SA spin on Greek tragedy enticesComment on this story
BASED on the Sophocles play Oedipus at Colonus the reworking of the title, Oedipus @ Koõ-nu!, gives some indication where Young Artist Award Winner: Theatre, Greg Homann’s head was at.
“I wanted to write,” he explains because he is better known as a director rather than a writer and he loves doing both. Having directed Ariel Dorfman’s Delirium, he was offered another play to premiere, but even that enticement “and honour” he let pass because he was determined to go all the way.
He also picked the right play to tangle with. “This is the story of Oedipus, an old man who knows he is dying,” Homann explains the premise of his work. It has to do with the death of Mandela, our young democracy losing some of its early lustre, the damage one generation can inflict on those following as well as the relationship and responsibilities between children and their parents, something we all have to deal with in our lives and so often played out as seen a few times recently in this country.
If this all sounds like doom and gloom, Homann is determined to keep a playful element running thought the work. “It’s a family fighting about their father’s burial,” he says tongue in cheek. Who will profit from the burial for example? What will the legacy be that he leaves?
But there’s also the issues of pain and guilt that doesn’t seem to have any cut-off point. “There are things that have to be said,” says Homann who believes he has found an allegory that speaks to a contemporary moment in this country. But it can also access the world. He was also intrigued by the younger characters who were battling with their elders’ views. “They’re tired of hearing their parents tales,” he notes.
It’s a play that works on many different levels and how you play into it will depend on your age. Take the main character, he’s a hero, a perpetrator, a victim, a father, a refugee who is dying and wants to greet his children. “There are many different South African identities found in this one man,” notes the playwright. “That’s why he is so appealing and why the play can be shifted from its tragic roots to tragic comedy.”
Casting has also been a blast with Homann turning first of all to his go-to actor. “We have worked together so many times now,” he says of David Dennis who will be playing Oedipus,” and he’s still ticked off that when I first used him, I asked him to audition!”
But that’s Homann. It’s about the work not ego. Others on the list include the gorgeous Masasa Mbangeni (last seen in Nongogo) as Antigone, the daughter; stand-up comic Tumi Morake made her theatre debut in the role of The Chorus of One and Theseus. But for the plays run at The Witness Hilton Festival later this month the role will be played by Khutjo Green (The Line / Naledi Award for for Best Actress last year).
Glen Biderman-Pam plays Creon and prisoner 2; and Jerry Mntonga (last seen in The Mother of all Eating) as Polynices and prisoner 1. All of these actors, Homann knows either from studying together or teaching.
It’s a rich cast for audiences because it is so unexpected and many of them would not be familiar to festival audiences. Homann’s big task though is to keep it playful which is also happening with dollops of help from his designer Jemma Kahn (Epicene Butcher), who also designed the colourful Delirium costumes for him. “This is Delirium on steroids,” she says. “It’s wacky,” says the director.
Executing his dream is quite daunting says Homann but he’s extremely honoured. He believes he’s onto a good thing but he is careful when suggesting that. “It’s the different strands that run through the piece,” he hopes, that will intrigue different people. While the roots are in Greek tragedy, there are the madcap elements that make him smile. “I’ve used my academic writing,” explains Homann who has written about post-apartheid theatre which is where his interests come from. “This brings many of those ideas together.”
Twenty years of democracy have passed and this is such a watershed moment for us, he argues. This is where the arts step in. “We have always been ahead. We don’t mirror society, we give a version which should act as a warning.”
His thinking expects art to shift us so that we don’t fall into terrible traps. With this in mind, the different characters in his play take different positions. “Everyone has their reasons for doing certain things and we often fail to understand where people come from. There are multiple positions to be argued,” he notes.
It’s about grappling with themes of our society and understanding that the journey we’re on isn’t all that unique. “I believe the work will find an audience and the ages will differ. Your age will determine how you view the play because of different historical perspectives.”
More than anything perhaps, as a 2014 Young Artist, he has owned his identity as an artist gracefully. “It always sat a bit uncomfortably,” he says.
• Oedipus @ Koõ-nu! will now be staged at the Witness Hilton Festival set to begin soon. See our sidebar for other highlights from this fest.
Civil Parting: From the playwright who gave us London Road, winner of a Standard Bank Ovation award at National Arts Festival 2014, nominated for Best Script at the Dublin Festival, Fleur du Cap nominations for Script and Director. This play is a savagely funny comedy-drama about divorce. Glenn and Jean-Pierre have been married for seven years. Things have soured between them, but since they are professional, respectable members of the community, they have resolved to divorce amicably. Written by Nicholas Spagnoletti and directed by Zanne Solomon, it features Shaun Acker and Pieter Bosch Botha.
Giving Birth to my Father: Written and directed by Wiseman Mncube, an emerging playwright with a keen desire to tell stories, and winner of a New Writers’ Award, Standard Bank New Voices Ovation Award and a Standard Bank Ovation Award at
the 201 National Arts Festival.
The play features Lihle Dhlomo
and was mentored by Roel Twijnstra. This demanding one-woman production shines the spotlight on a woman who finds herself on the brink of freedom after 18 years behind bars for murder.
Illusive: Acclaimed sleight-of-hand artist, Stuart Lightbody, delivers an experience of wonder that is rare, beautiful and illusive. Written and performed by Lightbody, it is directed by multi-award winner Tara Notcutt (Three Little Pigs, …Miskien, Mafeking Road), and has been to
the Amsterdam Fringe Festival, Perth World Fringe Festival and the Prague Fringe Festival where it won the Creative Award.
Locomoto: Has been devised as an outdoor performance that integrates the usually distinct disciplines of contemporary dance and steel sculpture. The piece is centred on a steel ball 2m in diameter. The machine is fuelled by our desire to dominate and consume. The performers feast upon the sphere, our globe. The “perpetual” mechanism stops and they are left clinging to a skeletal structure. Choreographed by Shelby Strange with set constructed by George Holloway.
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks: Daphne Kuhn is very proud to present Richard Alfieri’s international hit play, directed by Greg Homann. A treat for theatre lovers, this touching and human comedy tells the story of a formidable retired woman, Lily Harrison, played by consummate actress Judy Ditchfield, who hires an acerbic dance instructor, Michael Minetti, (Jose Domingos) to give her private dance lessons. Choreography is by Brandon Eilers le Riche who has been seen in the past six seasons of Strictly Come Dancing.
The Snow Goose: A wounded, storm-tossed snow goose brings a young girl, Fritha, and the recluse Philip Rhayader together in a moving story of love and courage, of rejection, prejudice and redemption – an adaptation of Paul Gallico’s classic novella played out on the desolate Essex marshes and against the background of the miracle of Dunkirk. Starring James Cairns and Tarryn Bennett, directed by Jenine Collocott.
• The Witness Hilton Arts Festival runs from September 18 to 21. For the full programme and ticketing information, visit www.hiltonfestival.co.za.