BY LATOYA NEWMAN
NOW IN it’s 24th year, the Hilton Arts Festival programme looks set to please – whether you’re a theatre or fine arts fundi, music lover, or just out to have a weekend of fun.
The festival takes place on the grounds of Hilton College from September 16 to 18. In an interview with Tonight, festival director Sue Clarence discussed some highlights at this year’s event, beginning with the two flagship productions. The Independent Media flagship production is Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Banzi is Dead: “Sizwe Banzi is Dead is probably the most famous play written in South Africa. It was originally performed by Jon Kani and Winston Ntshona. Jon Kani now directs his own son (Atandwa) in it and the reviews in New York were fantastic.
“I think it’s a wonderful glimpse into the horror of apartheid. But a very human story – all this man wants is to have a job to feed his family. It also has a lovely light sense of humour running through it, although it’s obviously a very serious play.”
The Grindrod Bank flagship production is Blonde Poison, written by South African playwright Gail Louw and featuring Fiona Ramsay and director, Janna Ramos-Violante: “Janna is very well known locally and is originally a Durban girl. I think that always has an appeal, but I think what’s really important about Blonde Poison is that it’s a very human story and I think people will relate to the emotion this woman goes through as she confronts guilt about her past. I think the fact that it happens to be a Jewish Nazi story obviously adds flesh to it, but it’s how she copes with the guilt and how the guilt has affected her all her life that is so very moving. It’s a superbly performed play and very human, touching story.”
Clarence considers the festival “lucky” to have Pieter-Dirk Uys on the programme this year. The satirist brings his one-man memoir, Echo of a Noise, and there will be a screening of Nobody’s Died Laughing – a documentary about his life.
“Echo of a Noise is very different from his usual stuff. He tells the story of his own life and how Evita Bezuidenhout came into existence. It’s very poignant. You laugh a lot, but you’ll also want to take tissues with you. We’ll screen the film in the afternoon; he’ll do a Q&A and then go on to the performance of the show.
“Pieter is an ambassador for our country. He was a voice crying in the wilderness long ago and he’s championed the end of the apartheid, yet he’s not been blinkered by what has happened since. I think he believes in fairness and equality for all, a total lack of corruption, and honesty above all else. And I think at the moment that’s a very relevant message to the people of South Africa.”
Jemma Khan, who wowed audiences with her Japanese Kamishibai style of storytelling a few years go with The Epicene Butcher, is back with two new productions. “She’s bringing We Didn’t come to Hell for the Croissants and In Bocca al Lupo. The two are very different in style. We Didn’t come to Hell for the Croissants is definitely adults only. There’s a lot of adult content in it, but it’s a lot of fun. In Bocca al Lupo is an Italian expression which means ‘into the mouth of the wolf’, which is similar to ‘break a leg’. In other words, you’re chucking yourself into the mouth of the wolf – good luck! It tells the story of how Jemma got involved in Kamishibai. It’s her story with influences of what it was like living in Japan and other parts of the world.”
Within the main festival event there are three mini fests taking place: the Jongosi schools programme; Christopher Duigan’s Music Revival series and Assetej – an international network that work with theatre for the youth – have come on board this year, hosting a programme of theatre for young audiences.
“For the first time, we have children’s theatre coming from Joburg and Cape Town, whereas before I’ve had to draw solely on Durban for children’s theatre.”
And if you’re not one for booking to see shows, there is also lots on offer for free. “One thing that is quite new to the festival is that we have an increasing number of visual artists exhibiting and it’s important for the public to know that to come into the festival area is free. There are over 100 exhibiting artists and nearly 200 craft stalls and access to all that is free. So it’s also a wonderful day out. You can come and listen to the free music, do your shopping, view the art.”