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Thursday, July 11, 2013


(Atandwa Kani & Nat Ramabulana in “The Island”. Pic by Ruphin-Coudyzer)

By Sifiso Sikhakhane for artSMart (July 08 2013)

The past five days in Grahamstown have been absolutely Amaz!ng, with thanks to the National Arts Festival team for organizing yet another superb programme.

As freezing as the town was when I arrived on Wednesday morning, I was all ready to indulge in the festivities!

Gina Shmukler’s The Line, being the first production I got to see, had me all excited for what was about to come next. Presented by The Market Theatre in association with the National Arts Festival, the production is based on a series of interviews conducted with South Africans involved or affected by the brutal xenophobic attacks of May 2008. In her remarkable direction, Shmukler employs two of South Africa’s award winning actresses: Gabi Harris and Khutjo Green, who I must say did the production justice. I sat there in question with myself as to where be this freedom we all speak of if we are still at war with one another? South Africa … the land of savages? ... I bloody well hope not! I am still hopeful that productions such as The Line still have the power to change our mindset.

If you have seen this moving and simply breathtaking production, then I am sure you will now think twice before uttering the derogatory term, “amakwerekwere”.

The Island, directed by the legendary John Kani, has to be one of the highlights of this year’s festival! Written by Athol Fugard, John Kani, Winston Ntshona and originally performed in 1973 by Kani and Ntshona, over three decades later the play proves to be quite relevant to the issues of today’s South Africa. Besides the history embedded in it, the production forces us to think, question and measure the success of post-apartheid South Africa.

At the very beginning of the production, we are introduced to two prisoners - John (Atandwa Kani) and Winston (Nat Ramabulana) - as they partake in absurd hard labour which they have been commanded to do by the warders inside Robben Island. We see the two prisoners constantly digging the ground, loading their wheelbarrows, carrying them across the stage to offload its contents, then loading the same content again and repeating the task numerous times through a well-crafted mime sequence. In the prison cell, we discover that John and Winston are in preparation for the prison concert, in which they plan to perform a compressed version of Sophocles’s Antigone. This is an exploration of “the parallels between Antigone’s fight against political and patriarchal boundaries and the imprisoned men’s fight for dignity.

The Island stands as “a testament to the resiliency of the human heart, spirit and beliefs”. I must commend the two actors for a stellar performance! This one is a winner!

Mandla Mbothwe’s Biko’s Quest also proved to be another brief South African history lesson. Presented by Jazzart Dance Theatre and Steve Biko’s Foundation in association with the National Arts Festival, the production was thought-provoking and visually thrilling!

Based on Biko’s life and death and “his quest for a true humanity”, Jacqueline Manyaapelo’s striking choreography cleverly executes memories of those who were detained without trial and lost their lives in the hands of the apartheid regime. The production begins with a young girl wearing a black tunic (Sarafina?) and typing vigorously on a typewriter; retelling the story of Biko and other incidents of the past. The burning of impepho (incense) at the very beginning of the piece - and something you can always expect in a Mandla Mbothwe production - can be interpreted as a way of connecting with the ancestors, those who have passed on or simply the past and that, for me, also proved to be quite a powerful source.

As much as I commend Manyaapelo for her choice of a powerful movement vocabulary, I felt at times her language to be a tad clumsy and needed some minor tweaking - but that’s just me and I stand to be corrected.

Well, what can I say? Hoss was boss!

Presented by Ubom! Eastern Cape Drama Company as part of this year’s fringe programme, Rob Murray (director) teamed up with Standing Ovation Lifetime Achiever award winner, Andrew Buckland, and the Ubom! Company to create this Wild Wild East …ern Cape brilliance! Telling the story of twin brothers (Sparky Xulu and Seneliso Dladla) in battle for their late father’s land, to revelations of the mother’s darkest secret (Thami Baba) and the drunkard that is uncle Bartholomy (Luvuyo Yanta), the production had me enthralled throughout!

I heard rumours of the production possibly touring to KZN and Gauteng! Well, I hope those rumours are true as I believe the rest of the country needs to have its fair share of this sheer brilliance! – Sifiso Sikhakhane