SA Arts Festival drama highs

Cast members of NewFoundLand (Buite Land), the acclaimed new play written and directed by Durban’s Neil Coppen.


SOUTH Africa’s National Arts Festival, scheduled for Grahamstown from the end of June to early July,  offers a programme that “re-imagines history, exhumes ghosts and questions our future in a way that unsettles and inspires,” according to festival executive producer, Ashraf Johaardien.

Among many highlights will be a new multi-lingual work penned and directed by award-winning Durban playwright Neil Coppen. His NewFoundLand (Buite Land) is a tale of love and family crossing boundaries and challenging gender stereotypes.

The drama is further described as an exploration of the deepest threads that invisibly exists between religion and science, medicine and faith, memory and forgetting,

Kopano Maroga’s performance in this work, at the recent KKNK Festival, won him a Best Supporting Actor Kanna Award, and the play took the award for Best Debut Production.

The production, starring Jacques Bessenger, Kopano Maroga, Elize Cawood and Ntombi Gasa, among others, will be staged at the National Arts Festival on July 7, 8 and 9.

The 2017 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre, Monageng ‘Vice’ Motshabi, will present a work titled Ankobia, which unfolds in the future land of Pelodikgadile. In that land it is forbidden to remember a time before the new state, and the “joy machine” keeps people grinning with pleasure and utterly obedient.

Co-written by Motshabi and Omphile Molusi, the play is said to touch on unresolved issues and the silencing of protest – the machine that is state and the traps that we fall into when power is unchecked.

Durban’s Neil Coppen, director and writer of NewFoundLand (Buite Land).

The play, which derives its name from the Ghanaian word ankobia (meaning “go back and get it”), features Momo Matsunyane, Katlego Letsholonyana and Billy Langa. It will be performed in Grahamstown on July 7, 8 and 9.

Nadia Davids digs up history in her play, What Remains, said to be a fusion of text, dance and movement, about the unexpected uncovering of a slave burial ground in Cape Town.

Based on an actual event, the archaeological dig leads to a reckoning of untold histories for the citizens, archaeologists and property developers involved. And so the layers of history and memory emerge.

Davids’s work has previously explored forced removal and memory and this one is no different. Of Cape Town, David’s says: “It’s an uncanny place, the past and the present are always entangled, the landscape seems to move constantly between the invitation to remember and the demand to forget … and that remembering and forgetting has always been racially coded.”

She adds: “It’s the sort of place that invites multiple tellings, precisely because its inhabitants experience the city so differently.”

Jay Pather directs, choreographs and sets the sceneography of the piece with performers Denise Newman, Faniswa Yisa and Shaun Oelf bringing the story to life on June 29 and 30, and July 1.

After a 17-year break from working together, performer Rehane Abrahams and Mothertongue co-founder and director, Sara Matchett, are bringing their individual work into unison for a study on the body politic, in Womb of Fire.

The piece uses a mythical, non-Western framework to examine the performing female body as a site of disruption. An all-woman theatre collective, the Mothertongue Project has drawn on their experience of helping countless women tell their stories and become empowered within their bodies and communities. Festival audiences can catch this production on July 4, 5 and 6.

In a time where women’s safety and identity remain squarely on the South African agenda, another piece that interrogates the representation of women in contemporary society is Zimkitha Kumbaca’s Confessions of a Blacklisted Woman: She Bellows.

The work first written by Kumbasa in 2011, and she now directs the piece at this year’s National Arts Festival, close to her original home of King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape.

A departure from her best-known role as Nontle Sanqu, in the drama series, Matatiele, this work has been presented to critical acclaim at the South African State Theatre, Pop Art Theatre, the Windybrow Theatre, the Joburg Theatre and, most recently, at the Soweto Theatre. Festival audiences can see it on July 4, 5 and 6.

The deeply personal and complex relationships women have with their families and their selves are excavated in Jennie Reznek’s (Magnet Theatre) one-woman show, I Turned Away And She Was Gone, which was among my favourite productions of the 2015 Hilton Arts Festival.

Directed by Mark Fleishman, the show poetically explores the passage and cycles of life of three generations of women – mother, daughter, grandmother – and the relationship we all have with our past, present and future selves.

Jennie Reznek is superb in her one-woman show, I Turned Away And She Was Gone.

Nominated for four Fleur du Cap Awards and two Naledi Awards, the show will be performed on July 7 and 8.

Family themes continue through Lara Bye’s formidable treatment of the early 1990s book, The Smell of Apples, by Mark Behr. Die Reuk van Appels retells the riveting tale of a boy’s end of innocence – both personally and in the context of country. Gideon Lombard’s Kanna Award-winning performance (Best Actor 2017) is not to be missed in this production by The South African State Theatre and Theatrerocket. Catch it on July 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8.

Bringing international issues into line with our own, The Crows Plucked At Your Sinews is a one-woman show from the UK, with Aisha Mohammed and featuring live music from Abdulkader Saadoun.

Directed by Hassan Mahamadille, the story unfolds through the unearthing of real events in history, both recent and long gone, in a piece that explores integration and tolerance through an evocative narrative. The production will be in Grahamstown from July 5 to 8.

The National Arts Festival and Drama for Life will present four new South African works at the Festival. Among them is Insta-Grammar!, a heart-wrenching story about speaking and keeping love in the whirlwind Instagram and SnapChat era.

Then there’s Kasi Stories: Stories Not Often Told, which examines the failure of the father figure in South Africa through the tensions of a friendship across economic divides.

Also of note is Maimane!, a coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of a contemporary South Africa, which brings together a diverse group of young people who summon the courage to face extraordinary hardships against all odds.

Then there’s Space Rocks, written by Tamara Schulz and directed by Craig Morris. It is aimed at young audiences (aged four to eight).

All the Drama for Life shows run between July 3 and 8.

Neil McCarthy (left) and Craig Morris in the mesmerising Tartuffe, imaginatively directed by Sylvaine Strike.

Made possible with the support of the French Institute South Africa (IFAS) and Alliance Française Southern Africa, is The Fortune Cookie Company’s excellent Tartuffe, which I recently reviewed in Durban (see review under ‘Theatre’).

Directed by former Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner (2006), Sylvaine Strike, the cast heaves with theatre heavyweights and fresh talent – from Neil McCarthy and Craig Morris to Khutjo Green and Camilla Waldman.

The piece tells the story of destructive influence and power through Moliere’s traditional satire but with Strike’s fresh vision and a pre-war epoch, 1930s treatment.

Having toured to Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg, the satire will be staged in Grahamstown on June 29 and 30 June, and July 1.

A treat for theatre lovers will be a live link up to the National Theatre in the UK for the staging of Amadeus and Twelfth Night.

National Theatre Live launched in June 2009 with a broadcast of the National Theatre production of Phèdre with Helen Mirren. They have since broadcast more than 40 other productions live, from both the National Theatre and other theatres in the UK.

This global viewing experience will take place at 3pm on July 5 (Twelfth Night) and 7pm on July 5 (Amadeus).

NOTE: The National Arts Festival’s programme is online and available for booking on the site

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