national Arts Festival Banner

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


(Annelisa Weiland and Vanessa Cooke appear in “The Slap Koejawel”, directed by Robert Whitehead)

One of South Africa’s most established and respected arts festivals - the annual Witness Hilton Arts Festival, now in its 19th year - will take place on the beautiful grounds of the Hilton College from September 16 to 18, 2011.

The Witness Hilton Arts Festival is broadly considered to be KZN’s foremost arts and culture festival which consistently produces a sterling programme of cutting-edge drama, comedy, music and cabaret, as well as an impressive array of arts and crafts appealing to all who visit the festival each year. The festival attracts an enticing mix of phenomenal South African performers and artists gleaned from the most prestigious stages around the country including the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

There are some great innovations and developments. Building on from last year, this year’s festival starts with a full day’s programme of age-specific arts-events aimed at schools. Just under 1,000 learners will experience the thrill of the performing arts. It is a celebration of all that is young, new and vibrant and has been dubbed “Jongosi” – Johnny Clegg’s word from the Afrikaans meaning “jong os” which has become absorbed into isiZulu parlance. Jongosi is designed to educate, entertain and allow learners to expand their world view. Last year the inaugural Jongosi was a phenomenal success so it is being further developed for this year.

The Witness Flagship Production is The Timekeepers – one of three productions form Israel. When Hans, an outrageous young camp German homosexual, and Benjamin, a conservative elderly Jewish man are thrown together in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, they appear at first to have little in common.... This award-winning drama, which has toured Israel to great acclaim with this cast for over seven years, deals with the Holocaust in a way that accentuates the private experience amidst a tragedy of millions. The Timekeepers has performed in many countries, receiving excellent reviews and several international awards.

Tararam / The Embassy of Israel is also bringing out Volunteer Man - an exploration on the right of a patient with an incurable illness to choose to end his life. And My First Sony – a story about the deterioration of an Israeli family. Yotam, an 11 year-old child, obsessed with documentation, records everything in his children's tape recorder, "My First Sony".

Some of the highlights nationally to look out for this year include London Road - which tells the tender, beautiful and funny story about a friendship between two women from diverse backgrounds living in the same block of flats in London Road, Seapoint. It has enjoyed sell-out seasons at the National Grahamstown Festival for two consecutive years and is directed by Lara Bye.

Sailing Somewhere is a much anticipated world premiere featuring a brilliant cast and production team: directed by Vanessa Cooke and performed by Fiona Ramsay with Tony Bentel on piano, and evocative original songs by Conor Mitchell. This one-woman play by South African Matthew Hurt is a sometimes funny, sometimes haunting portrait of a mother’s guilt.

An absurdly funny and touching play which brings two great actresses of Stage and Television together again - Annelisa Weiland and Vanessa Cooke is The Slap Koejawel. A production in English, the action finds two stressed-out actresses of a certain age in a tatty dressing room, preparing for the first preview of a new South African play ... a work not without its problems! Can they pull it off without losing what's left of their marbles? Directed by Robert Whitehead.
Untouchable Productions presents award-winning performers Gerard Bester and Craig Morris alongside their striking new collaborator, Rayzelle Sham, in Roslyn Wood Morris’ satirical gem, Bar Flies Wood-Morris dives into the murky underbelly of a social watering hole to reveal the world of three desperate lonely souls. Gaëtan Schmid who has brought us Rump Steak and The Dogs Bollocks, returns with a new one man show: Body Language which sold out in Cape Town and at the National Arts Festival. Billed as hilarious and informative, Gaëtan will fascinate audiences with the hidden meanings behind everyday gestures.

Cockroach is a beautifully-crafted trilogy written and performed by Jonathan Khumbulani Nkala, directed and edited by Bo Petersen. Jonathan Khumbulani Nkala is a young man from Kwekwe, Zimbabwe, living in Cape Town. The delicious, poignant, gentle one-hander bears witness to his eventful life and reminds us of the power of hope.

Closer to home – a myriad excellent shows have been gleaned from KZN:

Abnormal Loads was commissioned as part of Neil Coppen’s 2011 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Theatre and is set in a fictional battle-field town nestled in the once war ravaged valleys of Northern KwaZulu-Natal. The play is a rich amalgamation of ghost story, love drama, historical epic and dark comedy, where events, both past and present, unfold seamlessly.

KickstArt brings two productions to the festival: two delicious relationship comedies: The God of Carnage - a wickedly funny social comedy, featuring a brilliant local cast of multi-award winning actors which was the hottest ticket on Broadway, and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change – a hilarious international musical looking at love and relationships – both coming to Hilton after sell-out seasons in Durban.

For some time now, Darren King and Clare Mortimer have been mulling over the idea of creating a companion piece for their critically-acclaimed From My Point of View. They have adapted a second story from Steven Berkoff’s book of hard-hitting, yet haunting, short stories Gross Intrusions, entitled Master of the Café Society.

The intimate two-hander Mein Soldat, featuring Janna Ramos-Violante and Clinton Small, is a freshly-conceived new South African piece written by Ramos-Violante. It debuted at the National Arts Festival in 2010 and was one of three Durban productions to win a coveted Standard Bank Fringe Ovation Award.

Also on the menu from Durban is a new production of spoken word poetry performance by Durban’s own award-winning published rapper and performer Iain EWOK Robinson. After four years at the festival, Actors Unemployed finally have a venue and will present an irreverent, fast-paced romp through the Bard’s plays, Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (abridged). 37 Plays! Only 80 minutes!!

From Pietermaritzburg / Midlands comes the dinner thriller, The Strange Case of the Headmaster’s Wife. Join Michael Buchan, the unlikely detective, on his quest to unravel the mystery behind a singularly enigmatic murder; the challenge is on to work out whodunnit and why! And the charming success story from this year’s Musho! Festival – Crush Hopper - is the true story of a young black girl growing up.

Complementing the astonishing theatrical line up is always some great music. Christopher Duigan will be presenting his always anticipated fabulous Music Revival Concert Series. There is also live music for free on the public stages at the festival. As well as the performance, there is also the Grindrod Bank Mindscape, a series of lectures, debates, documentary movies and workshops covering a variety of themes from crime writing and fine art to green issues and trips to China! For arts industry practitioners, there is a Hands on Masks Off session presented by National Arts Festival Director Ismail Mahomed.

In-between shows, visitors are invited to peruse a myriad art exhibitions situated in venues around the Hilton campus, and the comprehensive arts and crafts market on the lawns. And of course enjoy a selection of refreshments to suit all tastes.

Booking at Computicket and the full programme and further details are available on or phone 033 383 0126 /7. Info will also be found on the East Coast Radio website.

Programmes available at selected Spar & SUPER SPAR stores throughout KZN, Exclusive Books (La Lucia, Pavilion, Liberty Midlands Mall and Gateway), Adams in Musgrave Centre, Bookworld @ Cascades; KZNSA Gallery in Bulwer Durban; Crouse Art Gallery 254 Lillian Ngoyi / Windermere Rd; Pietermaritzburg Publicity offices in the CBD and Liberty Midlands Mall, and the Witness offices in Willowton Industrial estate Pietermaritzburg, The Corner Café in Glenwood, and the Hilton College Theatre (weekdays office hours). Also from leading galleries and theatre foyers.

Patrons wishing to stay in Hilton for the duration of the festival are strongly advised to book accommodation as soon as possible at one of the many B&Bs and hotels in the area.

The festival would not be possible without: The Witness, East Coast Radio, Grindrod Bank, SAPPI, SPAR, TOPS, Black Coffee, Nedbank, Budget, SAB, Star Hire, KZN Dept of Arts & Culture