WHILE the candles on the 40th birthday cake of the National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown were sadly blown out yesterday, those returning to reality today are driving home with party leftovers consisting of creativity, inspiration and galvanised joy.
One of the strongest elements was the magnificent, untamed creature that is the Fringe. Here, tucked away from the static and hype of the Main programme’s big-budget titles, was where magic once again manifested in the most delightful, unexpected ways.
Cape Town was well represented on the Fringe thanks to Artscape’s stellar Gymnasium programme. Along with established favourites iSystem, Anele Rusi’s thriller that boldly crosses the thin blue line, and Rainbow Scars, Mike van Graan’s Standard Bank Ovation-winning metaphor for South Africa in 2014, three newer works were also presented to great acclaim.
Directed by Abduragman Adams, Nancy is set in De Waterkant and revolves around the lives of six individuals helping to restore the Bubbles Cabaret Bar to its former, fabulous glory. Through its owner, Roxy le Roux (Peter Treurnicht), we get to see several crucial issues relating to homosexuality, HIV/Aids, anti-retrovirals, religion, transgenderism, homophobic violence, broken dreams and periphery cultures being given a deserved voice on stage.
Nancy, a product of last year’s Artscape Audience Development and Education Festival, is a well-written, put together and acted production. It is its accessibility, however, that deserves the biggest pat on the back. A play that often calls a spade a spade, one can only hope that it will enjoy longevity and be given the chance to be performed in front of the kinds of audiences whose stories it so empathetically tells.
Also featured as part of Artscape's Gymnasium line-up was Undone, a one-man, poetically executed triumph starring the powerhouse that is Wessel Pretorius, as well as Return of the Ancestors, a fresh, funny new play by Van Graan in which the spirits of Steve Biko (Siya Sikawuti) and Neil Aggett (Mandisi Sindo) make their way across South Africa to often hilarious and heartbreaking observational results.
Presented for the eighth time this year, Cape Town Edge at the Princess Alice Hall also delivered several productions of high calibre.
We meet a woman (Rebecca Makin-Taylor) sitting in a bar dressed up as the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, in Last Rounds. Over the next hour we got to see her chain smoking, dancing to Kanye West and spilling her guts about falling in love with an eloquent man with a scar on his lip. Written and directed by Tara Notcutt, Last Rounds is yet another successful contemporary offering by one of the most exciting young creatives.
Also presented as part of Cape Town Edge was The Things You Left Behind, Jason Potgieter’s heartfelt tribute to the delicate beauty of human life; Notcutt’s Undermined, presented as a mash-up between comic book and African styles of physical theatre; Same Time, Next Year, tracking an extramarital affair over the course of 25 years; and Rust Co-Operative’s Siembamba, which moved audiences at KKNK in April with its poignant look at the relationship between white children and the black maids who raised them during apartheid.
A component of this year’s Fringe that not only delivered strong concepts, but also dared to be different, was its dance, physical theatre and performance art showcases. The naked body of Gavin Krastin (Rough Musick) was laid out on a steel surface resembling an autopsy table in #omnomnom. Then, over the course of the show, the audience was invited to feast on several dishes - among them sushi, ribs, samp, pumpkin, KFC, fries and Steers. All the food was laid out on Krastin’s body to the beat of loud party music.
Apart from the obvious references to Kenny Kunene and Holy Communion (Krastin even sported a halo made from pizza), #omnomnom did a great job on commenting on our 20th year of democracy celebrations, cultural eating habits as well as the politics and rituals of parties and social gatherings. A performer often hailed as the new Steven Cohen, Krastin is well worth keeping an eye on.
Other dance and physical theatre productions worthy of being jealous over that you missed it at NAF were Bok, the Underground Dance Theatre’s sexy, primal interpretation of Vaslav Njinsky’s Afternoon of a Foehn; Bittersweet, the Cape Academy of Performing Arts’ fresh-faced showcase of their incredibly talented young dancers; and Daniel Buckland/ Sylvaine Strike’s The God Complex, in which omnipotence and omniscience were “turned on their heads and replaced with charming ineptitude and bewildered panic”.
One of the busiest people at the festival, Strike also teamed up with Lionel Newton and renowned cellist Kutlwano Masote in a “theatrical-fugue” called Agreed. Performed as three monologues – Robert Browning’ The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Nick Warren’s The Hand-over and Newton’s own – this is a piece that revels in its concept and execution. Similar to Masote’s cello, Newton becomes an instrument under Strike’s direction, playing a poignant song of greed, capitalism and colonialism.
Pulled out of the wacky minds of the creators of The Epicene Butcher and Other Tales for Consenting Adults and featured on the Fringe’s comedy programme, Amateur Hour stars Jemma Kahn and Glen Biderman Pam. A series of macabre sketches – the audience is introduced to stand-up comedians with brain cancer, alcoholic children’s party magicians and deceitful beatboxers – contribute towards making you feel like a horrible person for snorting with laughter.