HOT ON the heels of the National Arts Festival comes Bloemfontein’s Vryfees which forms part of the cluster of Afrikaans festivals around the country.
As part of a panel that selects the best of the Afrikaans festivals which run from Cape Town (Suidooster-fees) to Potchefstroom (Aardklop), I spent this weekend in Bloemfontein to check the state of their arts.
We don’t get to see the best of the best, because many of the winning productions like Rondomskrik had their debut at previous festivals, so what was on offer was work that was being presented for the first time here which would then move on to the circuit if audiences gave it the nod.
Festival fare is interesting as it often has a quality of commercialism because of the need to make money. Nothing wrong with that. But what is intriguing is the quality which seemed to let each of these promising productions down. But that can be remedied and hopefully will be.
Even if the audiences seemed to be happy, the companies should not be. All of them could have done better.
S(tout) en Peper, written by Thys Heydenrych and directed by Pieter Venter, was all about audience participation without threatening those of us who hate it most. A couple meet for a blind date in a restaurant where they have (as can be expected in these circumstances) a confrontational dinner. Not helping with their neuroses, an aggressive waitress hinders rather than helps them to achieve an enchanted evening.
But this is where the fun starts. Every time there’s a decision which can range from whether to drink red or white wine to whether to kiss or/and give a slap on the cheek, the waitress encourages the audience to make a decision which will steer the play in one or the other direction.
At some stage, a couple is also invited on stage to enjoy a meal, but this also isn’t problematic because in this social media era, everyone is willing to step up for their 15 minutes of fame. There are plenty of willing participants who will save those of us who’d rather suffer anonymity not to have to endure the spotlight.
Everyone had fun, but alas, the acting needs to be stronger. This kind of thing has been done often in theatre sports and the like, but this was quite a novelty, yet needs tightening up to pull it off.
Similar things can be said of Leon Kruger’s Hie’ Sit Die Manne with Deon Lotz, Waldemar Schultz and Brendon Daniels. As the title suggests, this is a Tjop en Braai (Christiaan Olwagen) for the older generation. But again, it’s about these actors, all well respected for their acting chops, refining their moves.
The text is adventurous and takes leaps that require some skilful acting to get the audience to buy in. Without spoiling the fun for those who might see this at some stage, it could be pushed to another level, but they all need to pull together. And this trio certainly can. Kruger is known for his writing which can be hard- hitting, but usually with much laughter involved to sugarcoat what might be a tough pill to swallow.
This one is no exception, but because of the leaps he expects audiences to take, the characters on stage must lead you there – and then we might have some comedy with punch.
Bartho Smit’s Don Juan Onder die Boere, written in the late ’50s, is a text that lends itself to sharp satire in a world we might think has changed – but perhaps not that much.
Director Gerben Kamper obviously had loads of fun conceptualising it and almost does a Wes Anderson on his audience in the way he dresses the play.
His five women are all toffed up or dressed down (depending on your point of view) in Voortrekker costumes with the caveat that they’re in black from head to toe. He extends this constant tongue in cheek throughout the play and yet, it doesn’t quite work because the text is allowed to run on and on to a point where he can’t sustain his artistic vision and the audience start to lose the thread of the affair.
It’s about that source of constant laughter, the gender war, and here, the women are the ones who’re long-suffering, but also (it’s written by a man after all), make their men suffer as painfully as possible.
With some censoring, everything can be sharpened, from the acting to the text which, with more brevity, could make its point more succinctly. We get the point and this one should be about the approach from a visual and a performance point of view. Then they might honestly lay claim to the funniest comedy of all.
Someone remarked that South African audiences seem happy to embrace mediocrity and in all these instances that would be true. The encouraging thing is that with some polish and precision, all three could be turned into something they could proudly put out there.