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Fest should stage best, not newest

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TO SW Na Aap

Festivals are there to celebrate the arts and in today’s world, this is where many actors make a living.

But for the Stellenbosch Woordfees which concluded at the weekend, it’s a tough ask. It’s stuck in the middle with the Klein Karoo Arts Festival just too close on its heels as it starts at the end of the month. That’s where the focus lies for many artists.

Woordfees would do well then to focus on pieces that have already shown their worth at other festivals, but haven’t yet been seen by Cape audiences, like Jaco Bouwer’s Na Aap which was probably the theatrical talking point of the fest, or Wie’s Bang vir Virginia Woolf? which had a cast change with Marius Weyers joining Sandra Prinsloo on stage.

It’s a good platform to introduce new talent, but there should be a tougher selection process or recognised brands like The Mechanicals or Pink Couch or actors who have made it through the development festivals like the Baxter’s Zabalaza will offer fair pickings like Wrongly Accused. But to have new work for the sake of it is unfair to actors and audiences.

With theatre not the focus at this festival, yet faring well with strong audience participation on the whole, they need a new strategy.

Here are my picks of this last festival. I missed the first few days, but only Christiaan Olwagen’s Waterpas shone:

How astute of Aardklop’s artistic director Marguerite Robinson to give Kafka’s Report to the Academy to the director Jaco Bouwer to stage as the translated and adapted Na-Aap. It had a rocky start last year in its debut at Aardklop when De Klerk Oelofse hurt himself at the first showing and the run had to be cancelled.

Now it has surfaced at Woordfees and will hopefully travel. How someone reinterprets a classic text can depend on the intention, insight and smarts. Bouwer has all of these in abundance and when he works in multimedia and across genres, he seamlessly integrates everything he throws at the text.

If you’ve seen/know the original for example, Weyers’s performance might be etched in many minds. But this flings you in a totally new direction as he investigates, innovates and interprets everything from a new vantage.

What adds to the experience is that with the casting (also from left field) of Oelofse and targeting the text, he draws you into the produc- tion as he peels off and piles on layers at will.

Oelofse rises to the challenge. His youthful look of innocence, his deft performance, his agility and his scratching under the surface all take you into this mocking world.

It’s one of those theatrical events that work on many different levels and as you leave, you want to turn back to see it again.

Bouwer again shifts minds and that’s as good as it gets. It’s a gloriously adventurous and insightful piece of theatre that should travel this country widely. As yet it’s not on the Klein Karoo Arts Festival roster and we will have to wait and see about Grahamstown, but Aardklop will feature it in October.

Last year’s God van Klank was again one of this year’s highlights and it’s easy to see why. Staged in the bowels of the PJ Olivier art centre, the scene is set from the start as you have to duck your head to make your way inside to avoid being knocked off your feet.

A few army-styled guards halt your complete entrance as we wait for the audience to gather while all around you the startling sounds of a battle attack your sense. It’s all very theatrical as the audience is drawn in not to participate particularly, but to engage.

It’s an extremely crafty text which engages you in a debate that can be about the absence of music, but could lead anywhere. It’s theatre of the emotions with actor Chris van Niekerk using his distinctive voice to envelop the haunting space with the battle never receding in the background. He tells a story of horror that has to be experienced personally as it embraces and invites action while also acting as a counterpoint to the abrasive guard (Jochemus Botha).

It feels as if you have been dropped into a time warp for that 40 minutes and it could be the future or the past. It’s an unusual and intimate trip that touches many souls, so if you can catch it at its three-week run from April 11 at the same space, make the effort.

Nataniël doesn’t make many festival appearances, but when he does, it’s special. The Endler where he performed (two shows last Thursday) is home territory to this former Stellenbosch University music student and he claims the stage in quite majestic fashion.

Menopause en ander Gloede (Menopause and other Hot Flushes) was a stripped show with the stories and songs as the stars. As he sweeps on stage in a costume which transforms twice during the 90-minute show, his stories whisk you away into a world where glitter changes a life, millions of shimmering lights stretch a mind and the pain barrier gets new meaning with ballroom dancing shoes as he paints magical pictures with words. It takes a song to pull you back as he finally ties the knot of what might have become a glorious unravelling tale.

He seems to have this always flowing spring that releases random stories so wondrous it boggles the mind. They never disappoint as he pulls you from a place of merriment into more contemplative music to finish a line of thought and punctuate a story perfectly.

Crossing the stage in vellies not platforms, troubadour David Kramer impacts as often as he reinvents himself with small shifts of emphasis as he injects new music as determinedly as the fans want him to stick to the old.

This time it was a guitar collaboration with Schalk Joubert who also has a particular stage presence which makes these two artists mesh magnificently. Kramer is the star, and Joubert the flourish.

It added an edge to the familiar anthems while they smartly slipped in the new, a fantastic collection of songs that will soon be part of the regular repertoire. It’s a tough one to manage as the audience fixate on the familiar, but the writing and composing seem strong and with this musical conversation between two fine musicians, it adds another dimension to the Kramer cabaret.

Capetonians are familiar with The Mechanicals who keep reinventing the classics and it was good to encounter a young crop of actors making a meal of Chekov’s Kersieboord and Waseef Piekaan was unfamiliar with Wrongly Accused introducing this new actor.

Playing to a sadly empty hall, this is a voice to watch as he played his heart out in true theatre tradition. The piece could have been pared down for more effect, but there’s talent oozing out of this man’s pores. Check him out.

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