BY BILLY SUTER
DIRECTOR Jaco Bouwer and writer Jemma Kahn, both winners of the Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre Award, collaborate for the first time on Cellist with Rabies which, starring Kahn, is the flagship production of this year’s Hilton Arts Festival.
Now in its 27th year, the festival will be held, as usual, at venues in the sprawling grounds of Hilton College, near Pietermaritzburg, from September 13 to 15. The event will include music, art, drama, dialogue and crafts aplenty.
Festival director Sue Clarence says rave reviews have greeted Cellist with Rabies, a piece of post-modern theatre that can be described as erotic, intelligent and utterly engaging. It premiered to sold-out houses at this year’s National Arts Festival in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown).
Only one person is known to have survived full-blown rabies, by undergoing a radical form of treatment called The Milwaukee Protocol. In this romantic tragedy, loosely based in the sciences, virologist Joan Remy is extremely skeptical of the Milwaukee Protocol. She is also in love with rabies.
The drama selection at this year’s festival includes Kafka’s Ape, a solo performance about a primate’s struggle to overcome the confines of captivity. The play takes a metaphorical view on South African society. It highlights the complexities of identity in post-apartheid South Africa and in the human race in general.
Red Peter, the ape, embarks on a journey ignited by finding a way out of a cage he was confined to after his capture; a journey in which he contests identity based on outward appearance. The script is an adaptation of the famous A Report to An Academy, by Franz Kafka.
This production is performed by Tony Miyambo and has won a slew of national and international awards and nominations.
Also sure to prove popular is The Revlon Girl, Winner of the Silver Ovation Award at The National Arts Festival 2018, and nominated for four Naledi Awards, with Heidi Mollentze winning the Best Supporting Actress Award.
The play is set 52 years ago in the small coal-mining town of Aberfan in Wales, which was hit by a devastating event that killed 116 children and 28 adults.
The Aberfan disaster was the catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip at 9.15am on October 21, 1966, engulfing the local junior school and other buildings.
Said to be beautifully written by Neil Anthony Docking, and poignantly told through the eyes of four grieving mothers, the play i infused with humour, and honours those who lost and survived the loss.
Another great choice at the festival this year is Feedback, a fantastical murder mystery that, penned and originally performed by Andrew Buckland, becomes hilarious, poignant, lyrical and quirky.
This satirical comedy cunningly explores topics as diverse as food-consciousness and globalisation, and, in the hands of physical clowns, local actors TQ Zondi and Mpilo Nzimande, becomes an intense action-packed celebration of humanity and our capacity for greed and altruism.
The actors offer a rollercoaster ride as they play scores of characters in this tale of two brothers, a detective, and a host of flying cheeses (amongst other foodstuffs), pitting their wits against the villainous Grave Brothers and aided by Mother D’Earth.
The work was first performed by Buckland and Lionel Newton, who won numerous awards for the piece. This team has also won several Ovation Awards and a Musho! Award for their high energy off-the-wall treatment of several of Buckland’s works, including this one.
Also on the festival bill is Breasts – A Play About Men, featuring Tim Redpath, directed by Lynn Chemaly. It was first presented at The National Arts Festival in July 2000, when it was performed by its award-winning writer, Greig Coetzee.
Twenty years later, the content remains relevant, not only in terms of its insight into gender relationships and masculinity, but also in highlighting attitudes to race, class and culture that continue to permeate our society.
Redpath takes on the challenge of presenting nine white, male characters who talk about women in their lives. Under a magnifying glass, exposed and in the spotlight, these characters give tremendous insight into the attitudes of white, patriarchal SA. In the face of the #MeToo movement, and the startling statistics around gender based violence, the ultimate goal in presenting this piece is to open a discourse about sexism, toxic masculinity and the gender divide.
The Hilton Arts Festival’s full programme will appear in KwaZulu-Natal copies of The Sunday Times on Sunday, August 11. Booking opens on August 12, and the programme will be live on the festival website from that morning.
The Hilton Arts Festival is presented by Hilton College and tiso blackstar group, in association with Grindrod Bank; Black Coffee; Extreme Events; DWR; Bidvest Car Rental; Stella Artois; BASA; the KZN Department of Arts and Culture; Tsogo Sun; Redlands Hotel; FNB; the Caxton Group; Maritzburg Sun; Loud Crowd, The SA Artist and Sappi.