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A Year with Frog and Toad

The National Children’s Theatre in Parktown is housed on a large garden property. Long before COVID Moira Katz, CEO, mentioned that she had a vision for an outdoor theatre in the garden.

COVID turned this dream into reality and I was deeply resentful of the lockdown which prevented me from attending previous productions. This time I managed to join real live people for a breakfast picnic in the garden to see A Year with Frog and Toad.

Outdoor performances have quite a different feel to indoor ones. They have more distractions. It also seemed to attract younger audiences.

Recommendations regarding age seem to agree that four years old is a great time for children to start attending theatre. Six months either way is how I have done it depending on the individual child’s ability to sit still. Not such a crisis outdoors but still distracting when littles run across the garden in front of the stage.

The show itself was a one act affair, fairly short, and it felt perfectly timed for the two children in my party. I enjoyed the whole event, both the production and the picnic vibe.

The actors were miked for audibility outside and the older of the children with me commented favorably on that point. The sound by Jane Gosnell was superb. She was also the stage manager assisted by Gideon Moyo.

The production felt bright and cheerful and I am undecided whether that was the sunshine or the costumes and set by Sarah Roberts. When in doubt, the credit probably actually belongs to the director, in this case Ivor Jones who was also responsible for the choreogrphy. The musical director was Christine Ludwig. The music was excellent. Those mikes make all the voices sound strong and confident.

Devon Flemmer (Frog) is an old hand at children’s theatre and I heard moms and dads exclaiming how good he was as we were leaving. I concur. However, he was not alone in putting in a performance to delight. Gamelihle Bovana was an excellent Toad. The three members of the supporting cast were also pleasing in every way.

Gamelihle Bovana as Toad. Pand Devon Flemmer as Frog. Photograph by Rebecca Hearfield.
At the back left we have Katlego Nche who played Snail, and on the right is Robyn Evans. Centre front is Rene Setlhako. Photograph by Rebecca Hearfield.

I personally hope that the garden venue continues to be used on a weather permitting basis for a variety of productions long after COVID is just a hideous memory. I can see it being used for Shakespeare school productions as well.

In the interim, take your own picnic, or support the tuckshop. Take sunscreen, umbrellas (for shade) , sun hats and a blanket. There are chairs for those who fear getting down and up again. If you need disabled access you can phone ahead and they will permit you to park close by but you will need a pusher (staff will assist) as there is grass to be traversed.

National Children’s Theatre 3 Junction Avenue, Patktown, 0114841584.

There is also a special Carol Sing on 10 December 2021 at 17.30 and 11 December 2021 at 18.30.


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Spring Season Finale 2021

I can’t believe it is already over. Just a tantalisingly short two concert season to remind us of what once was. It was marvellous.

All COVID prptocols observed

Symphony concerts almost invariably follow the format of an opening piece, usually an overture, followed by a concerto, then a symphony.

Last night’s concert was a perfect example. The overture was Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. The concerto was Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. The symphony was Beethoven’s Eroica, Symphony No 3.

Maestro Justus Frantz was on the podium. He is an acclaimed German pianist and conductor, no longer young. He flouted the usual dress code, opting for comfort instead of tradition. I’m inclined to be disapproving until I think of my own comfort over style dressing. Ja nee. The important thing is the music and that was wonderful.

Maestro Justus Frantz in concert

The concerto was the sumptious Violin Concerto in E minor by Mendelssohn with the soloist being a young Korean, Eu-Yun Choi. The concerto is deceptively simple. It is often the first concerto violinists add to their repertoire. However Jascha Heifetz rates it as the most difficult opening to play in tune of all violin concertos. Eu-Yun Choi took it at a lively pace and her playing was sweet and warm throughout.

Eu-Yun Choi In concert

The Beethoven Eroica, (meaning “heroic”) or the Symphony No 3 in E in E flat major, Opus 55 has a funeral march as its second (slow) movement. This movement was dedicated to those who have died from COVID. This added to the solemn nature of the movement. The rest of the work is more optimistic.

All in all this was very satisfying. Well done to Bongani Temba, CEO of the orchestra, and his whole team. Thank you for the music. I’m looking forward to a full season soon.

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And the music is live…

I have been attending symphony concerts for almost fifty years now. In that time there has only been one standing ovation BEFORE the concert. That was last night at the Linder Auditorium. I’m tearing up as I write this. As the orchestra entered the stage the audience started to stand up, one by one, then en masse, as the customary polite greeting applause took on a profound gratitude for live music again. The love of the people of Johannesburg for our orchestra was almost palpable. I have goosebumps.

Conductor Daniel Boico (right) with Russian pianist George Tchaidze. On the left is Miro Chakaryan, the leader of the orchestra.

After that the orchestra could have played Mary had a little lamb offkey and full of errors and they would have been forgiven, but instead we got a programme to inspire and delight. Daniel Boico was on the podium and he is much revered by both orchestra and audience.

The first piece was an harmonious, lyrical contempory (2016) composition for strings by Karen Lefrak entitled Gravity. Audiences have been promised greater diversity in programming and performance in the future, and I think this is one of those works by a woman composer. It was lovely. However, on this auspicious evening it was dedicated to the memory of the people who died of COVID in the nineteen months between their last live concert and this one.

Next up was George Tchaidze, a young Russian pianist who showcased the brilliant 1st Piano Concerto, Opus 23 in b minor, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It is an exquisite work, filled with wonderful memories for me, and while the interpretation wasn’t to my personal liking, the music certainly was. Tchaidze played November from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, Opus 37a. This charming encore was, in my opinion, much more suitable for the pianist’s touch than the concerto, and I would have liked to have heard him on a recital of the entire work.

After interval we were treated to Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8, Opus 88 in G major. I loved both the playing and the music.

The tickets for the single night concert were completely sold out. The COVID protocols were rigidly applied. Only vaccinated people allowed in without recent negative test results and strict adherance to sanitisation, social distancing and mask wearing required. Most people complied willingly.

All in all it was a magical evening.

George Tchaidze with violins behind him.
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A ‘walk’ on the wild side

The Rosebank Transport Indaba is taking place this week. (29 October 2021).

It’s a bit like the Scouting “Anything that floats”, but on land. From the Gautrain, minibus taxis, ride hailing services like Uber, tuk tuks, private transport, delivery vehicles, meter taxis, bicycles, motor bikes, skateboards, rollerskates, to prams and wheelchairs. Anything with wheels.

Wheelchair users often gripe, even more often with good cause, about the difficulties of getting around urban spaces. To this end I was invited to explore the terrain.

The brief journey around central Rosebank took us from the Southern Sun, past the Hyatt, to the Voco Hotel, a small distance for a stroll, but a marathon for most wheelchair users. I say “us” because I was accompanied by a designated wheelchair pusher and a camera team. And a security vehicle, although that was for the cameras.

The journey could not even begin on our pavements (sidewalks for Americans). We started on the road and most of the way we were obliged to use the road. The pavements were in good nick in places but just not accessible because there were no ramps. Then there were a few ugly obstacles in the paving on the pavements. There were no street side parking spots for vehicles permitted to use them anywhere, which makes getting in and out of vehicles a problem when one needs the wheelchair to be alongside the vehicle to transfer.

It certainly isn’t a wheelchair user paradise, but if one is able to negotiate one’s way down streets it is possible to move around, although not in complete safety. For multiple disability wheelchair users like me (I have visual impairment as well) this journey would have been impossible without assistance.

In South Africa most wheel chair users do not have access to private transport, and trips to major commercial hubs like Rosebank may involve stretches of public road use between two venues, or simply between public transport and the venue or mall. We call upon everyone concerned, but particularly the City, to ensure we, wheelchair users, can access the places we need to go.

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The New Nutcracker 2021

The very last performance I saw before lockdown was Shana Dewey in Don Quixote. It is fitting, therefore, that the very first performance I should see after more than 573 days of isolation from the world, but not solo in my room, is Joburg Ballet’s The Nutcracker.

This is a new production of The Nutcracker staged by Iain MacDonald and his Joburg Ballet’s team. It feels fresh for several reasons, not least being that Clara falls asleep in Act 1 Scene 2 and then proceeds to become the star of her own dream. This makes so much more sense than dreaming your sister is the star. Who would do that? I understand that is how the ballet was originally produced. It is much, much more dramatically pleasing.

Alice le Roux with her nutcracker

Budgetary constraints did this production both a very great service (the silver lining) and a disservice. The disservice being no live music. Ballet is nearly always better with live music. It is unaffordable with an orchestra, so we deal with it. I would rather have ballet with recorded music than no ballet at all. The music is by Peter Illich Tchaikovsky and it is glorious, even if it is so well known that it is sometimes denigrated.

I mentioned the silver lining. This is found in the sets by Willem Disbergen. Modern sets for Joburg Ballet productions have been flies with projections on the back wall. They are much cheaper than traditional sets and, in my opinion, they work so much better. I don’t like cluttered sets. Willem Disbergen worked magic on the sets and got it really right.

Lighting is one of those things, together with recorded sound (not music), where one shouldn’t really notice it at all. There are a few exceptions, but generally, one only notices bad lighting. Simon King made this a perfect no-brainer. There was no bad lighting. With Simon King there never is any bad lighting.

Set by Willem Disbergen and lighting by Simon King

The Nutcracker has never been my favourite ballet (and Tchaikovsky hated it) and one of the reasons is that Act 1 has always been overrun by children with instructions to act like brats. Last night was a pleasant departure from this. All the little masked children were kept downstage except when they were dancing in their charming choreography. It worked for me. After interval several of them came and sat in the row near mine and they were all good as gold. The grandchild of one of my friends is involved and the benefits of being in a production like this are enormous, and worth all the effort for both the creative director and the parents. Interestingly, The Nutcracker did not please its audience at its world premiere in 1892. It may have been confusing for all the children were danced by adult ballet students. Tchaikovsky died thinking it was a flop. Today it is one of the world’s most often performed ballets.

Originally the choreography for The Nutcracker was by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The new (nearly all classical style) choreography for Act 2 was wonderful. The pas de deux proceeded traditionally, but the other incidental dances all had that bright new sheen. The new choreography credits are nebulous and go to various company members in addition to Iain MacDonald.

Nicole Ferreira Dill (centre)

There were some new costumes to be seen throughout the production and they merged unjarringly with the existing costumes. This is, I think, part of Willem Disbergen’s design genius.

Drosselmeyer (Gabriel Fernandes) and Clara (Alice le Roux)

Now for the dancing itself. Joburg Ballet is a small company, and it has had its historical challenges, not least of which involved a short period a few years ago of less than perfect dancing. I am pleased to report that the general standard of dancing continues to improve and is most pleasurable to watch.

Alice le Roux danced, very prettily, the role of Clara with Gabriel Fernandes as Dr Drosselmeyer. The new character of Dr Drosselmeyer’s son, Karl Drosselmeyer. That was danced by Revil Yon. Nicole Ferreira-Dill is my favourite dancer and she danced the role of Clara’s mother. Ruan Galdino got the eponymous role of the Nutcracker, while Revil Yon took the role of Clara’s partner, the Snow Cavalier, in the snow scene. The various incidental, international dances were all charming, but it was the Arabian dancers who stood out on the night I watched it were danced by Darragh Hourrides and Craig Pedro.

The most difficult role of the ballet is that of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. On the night this was Monike Cristina and Ruan Galdino. Cristina made it look easy and her finale pirouettes were precise and pretty.

Monike Cristina as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

New technology demands that contemporary programmes are online, rather than printed. Gauteng Opera were the first company to do this, and it worked amazingly well. Last night there may have been a glitch, and some of us could not access them at the theatre. I got mine when I returned home. I am visually impaired and, if there was a cast list, I never found it. I missed the cast list. These new-fangled things tend to become easier and easier, and paperless is a win both for the environment and the purse, but the printers lose out.

Overall, The Nutcracker is best viewed if one has a ballet-mad child in tow, but it is perfectly acceptable for adults to attend unaccompanied by children.

Joburg Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker is being staged at The Mandela, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein. All photographs were by Lauge Sorensen and supplied by the publicist. The run ends on 17 October 2021.

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My bum on a theatre seat

It’s October 2021. Theatres are opening again at increased capacity after this hideous COVID shutdown. I am so excited to be going to real, live theatre again.

The Nutcracker is Joburg Ballet’s offering for this momentous occasion.

The Nutcracker is a much loved classical ballet choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov in 1892 to music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It is Christmassy in theme and it is traditional seasonal theatre fare in much of the world. We have it early because Janice Honeyman’s panto does our festive buzz.

Joburg Ballet has put the programme and cast lists online – free of charge. Go get a look at all the gorgeous photos. This online thing for programmes is going to be the way of the future. More eco-friendly but nowhere for young dance admirers to collect autographs. I am a little sad about the demise of printed programmes, but we must move with the times.

I am so delighted. I can’t wait to be in the theatre again. I always get excited about attending live theatre, but this is such a special treat after nearly two years of deprivation.

In the ballet the character of the Nutcracker represents power and strength. It is a symbol of protection. This makes it such a wonderful omen for the return of this beautiful art form of live ballet in our city. Add your “amens”. Really, we need this.

Please get your tickets from the links on either Joburg Ballet’s website or from Joburg Theatre’s website. There are only seven performances and these take place over the next two weekends. 8-17 October, 2021.

Beautiful ballerinas.

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Tupperware Travel Mug

Some of you may know that I have a nasty tremor in my hands. It is what doctors call an “essential” tremor. It has become worse over the years and at one stage I was concerned that it might be Parkinson’s. It isn’t. I am now on medication for it, but I still have bad days.

One of the things I do for this is I use a travel mug. That stops me from splashing hot liquid all over myself. So my old travel mug has a rubber seal in it and that has become irredeemably grubby with ingrained mould. It is unlikely to be hygienic at this stage. So I needed a replacement.

My primary concern is safety. The Tupperware mug seals perfectly so even if I drop it in my lap it will not spill hot liquid. As a wheelchair user this is critical.

It needs to be easy to clean. There is no rubber seal and the screw top seal is easy to clean with a cloth or old toothbrush. The mouth hole is easy to clean, although it is a little bigger than I am used to. That makes it easier to use for packet soups and instant noodles. That’s a good thing, right?

The inside of the cup is a bright colour so one can see when it needs cleaning.

The cup is made of sturdy plastic so knocking the empty cup off the nightstand under the bed doesn’t affect it. This is an excellent feature.

It opens and closes easily and I have not had to summon assistance when I want to dunk a rusk (South African rock hard dried sweet bread). This is wonderful for those of us who value little moments of independence.

All in all I am thrilled with my Tupperware travel mug which I bought from Ansie Quail. Her number is on the picture of the mug. It is a little pricy at R219, but excellent quality and Tupperware has a lifetime guarantee.

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Women’s Month is upon us again. I will once again look at the lives of some extraordinary women.

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin won the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 1964. She was a biochemist who, inter alia X-Rayed crystals.

She determined the structure of penicillin, insulin and vitamin B12.

I don’t understand any of her achievements but I love the strong, intelligent women who excelled in male dominated fields, so opening up opportunities the present generatons enjoy.

Thank you.

This photo is of the young scientist, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, in the twenties, nearly 40 years before her Nobel prize.

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Why live classical music matters


I am a regular at the symphony concerts each season. I love them. Here’s why –

I experience a kind of attention deficit when I try to seriously listen to music, any music, that is not live. That means I get distracted and want to do things with my hands, or my mind wanders, and I don’t get the full benefit of the music.

When I listen to live music I become fully engaged. I hear the music in a much more active way. It is a once off, never to be replicated in this precise way. If I allow my mind to wander off the musicians and music brings it back.

It is a social experience. I am usually present with a friend. For years I attended the concerts with my doctor who was obviously also a personal friend As an aside, medical doctors are the profession with the most amateur musicians, so when they ask “Is there a doctor in the house?” at a concert there is likely to be one.

My doctor emigrated and I now attend the concerts with Chet Diepraam who, truth be told, is more fun than the doctor. He turns the event into a glamorous outing. Sometimes we have dinner at the venue’s catering facility. Sometimes we have a picnic at interval in the garden at the Linder Auditorium. Sometimes we have a sushi picnic in the foyer just outside the door nearest where we sit. It is fun. Especially for sushi lovers who will allow themselves to be tempted into joining us for a bite or two.

This social aspect is far more encompassing than just the person who joins me. There are those people we see week after week. Ordinary concert attenders who love the music as much as we do. There are the radio announcers going back to Rodney Trudgeon’s days at the English Programme of the SABC, and in the last two decades, various presenters from ClassicFM, now Classic 1027. I love chatting to Deano Madrumuthu who also does the pre-concert talks.

Lance Rothschild and Carolyn Steyn (the latter has just joined the JPO Board) are also regular attenders in recent seasons. Always good to see Brian Heathfield and Timothy Moloi as well.

It is always a pleasure to see Paul Boekkooi who usually writes the wonderful programme notes. Chat to him, he knows much more than there is space to tell in the programme.

However, one of the greatest social joys is the opportunity to be present with the musicians, some of whom are also very good friends in real life. Some I have known since we were at school together more than half a century ago. Some became friends in other circumstances. Some I know only as stage musicians. I love that the concert master, Miro Chakaryan, knows when I am in the audience. He sees me. They play for me and for other people.

Have a drink with the musicians after the concert. The conductor and soloist usually stay and you could get to meet them.

The concerts are a complete experience. They nourish my body with dinner, they nourish my emotions with human contact, so much missed during lockdown, and they stimulate my intellect, my imagination, my soul with the glorious music universally loved and revered.

Try the concerts when they resume. I love them maybe you will too.

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