Collaborations, when they work, are a beautiful thing and quite a few of these sublime coming-togethers were part of this year’s National Arts Festival.
One of the best, Antjie in Berlin, is a collaboration between artists from different genres who, with a stunning concept, created one of the most blissful and quite unusual moments at the festival.
It is wonderful to find respite between all the running around followed by words, even if they are amazing. Antjie is that performance.
Recordings by the poet and author Antjie Krog of some of the letters she wrote to her mother while on a residency in Berlin and also a part of her novel Begging to be Black are intermingled with compositions by Rudiger Meyer played by contemporary classical pianist Jill Richards, with sound designer Shaughn Macrae adding techno rhythms and haunting echoes to Krog’s voice.
It’s all in the detail. From the staging, which is on the large Settler Monument Guy Butler stage, with the audience sitting in a circle around the pianist, who is at the centre.
She is quietly conducted by the composer as the thoughts of the writer and the musical notes inspired by her musings to her mother almost trip up one another as they weave in and out of memories and musical moments.
It’s gentle and there is a sweetness as well as probing in the music and Krog’s words as she watches her home country from afar and comments on issues that would shape her provocative yet aspiring Begging to be Black.
Richards, who recently collaborated on one of William Kentridge’s huge stage shows, is perfect in her role as she allows the music to guide her performance.
As we wander between the words and the music in a space that has almost been isolated by sound, there’s time to meditate and to appreciate the artistry of an idea that started with Krog’s evocative letters.
Another collaboration is that of the Richard father and son, Michael and Jeremy, with Kickstart’s director Steven Stead and designer Greg King in John Logan’s new play Red which opens in Joburg’s Old Mutual Theatre on the Square after the festival.
With painter Mark Rothko (Michael) at the centre of the story as he struggles with his art and the meaning of art while mentoring a young assistant (Jeremy), it’s the perfect play for a festival that is all about art.
It even has the added drama of making art which is possible because of the nature of Rothko’s colourful canvases.
But it is also the performance of a father and son that adds yet another dimension and for the young Richard, the son of such a brilliant actor, it must be a blessing to start his career in such a fine production playing opposite someone who will make the performance sweeter and, hopefully, a smoother ride because once on stage, he’s on his own.
The good thing about plays that premiere at festivals is they are given a period of grace before they open for a season in other theatres.
Audiences will benefit because they will both develop in their roles, which were strong to start with. But as plays run, they grow in strength, especially when the script and cast are so well suited. Gauteng theatregoers should make a date.
Richard snr was also part of the ensemble cast for the fast and fiery Race, written by David Mamet, who loves harpooning issues he believes take themselves too seriously.
Set in a boardroom of two lawyers, one white (Richard), the other black (Sello Maake Ka-Ncube), they have to battle for a wealthy white client (Graham Hopkins) who is accused of raping a black woman.
They are supported by a sassy law clerk (Nondumiso Tembe), also black, and because of the title and the writer, the colour of the performers is at issue.
There’s almost no way Mamet would not let rip with this one as he wickedly sets out to play the race card in every way possible and as much fun as the writer has, so does this cast as they in turn rip into one another with great gusto.
The only problem with this magically cast production was the accents. It’s a tough one and when the talk is as fast as Mamet wants them to go, it’s almost impossible not to stumble.
I heard many complain about not understanding Maake Ka-Ncube, although I didn’t have that problem, perhaps because I often see him play, but in general, the accents didn’t go well.
But as actress Louise Saint Clare points out, to do it without the accent would sacrifice Mamet’s rhythms.
The script and the casting easily outweigh the accent battle, though, and with newcomer (for many of us) Tembe making such a star turn, let’s hope theatre managements around the country allow this one to travel.
It’s the kind of script that will get debate going, and more than that, it has everyone giggling as Mamet writes fearlessly about race, something that, sadly, so many still don’t want to raise.