DISTORTED DRAMA: Danish artist Jori Snell in Kombuis Avonture in n Koekieblik.
DISTORTED DRAMA: Danish artist Jori Snell in Kombuis Avonture in n Koekieblik.

It’s always intriguing to see what the two biggest national arts festivals offer in a par- ticular year. Sometimes they have strong themes running through the line-up, other times it’s the artists and directors, specific combinations that work together, that excite.

First up this year is the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) in Oudtshoorn from March 29 to April 6.

One of the most talked about productions is playwright Saartjie Botha’s latest venture, Balbesit, a co-production with the State Theatre. A play that cunningly takes the sporting term “ball possession” and throws it around at will, doesn’t only gamble with a fine playwright but also edgy director Jaco Bouwer, known for his innovative approach.

With a large cast, because we’re talking game on, as well as composer Braam du Toit on board, this is one many will be waiting in line to see.

With young guns like Albert Pretorius, Marlo Minnaar, Kabi Thulo, Brendon Daniels, De Klerk Oelofsen, Ludwig Binge, Andrew Laubscher, Wessel Pretorius and Neels Coetzee, it’s set to fly past the winning post. Add veteran Mark Hoeben, and you have a winning team.

Bouwer does it twice, also teaming with hot property Nicola Hanekom and Stian Bam (both nominated for Naledis) to direct the playwright/actress/director’s first drama, Trippie. Step on board the bus, they say.

Take a trip with the two actors through the Karoo. As is her wont, Hanekom isn’t happy to simply step on stage; either she takes her audience to a site-specific spot or she jumps on to an exercise bike (in Hol, also at the festival). Here, it seems, she wants to invite us along on a ride to remember. Who can resist that invitation?

Pity Botha’s Bidsprinkaan isn’t also on the bill. Cross those fingers for Aardklop. It is playing at the Woordfees at the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre, which should be a spectacular venue for this particular play.

But there’s more than enough choice at the KKNK. Big gun Hennie van Greunen again dips into the international treasure chest and translates a David Greig play, calling it Die Monster in die Gang. It has a cast of note, including Anthea Thompson, new wunderkind Wessel Pretorius (also catch his Ont), Waldemar Schultz and Greta Pietersen.

The text takes you on a trip of a different kind. No less nightmarish, but this time it is Duca who has to prove that she leads a normal life. Yet why does her dad ask her to switch the light on during the day? Who is the crazy Swedish woman fighting off monsters? And who is the monster living in the passage?

Moving to monsters of a different kind, he also translates Nicky Sliver’s The Lyons, renames it Die Leo’s and, true to form, casts from the best, starting with Tobie Cronjé and Sandra Prinsloo and including Erica Wessels and Gideon Lombard in what should be a rough but raucous family affair as the mother unpacks her horror for her dying husband, her children and even their children. Buckle up for this one.

Leaping into a different genre completely, he and partner Pedro Kruger combine their experience following an earlier foray into teen musicals, with [email protected], with Kruger doing the directing while Van Greunen translated the text.

Women take centre stage when Alexa Strachan and Franci Swanepoel combine in Boksballade, directed by Margit Meyer-Rödenbeck, a newcomer in the director stakes who is turning into quite a force, as they tell a story of packing up and letting go.

Danish artist Jori Snell’s Kombuis Avonture in ’n Koekieblik is home adventures of another kind with her enticing visual theatre that explores the characters in a kitchen.

Rödenbeck also slots in with Kytie – ’n Koos Kombuis Storie starring Crystal Donna Roberts (also in Bidsprinkaan and someone to watch) and Vaughan Gardiner. It’s a typical local story about a friendship that transcends the colour line – a long, long time ago.

Also reaching back, playwright Charles Fourie presents Offer, which tells the story of a former political activist who returns to write a report about a young boy who shot five people in the township, seemingly without cause. Fourie, who has a keen eye and biting pen, unravels what at first seems like an open and shut case of racism, only to spiral off into something quite unexpected in a country where many sacrifices have been made.

He makes a 180º turn with Sonde Met Die Biere, a new farce that seems to target a whole lot of madness from a golden rugby ball, a terrorist in a pink gown, a lost striptease artist, an angry Russian mobster… the list is endless.

Also hoping to get people laughing, Leon Kruger has written Strip, starring Chris van Niekerk and Waldemar Schultz, about a man in his garage who doesn’t know how to let go of his past until the guy who helps him with the oil in his car passes him a hammer.

Nicole Holm is always someone to watch and she teams with Stian Bam for Francois Toerien’s Rekmerke: Grepe Uit ’n Swanger- skap, which attempts to demystify pregnancy and the gentle way it is often dealt with.

Another familiar name, David Johnson (The Boy Who Fell From the Roof), writes with and is directed by Layla Swart in Skrikkeljaar. It’s one to note.

Titled object theatre, Sfeer starring Athena Mazarakis, Naomi van Niekerk and Arnaud van Vliet, is described as an elegy of objects, light and sound, a story of faraway dreams, longing, ghosts and memories. It’s a world where objects live and where spectators can lose themselves.

And in similar artistic frame, landscape artist Strijdom van der Merwe, Gaerin Hauptfleisch with musician Schalk van der Merwe combine forces in Bly that uses the word bly in all its meaning (stay/joy) and addresses everyone who was left behind or simply feel happy. What makes people happy and what makes them stay?

Young guns Christiaan Olwagen and Tara Notcutt are names to check out.

Two 2012 Aardklop winners like Marthinus Basson’s Op Dees Aarde, Sandra Prinsloo’s Oskar en die Pienk Tannie and always a festival favourite, Marion Holm’s latest comedy version Ge-marion-eer.

There’s more and this spotlight hasn’t even touched on fine art with the extraordinary Diane Victor as festival artist; or the music that presents Claire Johnston unplugged and celebrates 60 years of Dorothy Masuka with the artist accom- panied by Laurika Rauch, Karen Zoid, Zolani Mahola and the African Voices choir.

•For more information, visit www.kknk.co.za