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Some gems among the fringe benefits

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Sunday Morning James 3

Festivals by nature seem to grow beyond their expectations and this year’s National Arts Festival boasted the biggest fringe in its long history. Here are some of my favourite solo experiences:

• Sunday Morning (the only one not on the fringe) starring the unstoppable James Cuningham was everything Defending the Caveman should have been. This is one for all those who cringed. With a sharp, sassy script by Nick Warren, deftly directed by Jenine Collocott, Cuningham is off running from the word “go”. It’s got real heart underpinning the laughter.

(At the Kalk Bay Theatre from Friday to August 11 with a run at Sandton Theatre on the Square from September 3 to 15).

• The Juliet Jenkin of The Boy Who Fell from the Roof is back with a strong text and an actress, Daneel van der Walt, who knows how to fill out the role of Big Girl. In a story of epic proportions, it is the tiny details that colourfully take you on a journey that reaches as far as the mind can wander. The ending could be reworked more imaginatively, but this is something that can easily travel and charm with its sense of wonder as these two turn storytelling on its head.

• Nicola Hanekom has been stepping out as a director with her site-specific work (Lot, Betésda and Babbel) these past few years, (most recently in Pretoria following strong performances at the various Afrikaans festivals), but with her latest solo turn Hol, she overwhelmed with script and performance.

On a treadmill for most of an hour, running often as fast as she can, she talks a mile-a-minute as she spills her guts about her body – inside and out. It’s a remarkable feat and while she plays magnif- icently with language, it’s one that can easily translate and travel. It will also play at Aardklop later this year.

• Also hitting hard with script and performance, Anthea Thompson never lets up in the cunning and often cutting Seashells which allows the player and those watching the chance to get into different characters as she tells the story of identical twin sisters who battle even before they come out of the womb. It’s gripping stuff as she mesmerises with a compelling performance that never lets up. Like Hol, this one written by Rafiek Mammon was part of Artscape’s New Writing Programme. Both should be seen more widely.

• Lionel Newton was also back on stage – gloriously – in a show titled Rats! Perhaps he should, like the Dutch show Wacht!, have trusted his instincts and stuck only to Robert Browning’s Pied Piper of Hamelin because after delivering something so sublime, it’s tough to match – and he doesn’t.

The Becket just didn’t gel after the first tour de force even though perhaps more than any other, Becket is a dramatist Newton has often performed. But it was the man with the flute who stole the show, even if it took him three months to learn. It was exquisite and should be repeated often.

• Clayton Boyd cleverly asked the remarkable Tara Notcutt to direct Lord Hamlet and the pairing worked. The play has done the rounds in another guise, but giving this one a contemporary local edge and staged (probably not by choice) in a very intimate venue, it worked well. Boyd has moved to Joburg from Cape Town, so let’s hope he doesn’t lose himself in TV but keeps those stage muscles flexed.


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