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National Arts Festival has many treats for theatre lovers

Arts Portal
Grahamstown’s National Arts Festival (NAF) is around the corner, starting on June 29.

A mind-boggling programme of events takes some serious navigating. Perusing the list of theatre programmes, phenomenal is the best way of describing the diversity and choices.

NAF’s executive producer Ashraf Johaardien refers to the programme as a “a laboratory of work that re-imagines history, exhumes ghosts and questions our future in a way that unsettles and inspires”.

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It's an articulate way of describing the many challenging works that will be showcased.

In What Remains, Nadia Davids digs up history in a fusion of text, dance and movement. Based on an actual event, the drama, about an unexpected uncovering of a slave burial ground in Cape Town, leads to a reckoning of untold histories for the citizens, archaeologists and property developers involved, merging the layers of history and memory. Davids’s work previously explored forced removal and memory in Cape Town.

“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,” says Davids.

Jay Pather directs, choreographs and sets the sceneography with performers Denise Newman, Faniswa Yisa and Shaun Oelf bringing the story to life.

Also on the subject on land, Monageng ‘Vice’ Motshabi’s Ankobia is a futuristic look at the land of Pelodikgadile.

Here it's 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 touches on unresolved issues, and how protest action is silenced, and the traps citizens can fall into when power is unchecked.

Motshabi says all his work “draws on the essence of the continent” and adds the play derives its name from the Ghanaian word ankobia (meaning "go back and get it"). It features Momo Matsunyane, Katlego Letsholonyana and Billy Langa.

Performer Rehane Abrahams and Mothertongue co-founder and director, Sara Matchett, get together after a 17-year break for a study on the body politic in the fascinating Womb of Fire. The all-women theatre collective, Mothertongue Project, draws on their experience of helping countless women tell their stories and become empowered within their bodies and communities. In their new drama, the performing female body is used as a site of disruption.

Jennie Reznek’s powerful one-woman show, I turned away and she was gone, explores women's relationships with their families. Directed by Mark Fleishman, it poetically explores the cycles of three generations - mother, daughter, grandmother - and the relationship women have with their past, present and future selves.

Newfoundland (Buiteland), is the highly acclaimed multi-lingual play by Neil Coppen. Challenging stereotypes, love and family cross boundaries in this thought-provoking drama.

Family themes continue through Lara Bye’s formidable treatment of the early '90s book The Smell of Apples by Mark Behr.

Die Reuk van Appels tells the tale of a boy's end of innocence, both on a personal level and within 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.

In Kasi stories: stories not often told, the failure of the father figure is examined through the tensions of a friendship across economic divides, while Maimane! a coming-of-age story, set in contemporary South Africa, brings together a diverse group of young people who courageously face extraordinary hardships.

The French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), a long-standing partner of the National Arts Festival, will again bring French-inspired works to the programme.

Poet Arthur Rimbaud’s work will be brought to life in The Alchemy of Words which focuses on his short-lived poetry career and the profound impact it had on the poetry of the 1800s, going on to inspire artists such as André Breton, Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and Jim Morrison.

IFAS and the Alliance Française also bring viewers The Fortune Cookie Company’s Tartuffe.

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

It tells the story of destructive influence and power through Moliere’s traditional satire, although Strike gives it fresh vision and a pre-war epoch, 1930s treatment.

Just a soupçon of what's on offer; but, on a final note, a real 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 was launched in June 2009 with a broadcast of Phèdre with Helen Mirren. Since then they have broadcast more than 40 other productions live, from the National Theatre and other theatres in the UK.

* Tickets are selling out fast, but there are some remaining. Go to The National Arts Festival’s programme online and for booking on the site www.nationalartsfestival.co.za

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