Style that still lets the bride shine...
There was a great flurry earlier this year to try to find funds for director Marthinus Basson to stage an Afrikaans Macbeth at this year’s Aardklop in Potchefstroom which ran from last Tuesday until Saturday.
It was not to be but Basson, never one to dodge a challenge, especially not a creative one, decided to stage a version of Macbeth with a dimin- ished cast (only nine players instead of 33) adapting the extraordinary Eitemal translation with a new title: macbeth.slapeloos.
The theatre gods were on our side with Basson’s searing pro- duction rewarded with the Anglogold Ashanti-Fyngoud prize for best debut Afrikaans production, the Clover prizes for best overall production, best director as well as best actor (Dawid Minnaar as Macbeth) and actress (Anna-Mart van der Merwe as Vrou Macbeth), almost a clean sweep.
For many directors (their production teams and casts), arts festivals can be compared to battle- grounds simply because the odds are stacked against them. There’s always a struggle for funds, limited time for rehearsals, moving into theatres in-between other productions and the list goes on.
And perhaps the worst hurdle is the brevity of sometimes spectacular shows.
“It’s such a waste of money,” argued Basson during a theatre discussion on his adaptation of a Shakespeare which he describes as the playwright’s “darkest and most compelling tragedy”.
Money and time are spent on a production which in this instance only had five performances, with no certainty that the already acclaimed Basson Shakespeare would travel further. Shakespeare is too seldom performed in this country because of the large casts and the cost involved, but the director argued that especially when translated, it adds to the language it is per- formed in.
“It is a challenge to a language because new words have to be created,” he said. “It should be performed in all 11 languages.”
Those of us who witnessed what this wise wizard of magical storytelling pulled out of his hat, again, feel blessed. As the awards suggest, Basson (who has staged Macbeth twice before) skinned the script, removing layer after layer to get to the soul of his two protagonists and tell the story in a way that is revealing to the time and the world we live in.
To go to the heart of South African politics was almost the obvious and that’s something he could never be accused of. But when he does, he does it in a manner that makes your heart stop as you listen to words that were written in a time when the English language was still being formed, yet cuts to the bone of wounds we turn away from.
All of this is set against a backdrop of multimedia that shows a world of war and madness as people turn on their own as easily as their enemy. It’s overwhelmingly tragic on a massive scale, but also in the much more intimate life of a man and a woman who decide to grab their power in a way that will change not only their world, but also their relationship and being.
From the witches to the disintegration of Vrou (Lady) Macbeth, Basson shines a light that encourages his actors and audience to reinvent Macbeth one more time.
A brilliant Minnaar and Van der Merwe supported by veterans as stupendous as Jana Cilliers and Antoinette Kellerman as well as students (one of whom said he burst into tears when Basson invited him to join the cast) are astonishing and brave as they shed their skin to take us into this world.
All of them give performances that are both fresh for the production but also in their individual repertoires. Let’s hope The Market’s new artistic director, James Ngcobo, who was seen scouting at the festival, will get to wave his magic wand for this one. It would be a coup for South African theatre.
“It is about allowing all the voices to be heard,” says Ngcobo. “The Struggle was about everybody, not just a section of the people.”
A younger director who has been making waves these past few years with her site-specific work, Nicola Hanekom, looked back at the horrific experiences suffered by the women during the Anglo Boer War with the advent of concentration camps in her scorching Land van Skedels.
This is another production that needs to travel, but Hanekom is a trouper and with a sold-out run, this one will hopefully move from one festival to the next.
The Beeld Aartvark, presented for edgy and mind-blowing work, rewarded her breathtaking creativity. From the text with a sensibility that blows the work wide open she not only scratches old wounds, but also accentuates everyone involved – even the often ignored and forgotten victims – who suffered while also reminding those who witness the spectacle why we should never forget these atrocities.
Sometimes the victims turn into persecutors and we have to keep telling the stories from different perspectives. It is an extraordinary, well-crafted text that’s also pleasurably poetic.
But that’s only a part of the Hanekom portrait. From the terrain (sunsets play a role all of their own); to the courageous cast to the music with magnificent melodies by composer Braam du Toit and the sweet sounds emerging from Magdalene Minnaar in the role of a luminous Emily Hobhouse that sweep majestically through the night air; but more than that, the incredibly imaginative vision by the director who underlines her commitment to any project by “hanging” herself from the flagpole night after night because insurance for another actor would have been too exorbitant.
These two glowing productions would have been enough but there’s more:
• Festival curator Theo Kleynhans cast a wide net with leader of the pack, land artist Strijdom van der Merwe, given free rein as festival artist with enough scope to show off his work in the botanical gardens and two galleries to illustrate how he gets to Sculpting the Land.
• Coloratura soprano, Magdalene Minnaar, soared a second time with Waansin in which she chose opera arias of madness and with the help of the ingenious director Jaco Bouwer, sang with both body and mind and blew our minds.
• The View was the one that got away (and couldn’t be fitted into the schedule), yet was described by Capetonians as their best show last year. Fortunately for Gauteng, it has been secured by Ngcobo for The Market for March. Diarise now for both the play and the performances.
• Tertius Kapp won a second Anglogold Ashanti Smeltkroes prize for best Afrikaans text for Oorsee. (The first was for the prison drama Rooiland which is also in Ngcobo’s sights). Directed by Wolf Britz, it was cleverly conceived with a stellar performance by the cast, especially Nicole Holm. “I loved the world they took me to,” said a young critic.
• With the translation of a classic text, it’s astonishing what emerges that might have been missed before. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, translated and adapted by Saartjie Botha and directed by Christiaan Olwagen, starred Sandra Prinsloo and Andre Jacobs as the jaded married couple who toy with their two young visitors for what is for them an evening of sport. It’s an inspired production, but needed more play-time to fire on all cylinders. Watch out for it.