by David Mann
Everything is evocative, familiar, out of time. Driving down Howison’s Poort, which cuts through the tree-lined mountains, curving past the Stone Crescent Hotel, I am in the Frederick I’Ons painting, just to the south-west of Makhanda.
Later, moving past the old SPCA on the outskirts of town, I cannot help but think of J.M Coetzee’s Disgrace. The Monument comes into view – that stubborn architectural shipwreck on the hillside, headquarters of the National Arts Festival – where I first saw Mary Sibande’s The Purple Shall Govern, Gabrielle Goliath’s Elegy, and Berni Searle’s A Place in the Sun.
Suddenly, I am in the Oliver Schreiner Theatre in 2013, immersed in Andrew Worsdale’s Shot Down, starring a young Andrew Buckland and a theatrical cameo by Matthew Krouse. I am in one of the building’s windowed follies in 2022, listening to James Webb’s Nothing Here Does Not Hear You as the sun dips below Makana’s Kop. In the 80s, resistance theatre roars in the basement. But that’s before my time.
Down into the town itself, now, moving along High Street and stalking memories of its buskers. Then Allen Street onto New Street, recalling former Cue editor Sean O’Toole’s attempts at tracking down “Mr Viscous Delicious” – a.k.a Athi Patra-Ruga – after failing to secure tickets to his show. Finally, onto the campus and past the Rhodes Theatre, where it all began, and up to the African Media Matrix, home to this year’s Cue.
Why this sentimental roadmap? These nostalgic ramblings of a critic? Here’s the thing: Makhanda has been the annual site of the National Arts Festival for nearly five decades now. That’s a solid chunk of history and a hell of a lot of art. The town is a palimpsest. It bears the traces of 49 years of artists and art-lovers who make the annual trip to the theatres, galleries and coffee shops in search of art, laughter, respite, edification, or new ways of seeing the world.
This year, once again, Makhanda will come alive with new art, music, theatre, comedy, literature and more. New memories will be made, and old ones will endure. It is an experience that becomes richer with each return visit.
As always, the Cue will be present – albeit in a slightly more modern format – working to provide a record of the people, the performances, and the moments in-between that make the Festival so memorable, so unmissable. See you there.