This year’s National Arts Festival programme is even bigger, more diverse and more substantial than ever, as is the theatre on offer.
Given that this is the 40th anniversary, there is a fascinating balancing of retrospective and forward-looking works in the programme.
In terms of historical works, a number of classics are being revisited and reworked in different ways. Greek classics such as Oedipus, Medea and Hecuba, a Shakespearean adaptation in macbeth.slapeloos and more recent classics such as Desire Under the Elms and Slowly come to mind.
Most significant, perhaps, are the South African productions from previous National Arts Festivals that are returning to the 2014 programme. Among the most prominent of these are Ubu and the Truth Commission, the seminal William Kentridge and Handspring Puppet collaboration which draws on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission in articulating the complexities of both the apartheid era and the challenges of South Africa’s transition into democracy.
My Word! Redesigning Buckingham Palace is a tribute to the late Richard Rive, performed by Basil Appollis, and was first performed in 1998. Salaam Stories, which won the inaugural PANSA Jury Award, was first performed at the National Arts Festival in 2002.
At the time, it was described as ground-breaking because of the way in which it shifted conventional Western theatrical approaches in order to express and explore writer and performer Ashraf Johaardien’s Muslim cultural awareness, identity and world views.
Black and Blue launched the work of Sylvaine Strike when it was performed on the Fringe in 2004 and won her the Naledi and Fleur du Cap Awards for Best Actress that year. (A quick note for Sylvaine Strike fans – she has a number of other, more contemporary productions on this year’s programme, including On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco, CARGO:Precious and The God Complex).
A number of theatre productions focus and reflect on the complexities and dynamics of current South African society. These include Mpumelele Paul Grootboom’s production Protest, Mike van Graan’s Return of the Ancestors and the very topical Marikana – The Musical.
Set in Kenya, Lara Foot’s Fishers of Hope looks likely to be an innovative, refreshing piece that blends magic realism and Kenyan music. The joint Argentinian-South African production, Cooking with Elisa, also looks promising.
This year’s programme continues last year’s innovation of a number of mini-festivals or focus areas such as the Eastern Cape Performing Arts Showcase and the Solo Theatre series.
A word of advice to festival-goers: choose carefully and don’t overdo it, but try to make a point of seeing as many different types of theatre as you can. There certainly are more than enough options to choose from.
– Theresa Edlmann