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It was a festival of contrasts at this year’s Clover Aardklop arts festival in Potchefstroom that concluded this weekend.
These contrasts were especially marked by the various generations stepping out and up and staking their claims. In spite of artist extraordinaire Marthinus Basson’s lament about the vacuum left by the absence of a permanent theatre company, he (and some others) have touched and affected especially the Afrikaans theatre youth in a way that’s becoming brilliantly clear on stage.
But first the great maestro. As always, Basson (with producer Hugo Theart) invigorated this year’s Aardklop, with several productions making a clean sweep as he grabbed both theatre prizes (the AngloGold Ashanti Fyngoud for Best Afrikaans Production and the Clover for the Best Production at the Festival) with his Reza de Wet homage of Op Dees Aarde starring the incomparable Wilna Snyman as the matriarch of yet another magical, madcap and sometimes simply mad De Wet family, fabricated and fashioned in a way that draws you in and has you scratching at the Afrikaner psyche in a way that’s both joyous and jolting.
But then he also has the brilliance to conjure up a piece of history when he enticed veteran acting/directing pair Cobus Rossouw and Sandra Kotze to share their personal stage stories as well as take the hands of two younger actors who are at the start of tackling the wondrous if often exasperating life of theatrical travails.
As a binding text, Basson uses Hamlet, a play in which he saw Rossouw conquer in 1973 in a Robert Mohr production at Stellenbosch.
It’s not only a step back in time, a masterclass for the audience and the young actors, it’s also a sad reflection of the theatre world today for artists on the brink and looking ahead. Both teacher (at Stellenbosch University’s drama department) and director, Basson understands more than most the battles of being an artist today.
When accepting his prize, even though Aardklop artistic director Marguerite Robinson challenged companies present to find the funds for a future production of an Afrikaans Hamlet, his plea was for a permanent company where young and old can mix and play off one another to ensure the growth and excitement of enchanting storytelling.
He also expressed his pride in members of the young generation who stepped out at this festival, showing their stylish mettle, all with a celebratory swoosh of their hats to the genius maestro who had a visible hand in their training.
Director Christiaan Olwagen was probably the voice that most charmed and confused at the festival, which saw him grabbing the Beeld Aartvark prize for most groundbreaking work with especially the trilogy Woza Andries, Ubu en die Secrecy Bill and Vagina Dentata that all seemed to wallow vivaciously and violently where not many artists dare to go.
It’s contemporary cabaret that had people leaping out of their chairs and running for the exits but had others squirming in terror and exhilaration when hearing this young voice shout so bravely with such confident belief.
The shows are young, in-your-face, invigorating, insightful, energetic and put out there with a voluptuous valour that’s thrilling to encounter and embrace. This is a post-apartheid generation, they’re taking hands, throwing stones that reach back while hurtling into the future, and while they’re stripping your soul with their satire, it’s done with a flourish, crafty writing and a band of young actors who knock your socks off.
For most of these young artists, it is their debut professional year. It’s as if they’re determined to make it clear and blast you away. They’re in a profession that’s impossible, but they will make you listen, even and especially if they have to come at you in numbers.
It’s loud and clear, but what was most astonishing was the wisdom of their voices, the brilliance of the talent, the polish and professionalism of their productions and the way the trilogy all came together so that it spread out like an octopus with its tentacles pulling in even the unsuspecting.
Apart from the youthful exuberance, it also has the ability to reach and affect the young with theatre that sings their kind of music. It would be an ideal combo to travel from campus to campus like Johannes Kerkorrel and the Voëlvry tour did almost 30 years ago. It’s in English, an added bonus, so it can travel far and wide.
This is not the end of the accolades for this baby generation. Young Wessel Oosthuizen, who stars in all of Olwagen’s productions and then almost obliterates extremely strong competition with a final solo show (self-written and directed), the heartwrenching Ont, could not be ignored in his quest for Best Male Actor. His was a magnificent festival.
Telling it much more softly but with as much pulling power, Sandra Prinlsoo (winning the Best Actress prize for her two productions) is someone who shows that longevity is obtainable to those willing to find the scripts and blessed with her insight and incredible ability.
She was handed another gem, this time titled Oskar en die Pienk Tannie, a French play which she will, like Rachelle Greeff’s Naaimasjien, now Sewing Machine (starting at Cape Town’s Baxter next week) also translate into English in future. It’s disarming and allows her to show her full spectrum as she plays a young cancer patient, Oskar, who is helped through his devastating illness by a pink aunt (pienk tannie).
That’s not enough for Prinsloo, who also recreates Anna Neethling-Pohl, grand stage dame of the past century who was part of the first national acting company, in a script called Liefde, Anna, which snared the Best Afrikaans Text Smeltkroes prize for playwright/journalist Schalk Schoombie.
It’s another one that should travel, with Louis van Niekerk rewarded as director of this well researched docu-drama that also takes a long, hard look at theatre as it was then in contrast with what is happening today.
Other productions that stopped us in our tracks was Henry Mylne’s Huis Toe (Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming), which won him a reward as Best Director for a show superbly staged and masterfully cast.
There was also the Terrence Bridgett performance in Master Harold en die Boys, Albert Pretorius’s moving first text Nagwond, Basson’s intriguing Die Vrou Vantevore, which won the audience popularity prize, Magnet Theatre’s Kragbox and Nicola Hanekom’s Hol and Babbel.
Festivals are amazing institutions, especially in a time when many theatres are struggling and audiences are starved of good theatre. The State Theatre, for example, has come up with only a handful of drama productions this year. Like the others, Aardklop encourages new talent to emerge and urges those who have paid their dues to further nurture and nourish their craft.
More important in this instance, it gives Gauteng a chance to get their annual fix of Marthinus Basson and allows the young Capetonians to fluff their feathers and step out in their brightest colours for the rest of the country to witness. Watch out for these shows and artist as most of them (one hopes) travel the country.