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Musho! has much to please theatre goers

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TO NDR white christmas review

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White Christmas

MUSHO! FESTIVAL 2014 WINNERS:

Latoya Newman

THE ninth annual Musho! Festival wrapped up on Sunday after five days of fine one- and two-hander plays.

The programme was packed with comedies, musical comedies, an interesting outdoor performance art piece and drama.

Every year the festival also showcases works by community theatre groups in and around Durban under the mentorship and guidance of some of the best theatre practitioners through the Twist Theatre Development Projects.

Here’s a rundown of some of the shows we were able to catch and our thoughts on them.

TO NDR Meze, Mira and Make-up review

Meze, Mira and Make-up

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l eLIMBOLAND

After they die, one white and one black man find themselves in a sort of purgatory and to advance to the next phase they have to fill out a form with details such as their name and how they died. As the two try to recall their lives, and how they came to arrive in eLimboland, their recollections and conver-sations highlight a number of interesting social and socio-political issues that are common to most.

For example, how we stereotype so easily or, for that matter, take offense so easily because of our own prejudices; issues pertaining to the South African landscape such as BEE partnerships and more.

As the plot unfolds we learn that the two strangers may have more in common than just being in eLimboland. Can they survive the twist in their tales?

A piece to get one pondering some of the universal truths that surround us daily. But as the two characters revisited their pasts in order to unlock their futures, I got thinking about how we should perhaps all do that sometime – ponder the past and hopefully head towards a better future.

Jem Atkins and Gabriel Miya were a good match on stage and suited their respective characters.

l WHITE CHRISTMAS

Clinton Marius, who’s popular for his comedic writing and children’s theatre, staged his newest work, the tragi-comedy and semi-autobiographical White Christmas.

This beautifully written play sees the audience journey with a young man (Marco Kotze) through years of memories of his family’s annual festive break down the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

As he sets up their camp site and shares his recollections with the audience you can’t help but fall in love with this family and their colourful characters – Pa who always makes a plan for his family, Ma who is centred in her Biblical beliefs and his sister who believes in making her dreams come true.

Despite not having much, the Van Niekerks hold it together on the basis that, above all, they have each other. However, an unexpected event sees the family thrown into turmoil. Can they survive this?

The beauty of this piece is in the writing. The story of this humble family holds your interest throughout. Weaved into the Van Niekerks’ history, is also that of a South African community we don’t often see explored on stage.

Frequently we see pieces staged that explore black, Indian and coloured history and heritage, but no so much white South African history, in particular the Afrikaner.

It was interesting to hear how this poor white family had roots among the founders of a particular Boere Republiek (in this case of Stelleland). It was also interesting to hear funny anecdotes of how they coped with poverty – like their homemade substitutes for fancy Christmas decorations and fancy dress costumes. And it’s interesting to experience the fears they have – like their children not being able to study because they can’t afford it or not being able to get a job because they are white.

As an aside I managed to catch The Bram Fischer Waltz (Harry Kalmer) and Writer’s Block (Mike van Graan) at the National Arts Festival last year which also provided different insights into white communities in South Africa – in the case of these two, however, it related directly to white struggle activists.

So to be able to see another perspective of the broader South African community was interesting. White Christmas presents an honest piece of theatre that tugs at the heartstrings.

Given that this was Kotze’s first solo professional piece, he didn’t do too badly. I think if he has more time with this piece it could work out to be one he could be remembered for.

l MEZE, MIRA, MAKE-UP

Irene Stephanou’s Meze, Mira, Make-up will have you in stitches from start to finish. Complementing her writing is an outstanding performance by Taryn Papadopoulos Louch.

Mira (Papadopoulos Louch) is an adolescent girl of Greek descent trying to make sense of the world – and boys – in a society where she is often judged for being Greek.

On the one hand she has her mother who wants nothing more for her than to know how to cook and find a nice Greek boy. Then there are her boy troubles, like having crushes on non-Greek boys and always being the wallflower at family functions. And, of course, she’s struggling to establish her independence and make her own decisions and choices.

As Mira takes the audience through her dilemmas and experiences you get to enjoy a funny and enlightening journey through a different South African community.

Laced in between the teenager’s personal dramas are historical facts about the Greek community and how and why they came to Africa. I found that very interesting, given that South Africa has a host of foreign communities within its broader community and we often only know as much about them as what we witness on a daily basis. So it was very exciting to learn so much more about the Greek community here.

On another level the personal anecdotes Mira shares make you realise how cultures can be so universal in some aspects.

Papadopoulos Louch is very entertaining in her various roles. As she drops in and out of character at the drop of a hat, she gets into the skin of each character.

A well-deserved ovation.

l DETTE IN AFRICA

Award-winning Dutch theatre maker, Dette Glashouwer, was brought to Musho! through the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Twist Projects. Her interesting piece, Dette in Africa, is a comedic, yet enlightening, look at money matters and debt.

She begins with a very interesting historical overview on how the banks created money and how systems of trade and systems of interest came about and how these are created – together with desire – to make consumers want more and more and more, until they are basically chasing their tails in debt.

With this foundation having been laid, in the second half Glashouwer tells the audience about a trip she took to Kenya to investigate their trading system where they use airtime as currency. And as she narrates her journey – including commentary of her interesting finds in the history books about the colonisation of Africa – much thought is provoked on debt on every level, from personal to political and international.

Her performance is engaging and the fact that this piece is loaded with laughs rather than numbers and stats, makes it easy to digest.

l BATTLE OF THE AGES

A once-humble pastor now lives a flamboyant life on the church’s pocket. Luxury cars, fancy suits and an entourage of bodyguards are the order of the day. His followers have to pay a consultation fee to see him and the church makes money of self-branded products that promise quick-fix miracles.

The pastor’s son returns from college to attend his grandfather’s funeral and is shocked by what he finds. He questions his father on these riches at the expense of the poor congregation and community, but to no avail. So he sets out to bring about change the only way he knows how – by starting a new church that will focus on Biblical teachings and not on self-enrichment. But will his father accept this?

The Izwe Youth Movement and their mentor Neil Coppen tackle an important issue running rampant in South Africa’s poor communities. We often hear of these kinds of churches promising all sorts or miracles at a cost to the poor.

Maybe I read too much into this one, but there were certain lines in this piece that made me think that perhaps this was also doubling as a commentary on South Africa today.

Such as when the flamboyant pastor exclaims that his church “…will rule until the second coming of Jesus…” and where he said “… even apartheid couldn’t stop this church…” In these instances I thought perhaps the flamboyant pastor was symbolic of the self-enriching, corrupt elements in the country today, and perhaps the pastor’s son, Veli, symbolised a new rising youth movement determined to bring about order.

Either way it is a relevant piece of theatre which shows that if our youth are coming up with such ideas for the stage, maybe they are not be as naive as we sometimes think them to be.

l BACK TO NIGHT UNDER THE STREET POLES

After 18 years in jail, a young woman now faces the reality of her release. She struggles over whether she is safer in the confines of her prison cell or out there on the streets that were never kind to her.

She begins to share with the audience how exactly she landed in prison after a journey 18 years ago to find her biological father ended in tragedy.

As she recalls the events, reality hits home that hers is actually a snapshot of a life so many of our young women face today. Orphaned youngsters looking for answers in all the wrong places, landing up in prostitution rings and brothels, the violence they are exposed to and the often tragic endings to their stories.

In this case the young woman (played by Ayanda Fali) is shattered in mind and spirit and now faces another challenge she may or may not overcome.

Written by Wiseman Mncube, this piece presents a true-to-life offering that tugs at the heart strings.

Fali’s performance was great for a young performer as she chopped and changed characters and played each one with gusto. A deserved ovation.

l FREEZE

Dutch performance artist Nick Steur had audiences glued to his piece, Freeze, in which he balances rocks (given to him by the audience) on top of each other. No glue, cement or magic, just concentration and striking a balance between himself and the rocks.

Best Emerging Artists Productions:

l Pansa Special Mention Award: Brothers.

l Audience Runner-up Award: Back to Night Under the Street Poles (sponsored by Themi Venturas Productions).

l Audience Favourite Award: A men to We Men (sponsored by Act Two Training).

Main Festival Awards:

l The Suliman Selection: Dear Breeder.

l The Audience Runner-up Award: Dear Breeder (sponsored by Going Places SA).

l Pansa Special Mention: The God Complex.

l Audience Favourite Award: The Shoe Man (sponsored by LTJ Travel).

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