Man vs Marlin

It is not often that South African theatre ventures into new territory outside the classic international works or material which is of local interest, so it was wonderful to attend the opening of The Old Man and the Sea at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square in September 2017.

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Taryn Bennett in The Old Man and the Sea

Based on the book of the same title by American novelist and short story writer, Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961), the adaptation of The Old Man and the Sea as a play by Nick Warren and the staging thereof by Jenine Collocott is both riveting and entertaining.

Hemingway’s life was interesting and inter alia he served as an ambulance driver in World War 1, a foreign correspondent in France and later in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and in London during World War II.  He lived in the Florida Keys and in Cuba, married four times, won a Pulitzer for The Old Man and the Sea (1952), the Nobel prize for literature (1954) and committed suicide in 1961.

The work is set in Cuba and uses a circular revolving set (Alistair Findley) with simple props, Collocott’s trade mark masks, puppetry (the old man puppet is by Alida van Deventer), and some more conventional theatre devices.  All round Collocott creates a charming and tender work which is both easy to watch and easy to love.

The Snow Goose and Making Mandela, both works by the same creative team (Contagious Theatre),have both played at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square and the themes in The Old Man and the Sea of existence, survival, brotherhood and pride found their place in a similar style of story-telling that doesn’t become tired.

The three actors who appear in the work are James Cairns, Taryn Bennett & Jaques de Silva.  Each of their characters works brilliantly and distinctly, and one is never in doubt as to who is who. The wonderful sound design is by Steve Clarke with original music is by Sue Grealy.

One does not need to  know the original story in order to enjoy this play.

Venue: Auto and General Theatre on the Square, Nelson Mandela Square, Cnr Sandton Dr and Rivonia Rd, Sandton until 7 October 2017.
Time: Tue to Sat 8.15pm | Sat 6pm
Cost: R70 – R140

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National Theatre Live – Yerma

The National Theatre Live movie of Yerma by Simon Stone (director/creator) after Federico Garcia Lorca is one of those must see productions.  It is the classic 1934 tale of Yerma (Spanish for “barren”) by Federico Garcia Lorca, but updated from rural Spain some time before the Spanish Civil War of 1936 in which the playwright lost his life to contemporary London.

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Billie Piper in Yerma

Billie Piper is a successful journalist simply referred to in the script as “Her”, desperate to conceive but unable to do so.  The play details the five years of Her attempts to fall pregnant, together with Her journey into depression and insanity and the horrifying climax.

UK critics awarded the production five stars.  It is not without its flaws.  The set is a glass box and the lights have to go out for every scene change and some kind of timeline is inserted into the darkness, a device which I found quite irritating.  The soundscape by Stefan Gregory inserted into the darkness starts out with a religious feel and becomes increasingly strident and difficult to bear, tearing at one’s emotions as the action develops.  However, there is no doubt that Ms Piper deserves  every one of those stars as well as the Olivier and Evening Standard Best Actress Awards.  She is utterly wonderful in the role of the unnamed woman who is overly neurotic and obsessed by Her infertility.

Her co-star, Brendan Cowell, who plays Her lover/husband, John, is sometimes overshadowed by Her stage persona, but the sympathy which starts out with Her shifts to him, and then moves back and forth between them as the play unfolds.

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Brandon Cowell and Billie Piper in Yerma

Maureen Beattie plays the role of Her mother.  Charlotte Randle plays the role of Mary, Her sister. Victor is played by John McMillan.

I loved the glass (probably Perspex) box set by Lizzie Clachan despite its obvious technical challenges.  As John refers to the petri dish one is reminded of the set, which also foreshadows the heroine’s all too revealing blog about Her journey with infertility.

Interestingly, Yerma will be closing its second Young Vic run on 23 September 2017 in London.  The movie was made during the 2016 run.

Yerma can be seen at Ster-Kinekor’s Nouveau cinemas in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban on Saturday 23 September, Wednesday 27 September and Thursday 28 September, all at 19:30, and on Sunday 24 September at 14:30.  The running time is approximately  100 minutes and there is no interval.  Strobe lights are used.  Booking at www.sterkinekor.com

The 2018 National Theatre Live screenings will commence on 13 January with Young Marx, Follies from 17 February and Julius Caesar from 21 April.

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The Anglo-Boer War in 100 Objects

  • Title:  The Anglo-Boer War in 100 Objects
  • Text:  War Museum of the Boer Republics
  • Photos: War Museum of the Boer Republics
  • Cover:  Simon Richardson
  • Publisher:  Jonathan Ball Publishers
  • Date: 2017
  • Format:  Hard cover
  • ISBN:  978-1-86842-767-3

 

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The War Museum of the Boer Republics is situated in Bloemfontein.  Some three years ago I visited this museum, spending most of the day there, making discoveries about the Anglo-Boer War.  Of course, my interest was vast.  My paternal grandfather joined the fighting in the latter days of the war when their farmstead was burned down by the English.  He was only twelve.  A great-grandmother on both my mother’s side and on my father’s side were incarcerated in the camps.  The great grandmother on my mother’s side lost all her children to the camp, and her husband to military casualties.  She started a new family after the war.  I grew up with stories of the Anglo-Boer War from personal experience, and an ambivalence to the English with the mix being contempt and tolerance which the foreword to the book describes as “shaped the Afrikaner psyche for generations”.  I am the third generation.  This is true.

I was so excited so see this book, and when I got my hands on it, I dropped other, more important work, to browse through it.  The single most famous picture of the Anglo-Boer War is the one sent by Emily Hobhouse to the British papers  of the emaciated seven year old Lizzie van Zyl.  The story of this photograph is to be found on page 200. The two objects on the facing page are of a watch chain made  of the hair of a five year old girl, and three small “frozen Charlottes” or “penny dolls” – little porcelain dolls taken to the camps by children.

The objects are divided into various themes and each gets a chapter.  They are named – War Clouds Gather, Initial Battles and Sieges, Black Week and the Fall of the Republics, Mauser vs Lee-Metfore:  Two fighting forces and their weapons, Medical Services, The War’s Cast of Characters, The Guerilla Phase, Scorched Earth, Prisoners of War, Peace and the Post-War Years.

As a child I remember the cannons in Joubert Park, survivors of the Anglo-Boer War.  I wonder if they are still there?  My parents told me they were the Boer Long Toms, discussed on pages 100 and 101.  They may or may not have been.  I doubt that my parents were well informed about these things.

An interesting tidbit is that X-rays were made known to the world by William Rontgen in 1896.  By the time war broke out in 1899, both the Volkshospitaal in Pretoria and the Johannesburg Hospital already had x-ray machines.

The War’s cast of characters starts with Paul Kruger, and MT Steyn, the famous Christiaan de Wet,  Louis Botha, Koos de la Rey, Count de Villebois-Mareuil with the British characters being Lord Roberts, Lord Kitchener, Lord Milner, Winston Churchill and Emily Hobhouse.

All round this charming book unlocks a lot of information about the Second Anglo Boer War.  It is easy to read and most accessible.

The publicity for the book says:  “The Anglo-Boer War in 100 Objects brings the victories and the tragedies, the full extent of the human drama behind this war – to life through 100 iconic artefacts.

While a Mafeking siege note helps to illustrate the acute shortages caused by the siege, a spade used by a Scottish soldier at Magersfontein and the boots of a Boer soldier who died at Spion Kop tell of the severity of some of the famous battles.

The book follows the course of the war but also highlights specific themes, such as British and Boer weaponry, medical services, POW camps, as well as major role-players on both sides.

The text is interspersed with striking historical images from the museum’s photographic collection. A further 200 secondary objects have been included to help tell the story of a conflict that left an indelible mark on the South African landscape.”

The Anglo-Boer War in 100 Objects is highly recommended for all people with an interest in the subject.

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Now for something completely different …

The Johannesburg Musical Society is the city’s oldest musical organisation (now 115 years old) but it seldom fails to deliver fresh sounds to its audiences.  The September 2017 concert by the Trio Neuklang (“new sound”) was a prime example of this.

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Trio NeuKlang

Nikolai Abramson on clarinet, Arthur Hornig on cello and Jan Jahmann on the accordion thrilled most members of the audience.  There were a few for whom the tangoised and shortened versions of the classics were sacrilege which they did not enjoy, but the rest of us loved the concert.

Each of the musicians is a master in his own right and together the ensemble is vibrant and musical and positively delightful.

The theme was “Goodbye Astor” and on examining the programme I was initially disappointed to find no Piazolla on the programme at all.   Even The Four Seasons was the Vivaldi, not the Piazolla, version.  Schubert, Rachmaninov, Brahms, Grieg, Velasquez all appeared on the programme to thrill the audience.

There is a quality of humour, almost spoof, in the works of the great composers being rearranged in tango style.  It reminded me of Victor Borge, except that it had a more serious element.  Delightful, but not a spoof, rather becoming a beautiful set of musical sounds in its own right. An arrangement of three great piano concertos was dedicated to the “daughters who studied piano” although most of these would not have reached the heights of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto or Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. A medley of Mozart’s Serenade in G (Kleine Nachtmusik)/Symphony No 40/Rondo alla Turka, jostled with another more startling piece, the Requiem, also by Mozart.  Dmitry Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No 2 would surely have thrilled the original composer.  The showy piece of the evening concluded the formal programme in a thrilling rendition of Night on the Bare Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky.

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We did get Piazolla as the encore.

The Johannesburg Musical Society’s next concert is on 21 October 2017 at 20:00 and it will feature Zuill Bailey on cello with Bryan Wallick on piano at the Linder Auditorium.  The last concert of 2017 for the JMS will take place on 11 November 2017, also at the Linder Auditorium, and also at 20:00.  Gloria Campener will be the pianist.  For more information phone 011 728 5492 or 083 228 2917.

Take a listen to the Vivaldi Four Seasons arrangement here: https://vimeo.com/153251175

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Phuma-Langa, culture shock

I don’t always “like” Mamela Nyamza’s work.  It often makes me acutely uncomfortable.  Phuma-Langa falls into this category. I did “love” it though and recommend that you go to  see it tonight (15 September) or tomorrow night (16 September).

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The audience moves into the dance space to find the six dancers from the Forgotten Angle Theatre Collective busy donning their “costumes”, already a play on words for in South Africa, “costumes” are swimming attire.  These comprise orange armbands, black bathing caps and a variety of swimming pool piping, plastic swimming rings and brightly coloured, mismatched, striped socks with white canvas shoes.  The costuming is important because I know, both from the title and from having interviewed Nyamza before the production, that the bright symmetrical patterns of the Ndebele people, made world famous by Esther Mahlangu, are being referenced.

The dance work commences in silence as the six dancers use their plastic rifles as “white sticks” for the blind.  They feel their way around the dance space, occasionally intruding into the audience.  A piece of chalk taped to the rifle marks their journeys.  They draw on the walls too.

Phuma Langa 2

The music commences and we are subjected to Bok van Blerk’s De La Rey song which grabbed so much attention in the Afrikaans-speaking community about a decade ago. The song was controversial at the time, dividing the left and right wing Afrikaners sharply. It references a Boer War General, Koos de la Rey, a charismatic leader and skilled warrior. I am reminded that many of the Boer War battles were fought in the then Eastern Transvaal, and the Ndebele people fought on both sides of those battles, largely unaccounted for the recorded history, but hugely abused by both sides, particularly the English. I further consider the plea for a leader to rise up and lead the Boer/Afrikaner/rudderless people. In the light of the current weak and corrupt leadership the plea takes on a national dimension.  I remind myself that this is about the loss of cultural treasures.  The movements in front of me grow more grotesque with every passing minute as the dancers become “spastic” eventually huddling into one ball of pulsing, twisting, agonised flesh.  As I said in my opening paragraph, this is not comfortable stuff to watch.

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The “spastic” continues as each of the dancers mangles his or her own name.  The reality is that with eleven official languages, some of the more difficult names are often mispronounced, and the very title of this work is a play on the common mispronunciation of “Mpumalanga” to “Mapumalanga”.  The name/identity theme is not new. I have seen it before from the Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative, most recently, I think at the 2017 Dance Umbrella. Nyamza doesn’t belabour this section.

It is clear that we are being subjected to the kind of theatre of the absurd that Robyn Orlin draws on her works. This is not Robyn Orlin though, it is Mamela Nyamza’s unique voice. The movements are controlled and they are impressive in their technical difficulty as they “drill” with their rifles balanced on their heads as women balance heavy loads on theirs as they go about their daily work. As the work progresses, the images of the battlefield created by Nyamza become increasingly strident.  Various bits of the costumes have come adrift and fallen to the floor.  Usually when this happens one of the dancers will kick the offending item to the side.  Not in this work.  The offending items lie on the battlefield like wounded and dead soldiers.

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Cows mooing, birds tweeting, silence form the soundscape. The dancers sing the De la Rey song.

Eventually the work ends and the stage lights go off.  The audience’s attention is drawn to the night lights of the Johannesburg skyline outside the 19th floor window of the performance venue. Did global urbanisation and one-worldism win the culture war?

Phuma-Langa was choreographed by Mamela Nyamza as a residency project with the Forgotten Angle Theatre Collective. Costumes and  set were by Sasha Ehlers with lighting by Thabo Pule.  The performers were Nicholas Aphane, Nomfundo Hlongwa, Francesca Matthys,  Thulani Lathish Mgidi, Shawn Mothupi and Lorin Sookook.  The work runs for two more performances at the Emakhaya Theatre, 19th Floor, University Corner Building (above the Wits Arts Museum), Braamfontein.  There is safe parking in the building.  Contact Neli on info@forgottenangle.co.za to book as seating is limited.

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Tamasha on Hope Street

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Ameera Patel in Tamasha on Hope Street (Photo by Suzy Bernstein)

Rajesh Gopie’s new drama, Tamasha on Hope Street, directed by Gopala Davies, opened at The Market Theatre in September – Heritage month.  This was not an accident, but part of the planning to share a story of racism and xenophobia from a South African Indian point of view.  Set in Chatsworth, Durban, this story is local, but also universal, and while it includes a brief look at the traditions and cultures of the Indian community, it is easily accessible to people who have no background in the Hindu religious story it references.

Tamasha is a Hindi word meaning “trouble” or “chaos” and it deals with two main themes.  The first is the xenophobia and racism so rampant in South Africa from all quarters.  The second is a look at the dangerous and degrading lives of the lowly street sex workers.

The story line is simple.  Albert, a Zimbabwean teacher, is forced to take on the position of a night watchman at a warehouse in Chatsworth, set up as an Indian township set up by the Apartheid regime about 20km south of Durban.  Payal (a name which is also a term for an Indian anklet) is a street prostitute who stands on the corner opposite the warehouse.  They form an unlikely friendship.  (Warning:  Rated age 16 and above).

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Lindalani Nkosi and Afzal KhanTamasha on Hope Street (Photo by Suzy Bernstein)

The Market Theatre is committed to developing talented people and Gopala Davies, who is already making quite a name for himself, is mentored by the immensely experienced Gita Pather.  This work is an incubator project and Percy Makhubele, Gift Shaleen Nwokorie, Khotso Duarte Maphelle, Odwa Ndulelisa, Thato Mojela and Philani Masedi worked on the project in various capacities, learning from their more experienced counterparts.

Albert is played by Lindani Nkosi, and Ameera Patel plays Payal.   The two of them spark off each other as their characters introduce the vastly different cultural and ethical values of an educated Christian Zimbabwean man and a Hindu woman of very dubious moral virtues.  The smaller character role of Mr Prathat, a former school teacher, is an interesting one, as he typifies the prejudices of society against those that fail to succeed. Dhaveshan Govender gets the unattractive character role as Payal’s brother and pimp. Keith Gengadoo plays two small roles, that of the policeman and that of the evangelist.

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Ameera Patel in Tamasha on Hope Street. (Photographer Suzy Bernstein)

There is live music composed and performed by Matthew MacFarlane which added to the atmosphere and impact of this work.

One of the most magical aspects of this production is the simple yet stunning set design by Wilhelm Disbergen.  The entire set has been created out of cardboard and cardboard boxes.  Considering that some of it is raised dias stuff, the engineering of the cardboard had to be fairly accurately done.  Costumes are designed by Karabo Legoabe and Payal’s dance item was choreographed by Priya Naidoo.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is a play that is aimed at Indian audiences.  It is relevant to everyone across the board.  I recommend it highly.

Tamasha on Hope Street plays at the Mannie Manim Theatre, Market Theatre complex, 56 Margaret Mcingana Street, Newtown until 10 October 2017.  Tuesdays to Saturdays at 20:15 and Sundays at 15:15.  Cost R75 to R150.

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On safari in Africa Beneath African Skies

The September production of The People’s Theatre is always dedicated to literacy for International Literacy Day on 8 September.  Sometimes it is the Mother Goose classics and sometimes something else.  This year Jill Girard and Keith Smith have once again turned to home territory for their stories from African folklore, and the production is entitled Beneath African Skies.

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The musical staging is by Sandy Dyer, with Mervyn Bathlomew as music director.  The set and lighting is designed by Grant Knottenbelt and I was especially thrilled by the safari vehicle.  Costumes are by Sean McGrath.

Four young actors, Thokozani Jiyane, Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri, Jaydene Marais, and Noni Mkhoto bring seven stories to life with almost thirty characters between them.  The stories are:  How Fairy Tales Reached The Earth; Rabbit and Elephant; Hare, Elephant & Rhinoceros; The Jackal, The Buffalo, The Lion and The Brave Kid; The Lion and the Jackal; Ntombinde Who Loved Adventure and Sister Python and Brother Rabbit.  Each one delighted me.  They also delighted the children who were invited to participate in several of the stories.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the production, especially seeing how the children got involved with the characters, and the more touching moment when one little one wandered on stage behind the bigger one and was simply scooped up and carried by the actor when it came to time for them to run away from danger.

All round Beneath African Skies is a fun production which appeals to anyone with an inner child who still likes stories.

Beneath African Skies runs at The People’s Theatre, Joburg Theatre Complex, until 8 October 2017.  The year-end programme will be Shrek JR, The Musical.

 

 

 

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