By STEVE KRETZMANN, Cue arts editor and The Critter editor
Here’s a brief list of some of the shows you should not miss. And be warned, you need to catch them early ‘cause they only run for a few days.
Two years later, and fest is back. Whoohoo! Yes, fest happened online during lockdowns, but you know what I mean. It’s alive again. I mean live. In real life.
You can chat to people in the queue for tickets or coffee, proclaim how great that show was that you saw, and insist your new-fried-friend buy a ticket for it. Or skinner about how that one that was so hyped up was actually terrible, but you heard that this other one cannot be missed and that Andrew Buckland is performing Hamlet as a puppet – that’s crazy. You might even be able to do it without being masked – apparently, Ramaphosa and cohorts are thinking about dropping the mandate.
What’s more, Makhanda is still standing. It might be full of potholes, and the water supply is intermittent, but there are a plethora of excellent cafés serving coffee better than you can get in Cape Town, and bakers making sourdough bread and stores with free-range eggs and kudu pies and, and, and.
But before you get to that ticket queue, you want to have some idea of what you want to book, and what with there being no printed programme and not even a way to download it and print it yourself, how’s a person to know? (NAF head honchos – you listening?)
This is why we’re here; to spend copious amounts of time developing carpal syndrome, clicking and back-clicking through links on the fest site and creating spreadsheets to make some suggestions.
First up, before you start riding the emotional rollercoaster through dark halls where possibly life-changing reflections of human existence are enacted, steady yourself with the meditative quietude of the visual arts.
At the very start of the festival, in the Monument at midday Thursday, Usha Seejarim will take you through her exhibition of the domestic objects she uses and present them in intriguing ways to reveal layers of meaning within the everyday. Recognised and curated for numerous exhibitions abroad since her undergraduate studies at what is now the University of Johannesburg in the ‘90s and a Master’s at Wits 14 years ago, Usha is on the Main. Once she’s reinterpreted your world, you can take your pick.
Whistleblowers seems like a good way to start, what with the name and all. It is directed by Rob Murray and Quintijn Relouw, who we last saw at the Amsterdam Fringe together with Alësha Ovsiannikov as a sublime clowning duo mourning the loss of their friend, the balloon. At the time, Rob was directing Piet se Optelgoed, the dark, absurd masterpiece by Liezl de Kock (currently Tanya Visagie in 7nde Laan), also at the Amsterdam Fringe. So in what direction they have pointed five AFDA students in crafting a play about hockey is possibly off the compass.
My Weight and Why I Carry It sounds heavy, yet it’s about a bikini, that skimpiest of apparel. Directed by Ingrid Wylde, who is rooted in the Eastern Cape and has done fantastic work providing the grounding for a number of our best actors through UBOM!, it is performed by Rhodes Master’s student Tasmin Sherman. Produced by the university, it’ll let us know where things are at.
You can check how the big guns are measuring up. In Bloke & His American Bantu, writer Siphiwo Mahala and veteran actor Sello Maake Ka-Ncube team up again. This time Sello is directing. It is an ambitious play reflecting on the friendship and exchanges between Bloke Modisane and Langston Hughes, both intellectuals on either side of the Atlantic in the ‘60s, performed by Anele Nene and Josias Dos Molele.
If you can gooi die taal, you’ll likely love Kamphoer – die verhaal van Susan Nell, featuring another one of South Africa’s most celebrated actors, Sandra Prinsloo, who does actually act. Adapted from two books, non-fiction and romance, Lara Foot, who has directed many impressive plays, tells a story about a woman raped in a Boer war concentration camp and her later years as a psychiatrist when fate delivers to her as a patient, her rapist. It’s now WWI, and he’s suffering shell shock. Yoh!
In need of the food of love, Naftali & The Royal Family soothe your beating heart with melodies fused from East, West, and South Africa and a voice from Mamelodi. ‘Revolutionary’ is a term applied, as is ‘rich in detail’. And it’s not pop.
In the music groove, there’s also Inkanyezi featuring Muziwakhe Mabizela, also known as Meropasoul. His YouTube clip is a groovy, sunshiny guitar-driven melody that sounds like maybe what Jack Johnson would do if he was black and lived in the Eastern Cape rather than Hawaii. Seems like it’ll lay you back.
The Market Theatre is an iconic space for innovative, groundbreaking productions, and back in the day gave the Apartheid state the middle finger. The Market Theatre Laboratory has been incubating theatre practitioners for, what, decades? Some of our finest talents have been through its doors, so Johnnie Motsamai, written and directed by lab alumnus Thabang Kwebu, should be on your ‘to see’ list. Sounds like a great storyline for today’s celeb-obsessed culture: Johnnie, a celeb, falls in love with Maria, a wannabe. But it seems she’s a gold digger, and her friend steals one of Johnnie’s scripts and passes it off as his own. This is also an ode to Ntate Sol Rachilo, the poet, playwright, and social activist while he is still alive. If only we could figure out what Johnnie’s holding in the production post pic. Is it an aubergine? Why?
For some comedy that is not the usual stand-up (we’ll leave you to your own devices there – except we can recommend Rob van Vuuren if you need a pick-me-up), go watch Ĭle, by the wonderful Sophie Joans, who is directed by none other than Rob van Vuuren. It’s about staying too long in one place, in this case, one’s childhood home in Mauritius. Apparently, it’s hilarious, and given it’s a Sophie-Rob collaboration, we believe it may be true.
Then, go let your hair down at Spaza (Mushroom Hour), a rotating recording ensemble of hot hot jazz, Afro-funk, and experimental electro muso’s from Jozi, up at the Black Power Station, which is where Rhodes students used to host their own raves in the 90s – health and safety be damned. The venue is all safe now, thanks to NAF, but how no one died or got injured back then is a miracle. ‘Shrooms at your own discretion. Go! This looks like a sure-fire jorl.
Okay, that should sort you out for a day or two, with lots of other really, really promising shows we’ve left for your own discovery. Note, this list is not in chronological order; you will have to figure out how you organise your own day; we can’t do everything for you. Sheesh!