national Arts Festival Banner

Friday, June 3, 2011


All Is Fair In Love and War on Festival Main Theatre Stages.

From fictional battles and historical battlefields, to intra- and interpersonal conflicts in the classroom and around the dinner table, the Main Theatre programme of the National Arts Festival is set to deliver an explosive theatrical experience in Grahamstown, from June 30 to July 10.

Standard Bank Young Artist, Neil Coppen’s latest offering is set in Bashfield, a fictional battlefield town nestled in the once war ravaged valleys of Northern KwaZulu-Natal. Abnormal Load is a theatrical universe where the past runs in tandem with the present, and events shift seamlessly from the grandeur of a battle-field in 1879 to the intimacy of the bedroom in 2011. With a narrative that whisks through two centuries of South African history and combining movement, sound, music, multi-media and shadows, Coppen’s innovative new production features a large cast comprising of some of KZN’s finest talents. Part period epic, part tragi-comedy, part unconventional love story, Abnormal Load takes an honest and humorous look at the many complexities and contradictions of life in small town South Africa.

Anthony Akerman presents a revival of a South African anti-war classic Somewhere on the Border, 25 years on, directed by André Odendaal. During the 1970s and 1980s South Africa’s military incursions into neighbouring states were shrouded in secrecy. After two decades of silence, the role of the military during those years has found its way back into public discourse. Many conscripts who went through those harrowing experiences as teenagers are looking back as adults and trying to make sense of it. It's clear that they feel the need to speak about what happened to them. Somewhere on the Border provokes that conversation.

Staying with the cruel cost of war, Melanie Wilson and Fuel presents the South African première of Iris Brunette, written, directed and performed by Melanie Wilson. It is presented at the National Arts Festival with support from the British Council. A foray into a curious cityscape of the future-past, featuring Iris Brunette, who is part time travelling refugee/part compassionate voyeur. Using starkly elegant imagery, tender camaraderie and a dense and nostalgic sound score, Iris delicately uncoils the remembrance of a friendship destroyed by the outbreak of war and the unfathomable demise of lost kinship and love.

In the Hearts & Eyes Theatre Collective’s premiere of Sadako, written by Peter Hayes and directed by Jaqueline Dommisse with puppet design by Janni Younge, the devastating consequences of war for civilians hits home. Sadako is a visual theatre feast that combines video projection, puppets and live actors to tell the story of Sadako Sasaki and the legend of one thousand paper cranes. Sadako was two years old on August 6 1945 when the atom bomb was dropped on her hometown, the port city of Hiroshima. She survived one of modern history’s most devastating events only to die ten years later from what then was known colloquially as “the atom bomb disease”, leukaemia. During her illness she began folding origami paper cranes, evoking the Japanese legend that states if you fold one thousand cranes, you will be granted a wish.

Moving combat into the classroom, the Market Theatre presents Death of a Colonialist. Written by Greg Latter and directed by Craig Freimond, it tells the story of Harold Smith, an aging, eccentric, unpredictable but extremely passionate history teacher at a high school in Grahamstown. His passion is South African history, most specifically the history of the amaXhosa. Harold is at the end of his powers and his increasingly erratic teaching techniques are making the school's hierarchy look for some new blood in the history department. He is aware of the moves against him but believes his passionate teaching will always win the day.

Another production that sets a history class as a scene of contention is Pieter Toerien’s South African première of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, directed by Alan Swerdlow. Set in a northern England high school in the 1980s, Bennett's internationally acclaimed drama chronicles the final school year of eight clever young British students in pursuit of sex, sport, and admission into Oxford or Cambridge. Two teachers become rivals for the hearts and minds of the boys in this hilarious and provocative play that explores the anarchy of adolescence and the politics of education. Arguments about interpretations of history, about the role of social class and politics, and about the true meaning of education, the play homes in on staffroom rivalry and the anarchy of adolescence to provoke insistent questions about history and how you teach it, about education and its purpose.

Moving from the history - to the drama class, Abrahamse Meyer Productions presents the South African première of Joe Carlaco’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s R&J, with direction, set and lighting design by Fred Abrahamse and costume design by Marcel Meyer. Set in an exclusive boarding school, four pupils discover an illicit copy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and start acting it out. Perceptions and understandings are turned upside down. As the fun of play-acting turns serious and the words and meanings begin to hit home, universal truths emerge. Told entirely through Shakespeare’s language, Shakespeare’s R&J is both the story of Romeo and Juliet and the journey of four young men who, during the course of one thrilling night, discover the power of theatre and the new worlds it can open up.

Leaving the school desks behind to explore the beauty and intricacies of unlikely friendships, a conspiracy of clowns, in association with FTH:K, presents the première of Benchmarks, devised by the cast from a story written and directed by Rob Murray. Benchmarks is a small story of great hope and rebirth. A timid middle-aged clerk. A reclusive widow. A young Zimbabwean refugee. In the Mother City, three desperate and lonely individuals get drawn into an unlikely relationship that will lead them on a journey of discovery, companionship, tragedy, and reconciliation – one that will ultimately transform their lives forever. Set against a backdrop of the frailties and complications of human relationships; the violence and hardships of life in South Africa; and the dreams and desires for a better life; Benchmarks is a poetic celebration of the human spirit told by three performers in full character mask.

Through the seemingly banal action and chat of everyday, ′night, Mother is an extraordinary play that unflinchingly reveals a mother and daughter in crisis. Theatre Bazaar presents a celebration of the talents of three remarkable women: much-loved actress Sandra Prinsloo, the upcoming Antoinette Louw and highly acclaimed director, Lara Bye. Together with Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize winning script, they have created a theatre event that is beautiful and haunting, a broken love story, simply and masterfully told.

Family sagas continue with The Fortune Cookie Theatre Company’s production of The Table, presented by the Market Theatre and supported by the Aardklop Festival. Concept and direction by Sylvaine Strike and dramaturge Craig Higginson. Four children reunite with their mother over a Friday night meal where a world of love, sibling rivalry, confused genetics, domesticity, tradition and of course, food is unveiled. Funny and deeply moving, this is a journey into the very heart of a family redefined by the South African existence.

The Baxter Theatre Centre presents Ariel Dorfman’s Purgatorio, directed by Clare Stopford. Purgatorio deals with a Man and a Woman in purgatory, a stark and soulless waiting room. Their identities are fluid, and as the drama unfolds it emerges that they are each other’s interrogators, searching for clemency and contrition. Their fates are bound together by a horrific past, and freedom depends on their willingness to sacrifice themselves, each for the other. Trapped in the resonance of their actions and with the roles reversed, the inquisition and the healing begins as each of the characters search for understanding, forgiveness and redemption.

Bookings for this year’s “11 Days of Amaz!ng” are open and tickets are available through Computicket. Booking kits available from selected Standard Bank Branches, selected Exclusive Books and all Computickets. For more information on the programme, accommodation and travel options visit Also join the National Arts Festival group on Facebook for all the latest competitions and news, or follow us on Twitter.

The National Arts Festival is sponsored by Standard Bank, The Eastern Cape Government, The National Arts Council, The National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, The Sunday Independent and M-Net.