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Saturday, March 10, 2012


Caroline Smart flew to Johannesburg for this year’s Naledi Awards, courtesy of the organisers.

This year’s Naledi Theatre Awards were presented at the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City Casino in Johannesburg in a splendid evening filled with the Who’s Who of South African theatre, all dressed in glittering and glamorous finery.

Dawn Lindberg, Executive Director of the Naledi Awards and legendary theatre stalwart, led the proceedings with Alan Committie bringing his own brand of humour to the role of MC. The linking entertainment was of a high quality and matched the status of the awards. This year’s show will be flighted by Mzansi Magic.

Dreamgirls, the rags-to-riches story of up and coming 1960s girl group, had garnered 10 nominations. While this was an excellent production enhanced by brilliant technology, it didn’t draw the crowds and was forced to close early. A sad indictment on South African audiences. However, its excellence was acknowledged by the Naledi judges and it won three awards: Best Performance in a Musical (Female) for Lindiwe Bungane; Best Performance by Newcomer / Breakthrough (Bjorn Blignaut), and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role / Cameo (Candida Mosoma).

Mandela Trilogy, produced by Cape Town Opera in collaboration with Rand Merchant Bank, written and directed by Michael Williams, garnered eight nominations. It walked off with: Best Production of a Musical; Best Theatre Set Design (Michael Mitchell), and Best Theatre Lighting Design (Faheem Bardien). This is one of the productions in the Naledi line-up that Durban audiences were privileged to see and appreciate its design which Nelson Mandela’s life in three acts each with different music styles and different actors in the role of Mandela: youth (traditional music); Sophiatown (jazz); trial and imprisonment (opera).

The downsized version of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic masterpiece, The Pirates of Penzance won Best Original Choreography: Play or Musical (Shelley Adriaanzen), Best Ensemble Production / Cutting Edge and Best Comedy Performance: Play or Musical (David Dennis).

Aubrey Sekhabi’s uncompromising production of The Rivonia Trial, written by Aubrey Sekhabi, Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom and Mandla Dube, won Best Performance by an Actor in a Lead Role (Play) for Sello Maake ka Ncube, Best New South African Script (Musical or Play) and Best Director: Play or Musical for Sekhabi.

For Nataniël's Combat, Nataniël bagged two awards: Best Costume Design (Floris Louw) and Best Performance in a Musical (Male).

Produced by Pieter Toerien, Alan Swerdlow’s immaculately directed The History Boys, which I enjoyed at the 2011 Grahamstown Festival, won Best Production of a Play and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role / Cameo (Clyde Berning). Another production that blew me away in Grahamstown was London Road and Robyn Scott deservedly walked off with Best Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role (Play) for her acclaimed role as the elderly Jewish grandmother.

The Executive Director’s Award went to Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler of the Handspring Puppet Company for the internationally acclaimed Warhorse. South African music and theatre legends Judy Page and Thandi Klaasen won Lifetime Awards and it was good to see them both on stage as vibrant as ever, Klaasen having travelled from Canada where she now lives.

Other awards included Mark Malherbe for Jesus Christ Superstar (Best Theatre Sound Design/Sound Effects); African Adventure directed by Jesse Christelis and Zak Hendrikz (Best Production of a Play or Musical for Children); DET Boys High written and directed by Smal Ndaba and Phyllis Klotz (Best Community Theatre), and Eddie Clayton (MD) & Peter McLea (Arrangements) Janine Neethling (Composer) for Tree Aan! (Best Musical Director/ Score / Arrangement)

“This year’s Naledi Awards was a celebration of South African legends, international groundbreakers and of the remarkable virtuosity and talent of South African artists who continue to push the boundaries of excellence,” said Ismail Mahomed, board member of the Naledi Awards and Director of the National Arts Festival. “The roll of honour with its impressive list of winners and nominations is also a tribute to the institutions, corporate organisations, funders and audiences who support and recognise the value of how the South African performing arts sector continues to define us as a nation and how it enriches our lives.”

Every year, The Mercury Durban Theatre Awards recognise those in the performing arts industry who have passed on. This year, the Naledi Awards decided to include these KZN luminaries and it was a proud moment for me to see them acknowledged and honoured in the video presentation.

The Naledi Theatre Awards were funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund and received a Business and Arts SA supporting grant based on sponsorship received from Wharfedale Pro, Chauvet lighting, Distell., Matrix Corporate and Theatre Sounding, Offcentre Designs and The Lyric Theatre. The Lyric Theatre and Gold Reef City Casino have sponsored the beautiful theatre and all facilities for three years; ensuring that the Lyric Theatre has become well and truly branded as the home of the Naledis!

Thanks to Dawn Lindberg for inviting me to Johannesburg. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world! For full details visit – Caroline Smart