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Tuesday, September 20, 2011


(Pic by Billy Suter: Artist Gift Madziva with works he crafts from scrap metal and had on sale at the festival)

Report by Billy Suter dated September 19. (Courtesy of The Mercury)

It was a case of the show must go on at the 19th annual Hilton Arts Festival at Hilton College which, although rocked by political objections to three Israeli plays being included on the festival bill, went off without a hitch at the weekend.

Making use of a stronger security presence, the organisers rated the three-day event a big success, with 82 percent of tickets sold by late yesterday afternoon, including near sellouts for the three Israeli plays – The Timekeepers, Volunteer Man and My First Sony.

During the final bows of the first staging of the festival’s flagship production, The Timekeepers, a drama centred on growing friendship in a concentration camp, one of the three cast members, Roy Horovitz, thanked the audience for their support and, to cheers, and applause, commended the festival committee for separating culture and politics.

In the days leading up to the festival, organisations had united to call for the Israeli plays to be withdrawn from the festival. The South African Artists Against Apartheid collective, Media Review Network and Coalition For a Free Palestine were among them.

Then, on Thursday night, Durban actor, rapper and graffiti artist Ian “Ewok” Robinson informed the festival organisers he was pulling out of his scheduled solo performances the following morning as he had signed the South African Artists Against Apartheid declaration in support of the Palestinian call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against the “apartheid Israeli government”.

If festival organisers feared other artists might follow suit, this did not happen and, in the case of Robinson’s cancelled performances, Durban actors Janna Ramos-Violante and Darren King were quick to step in to improvise entertainment for the 200 schoolchildren who had booked to see Robinson perform, said festival artistic director Sue Clarence.

The festival organisers decided to present the Israeli shows because, said festival chairman Iain McMillan: “we need to reiterate the Hilton Festival’s commitment to freedom of expression.”

“We need to make it absolutely clear that the inclusion of these works in no way reflects the festival’s endorsement, or otherwise, of the state of Israel or its policies,” MacMillan states on the festival website.

He added that the three plays had all previously been presented at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown: two in 2010, and the third in 2011. That festival is a prime source of material for the Hilton Arts Festival, and the works were selected for this year’s programme on account of their artistic merit and interesting subjects, he added.

“It has always been the festival’s intention to provide our audiences with challenging drama, reflecting our belief that art in a democracy should transcend political agendas and deal with human issues.

“The three plays on which attention is now being focused qualify in terms of that intention, and convey messages appropriate for our young democracy,” said MacMillan.

“The plays from Israel were selected in good faith to enrich the festival programme. Furthermore, the company is being paid to perform by the festival organisers on the same basis as any other participants.”

Good weather added to the success of the festival which, as usual, offered a wide variety of theatre, music, song, arts, craft and lectures, and a fine mix of local and imported works.

Next year’s festival, being the 20th, would be a special four-day event said Clarence, who is negotiating for a British comedian to be a headline attraction.

(Reviews on a number of the productions to follow shortly)