s much talked about Samoerai, which dissolves the distinction between dramatic fiction.  

Salto Bitale,:  The KKNK is collaborating with one of Europe’s major festival of site-specific art and performance, the Oerol festival, which takes place on the island of Terschelling on the North Sea, to showcase the unique Karoo landscape as a canvas and stage.  Salto Bitale takes place 14 metres above the ground. 

 Jericho!, which is a musical rendition of the biblical story featuring Anna-Mart van der Merwe

Walk the Labyrinth. (Maybe I will find myself this time.)

The KKNK is famous for its open-minded attitude to somewhat risqué performances.   In 1998 Breyten Breytenbach’s Boklied was described as pornographic and incomprehensible, and the naked men on stage during the production had audiences walking out en masse. However it won the Herrie prize of the year. 

I look forward to Sakrament which describes our current lives as ‘a Greek tragedy in modern costumes’; and

2-21, a musical garage-spectacle that falls somewhere between Hamlet and MTV, and in which Francois van Coke (the musician) plays the title role and Hunter Kennedy of Fokofpolosiekar writes the text.  Fleur du Cap award-winning director of this avante garde piece, Jaco Bouwer,   describes it as, ‘a techno-abattoir for our holy cows’. Lekker!

Suurgat 2 lyk sommer lekker alternatief en ‘out there’….

Kurt & Jukebox ..hmm

I have to miss Madosini who is hailed as the Queen of Xhosa music; as I will be on my way back to CT when she performs.  Real shame.

But Koos Kombuis and Amanda Strydom hoog op my lys van ‘must see’s’ –non negotiable.

And then I am planning to shake my booty at The Huisgenoot Musiekplaas  and the Burger Tongelos tent, but sadly I will miss the awesome MK Katus rock sessions (Foto Na Dans, Straatligkinders, van Coke Kartel and Aking.)….next year.

Inbetween I will eat weird looking vegetarian concoctions made by hemp wearing people with dreadlocks,  get too much sun, stay up too late, and drink too much beer.  And somehow still manage to file two articles.  My job sucks.

See you there!

The Klein Karoo National Arts Festival takes place from 4 to 11 April in Oudtshoorn.


David Krame' Die Ballade van Koos Sas.

David Kramer's Die Ballade van Koos Sas.