268 Cast of the play Protest do their thing at the Graeme College Theatre during the Grahamstown Arts Festival. This year is the 40th anniversary of the festival. 080714. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

If anyone needs to make a stand for the arts, the National Arts Festival is the place to be.

From finger gymnastics on the piano by English pianist James Redfern and Romanian-born South African Laura Paun in a packed Beethoven hall, to the walkabout by soundscape artist Jenna Burchell and her unusual exhibition of copper wire strung up with electrical circuits to lure passing hands.

The artistry has been extreme.

Seemingly every hall or room in this chilly city is being used by artists in some way to excite and entertain audiences, whether with laughter or a rattling of old cages – to remind us where we come from.

Ubu and the Truth Commission is a case in point.

As lead, Dawid Minnaar stalks the stage, stripped down with vulgar vulnerability to a tacky white vest-and-underpants’ suit, which exposes and highlights his arrogance, we witness the work of a collection of artists that pins you to the chair roughly, but also with a sense of awe.

This production – a big one on the programme – is in the writing, the execution by William Kentridge and the Handspring Puppet Company, and a cast of actors and puppeteer actors who throw it out there with a bravado that blows the mind.

It is the kind of theatre that needs to stroke you with silliness and then blow holes through your soul.

Ubu and the Truth Commission was originally directed with exquisite and piercingly revelatory animation by Kentridge, but this time around it has been handed to Yanni Younge (Young Artist winner for theatre in 2010).

Younge has brilliantly restaged this modern classic, so necessary for our times.

There’s nothing on that stage that doesn’t hold you in a vice grip of emotions, flaying between inspiration and intimidation.

As we hear the testimonies of victims, translated in those chilling monotones so familiar at that time, snatches of “they killed them like animals” reverberate, recalling a history that might seem long gone, but is brought back in this rude awakening.

This is theatre for the senses and the sensible, as we remember a time in our country many want to forget.

That, as Kentridge reminds us, is what theatre does in a way nothing else can.

It keeps recalling those memories we think have been buried – and it does so in live colour.

But at the moment, it’s only Grahamstown that is being blessed with this fantastical work before it leaves the country to tour the world.

That’s also what our artists like Kentridge, the Handspring Puppet Company, Brett Bailey and Paul Grootboom achieve. They share our stories with the world.

An international agent said you need only mention the names Bailey or Grootboom and the shows are booked.

That’s our artistic currency right there and there are many more.

But for the moment, we have them filling our hearts and minds in Grahamstown.

• The festival runs until Sunday. Read our coverage on www.iol.co.za