INTERVIEW: THALIA LARIC ON ASKOOP

From left, Henk Opperman, Zama Sonjica, Bianca de Klerk, Bronwyn Reddy and Grace Babalwa Nosilela (Pic by Betalife Productions).
From left, Henk Opperman, Zama Sonjica, Bianca de Klerk, Bronwyn Reddy and Grace Babalwa Nosilela (Pic by Betalife Productions).

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 8 April 2015.

“Let’s start with the honourable arsehole,” Thalia Laric tells a group of performers sitting in a circle as I enter the theatre. Thankfully, as it turns out, she’s not referring to the journalist that just walked into their rehearsals.

Humming Koos du Plessis’ Kinders van die Wind, the group immediately gets up and launches into a hilarious scene in which the various organs of the human body argue over which one of them is most important.

Performed as part of Underground Dance Theatre’s brand new “dance cabaret,” to learn which organ (excuse the pun) clenches the victory you’ll have to go see Askoop when it opens at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) in Oudtshoorn (April 7 – 11).

Askoop is a cross-genre piece that reveals the iconic shopping trolley as more than just a wheeled metal structure,” Laric, who co-directs and -choreographs with Cilna Katzke, tells me during a break in rehearsals.

“Through the use of satirical humour and pathos it questions ideals of fulfillment and the limits of our greed. What does it mean to be rich, and to be poor, in today’s consumer culture?”

From left, Henk Opperman, Zama Sonjica and Grace Babalwa Nosilela (Pic by Betalife Productions).
From left, Henk Opperman, Zama Sonjica and Grace Babalwa Nosilela (Pic by Betalife Productions).

The inspiration for the production comes from a work she and Katzke made while studying together at UCT’s School of Dance.

“It was called Trouble With My Friend Again, and looked at the sacrifices we make in order to have one thing, only to have to give up something else in the process.

“How does the desire for material things affect our relationships? Is material fulfillment ever enough to satisfy emotional emptiness?”

Entertaining and provocative, Steve van Wyk and Joy Millar’s script for Askoop draws together dance, song and physical theatre in order to look at “how we see ourselves in relation to what we have and what we are able to attain.”

Made up of Bronwyn Reddy, Bianca de Klerk, Henk Opperman, Grace Babalwa Nosilela and Zama Sonjica, the eclectic cast represents a diverse mix of physical abilities and social backgrounds.

“Through their individual stories various they cast light on consumerism and greed in contemporary South Africa.

“Zama, for instance, is a wheelchair performer, who brings a distinguished sense of maturity as well as an incredible presence nuanced by real life experience to the stage.”

A large amount of the choreography sees the incorporation of actual shopping trolleys as well as the depiction of its relationship with individuals from various walks of life.

“We draw on various genres such as physical theatre, Broadway and contemporary dance. The trolley finds its particular identity, however, through the performers and how their individual characters embody their journey through the piece.

“[A trolley] fills. It empties. It waits to become. A carthorse for the middle-class, a sturdy companion for the barefoot beggar.”

Simultaneously, Askoop also sees the trolley used in unfamiliar ways – including being used as a pram, a chariot, a recliner and even a container for people and ideas – in an attempt to challenge the viewer’s existing perception of it.

“The most dancey section of the work is a duet between Zama and Henk. It makes for a very powerful moment due to their respective talents as professional contemporary dancers.”

Referring to the production’s title, Laric explains “askoop” is a made-up word, which, directly translated, means “ash purchase.” A bit of wordplay on the Afrikaans term ashoop (rubbish dump), it means to purchase something that is made of ash (i.e. something that will eventually disintegrate).

“Why do we have such a desire to acquire material things that ultimately are not able not fulfill us? As Cilna once summed it up during rehearsals: ‘Ek kan nie ‘n venter waentjie hemel toe vat nie‘ (I can’t take a trailer to heaven with me).”

Under the musical direction of De Klerk several well-known songs were arranged specifically, including Whatever Lola WantsWives and Lovers and Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.

Zama Sonjica, front, Grace Babalwa Nosilela and Henk Opperman, inside trolley, and Bronwyn Reddy and Bianca de Klerk, back (Pic by Betalife Productions).
Zama Sonjica, front, Grace Babalwa Nosilela and Henk Opperman, inside trolley, and Bronwyn Reddy and Bianca de Klerk, back (Pic by Betalife Productions).

Apart from Kinders van die Wind, among the other South African favourites popping up are Laurika Rauch’s Kyk Hoe Glinster die Maan as well as Jeremy Taylor’s Ag Pleez Daddy.

“You will also notice that English and Xhosa verses have been added to Kinders van die Wind.”

Askoop is made possible in through funding from the Waterfront Theatre Company as well as a successful Thundafund campaign run by Underground Dance Theatre.

“We are so grateful to the people who came forward to contribute to the development of this new work. In total we raised just over R24 000. It’s been wonderful to get to know our supporters through crowd funding.”

l For Askoop’s performance schedule, or to book tickets, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or see www.computicket.com.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

INTERVIEW: THALIA LARIC ON ASKOOP

FEATURE: KLEIN KAROO NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL (KKNK)

Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots in In Glas

This feature was first published in Cape Times on 02 April 2015.

How do you spell festival?

Spotted on the cover of the recently launched Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) programme, that’s the question on everyone’s lips ahead of the big trek to Oudtshoorn next month.

Promising to kick up dust and ruffle a few ostrich feathers along the way, the event’s 21st edition is set to take place from 3 – 11 April. Announced at the end of February, the line-up is full of discourse, concerts, theatre, visual art, comedy and film screenings.

One of the most popular elements any year is KKNK’s music offering. Combining the talents of Gloria Bosman, Anna Davel and Timothy Moloi, mark Afrika in Afrikaans at the top of your viewing list. Supported by a four-piece band, the show sees this dynamic trio perform “Afrikaans songs infused with African textures.”

Born in Africa and transported to America by slaves, the roots of blues music is explored in Al Lê die Berge nog so Blou. Led by Alvin Dyers and his musical group, the production involves Zolani Mahola, Albert Frost and Francois van Coke embarking on “a musical journey full of songs and stories.”

After a decade as frontman of Van Coke Kartel and Fokofpolisiekar, Francois Van Coke will make his debut as solo musician during the week via a concert showcasing songs from his first album, Moontlik Nooit. While on the topic of alternative music, also do yourself a favour by checking out Oudtshoorn’s very own drag queen, Samantha Knight, in a lip synch extravaganza, Afridiva.

Another strong aspect of KKNK has always been its theatre segment. Following popular runs in Cape Town over the past year, now’s a great chance to catch Oscar Petersen’s Cape Flats adaptation of Siener in die Suburbs, Penny Youngleson’s intense Nat, Philip Dikotla’s Fleur du Cap-winning Skierlik, the Papercut Collective’s witty UHM as well as Jaco Bouwer’s existential Na-aap.

One of South Africa’s foremost conceptual directors, Bouwer (BalbesitSamsa-masjien) will be debuting French playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès’ Buite Blaf die Honde Swart as well. Translated by Tertius Kapp (Rooiland), the stellar cast is made up of Dawid Minnaar, Albert Pretorius, Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots and Bongile Mantsai.

Known for always taking festivalgoers on an adventure – including a physical bus ride in Trippie and recreating a Boer War concentration camp in Land van Skedels – this time around it is suburbia and motherhood tickling Nicola Hanekom’s fancy. Van Wyk-Loots stars here too, alongside Paul du Toit, Stian Bam, Bronwyn van Graan and Sive Gubangxa.

André P. Brink, who passed away last month at the age of 79, was recognised as of the most prominent figures of the group of Afrikaans writers known as Die Sestigers, who came to prominence during the 1960s. Bidsprinkaan is based on his novel by the same name and is directed by Janice Honeyman.

The recipient of the 2015 Kunste Onbeperk-prize for Young Voice is Wessel Pretorius (WaterpasUndone). This young theatremaker just keeps on delivering, and following Frats at the US Woordfees in Stellenbosch earlier this month, has penned two new plays for KKNK. They are Al Julle Volke, a metaphorical examination of the Afrikaner’s search for a leader; and comedy Sandton City Grootdoop, in which a mother and two daughters take time out of shopping in order to settle a few scores.

Fans of the popular kykNET sketch comedy show Proesstraat will be happy to learn that the whole team is in Oudtshoorn this year. For even more laughs also look out for comedians Schalk Bezuidenhout, Marc Lottering, Nik Rabinowitz and Rob van Vuuren, who’ll all be appearing in their own stand-up shows.

Only two dance productions, both by the Mother City’s Underground Dance Theatre (Mode), have been included on the programme. They are Bok, the company’s sexy Afro interpretation of Vaslav Nijinsky’s controversial Afternoon of a Faun that had me hooked at last year’s National Arts Festival; as well as Askoop, a brand new dance-cabaret that “reveals the iconic shopping trolley as more than just a wheeled metal structure.”

Movie junkies are catered for thanks to a host of titles screened as part of the kykNEt Fliekpiekniek and Toekomsrus Moviehuis initiatives. Among the new and old favourites shown are Pad Na Jou HartKhumbaJoost: Spel van GlorieFaan se TreinFour CornersHard to Get and Leading Lady.

Turning the gaze from the cinema to visual arts, this year’s festival artist is Berni Searle, who returns to KKNK after an absence of 15 years. Called Stygend, her exhibition is made up of three video projections – Mute (2008), Alibama (2008) and Black Smoke Rising (2009) – that relate to “the South African landscape and post-colonial history.”

The recipient of the Kunste Onbeperk Lifetime Achievement-award is Peter Magubane. Curated by the iconic photographer alongside Paul Bayliss, Die Afrikaners: ‘n Werk in Wording is described as Magubane’s homage to Afrikaner culture and traditions.

Open daily at the Prince Vincent building, other artists showing work there include Frikkie Eksteen, Diane Victor, Vulindlela Nyoni, Susan Grundlingh and Corlie de Kock.

While some of us are more suited to appreciate than to create art, those wishing to sharpen their creative skills can sign up for one of various art workshops led by the likes of Janet Dixon, Madeleine Miles and Neels Coetzee.

The final component of the KKNK programme worth booking a few seats for are it’s vast discourse series. Led by Freek Robinson, “Hate speech versus freedom of speech”, “Where does our electricity come from?” and “The implications of fracking in the Karoo” are a few of the topics that will come under the spotlight.

l For the full KKNK programme, see www.kknk.co.za. To book tickets, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or see www.computicket.com.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com.

FEATURE: KLEIN KAROO NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL (KKNK)

REVIEW: INHERENT END

Tamarin McGinley
Tamarin McGinley

This review was first published in Cape Times on 31 March 2015.

INHERENT END. Directed by Kim Kerfoot and starring Tamarin McGinley, with dramaturgical assistance by Kati Francis. At the Alexander Upstairs theatre, Monday to Thursday at 7pm (Until April 2). STEYN DU TOIT reviews.

Tamarin McGinley’s Inherent End tells three stories simultaneously, each one intriguing enough to supply a full play on its own.

In the first we meet 11-year-old Stacey Venter, who, 60 years ago, first made her appearance as the title character in Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel, Lolita.

Against the backdrop of lazy porch swings, dusty gas stations and unfiltered Americana, the book chronicled her sexual relationship with a literature professor in his (very) late 30s.

Fast forward to the mid-nineties. Stacey/Lolita now finds herself, in addition to her mentioned extracurricular activities, also trying to survive the Y2K countdown, dungarees as fashion and the rise of online dating.

Thanks to the internet, no longer do sexual predators have to go out in search of their prey either. Instead, all one has to do is simply log (anonymously) into an internet chatroom and take your pick of girls like Stacey.

Inherent End

“Things must be different in America,” the teen lets slip between gushing over Demi Moore in Striptease and Rob Estes in Silk Stalkings. “The rules here are ‘the kid stays with the mom’. Even if she doesn’t want her. That’s what my dad told me when he left.”

Presented by the Instant Arts Col­lec­tive and directed by Kim Kerfoot, the second story told in this often dark-humoured play revolves around an unnamed woman who develops an unhealthy attraction/obsession towards someone she befriends online.

A product of parental and societal neglect, we can see early on that she’s too far down the road to even think rationally about what she’s doing. Thanks to her wit and personality, however, we begin to see that, above all, it is the need to be loved that drives her actions.

Performed throughout by McGinley, in the production’s final story a scientist prepares to give a TED Talk. Arguing that it is not only physical traits such as hair colour or bone density that can be passed on from parent to child via DNA, her talk motivates that the same can also be said of emotional experiences or mental trauma.

“Put simply, [epigenetics] is the study of heritable changes in gene expression,” she tell us while practising her speech in front of the mirror. “Changes that sit on, epi, the genes. Hence epigenetic.”

Told through monologues, digital projections and a stream of consciousness, how Inherent End’s three characters relate to each other, or whether they are, in fact, three different people at all, make for an interesting 65-minutes of theatre.

In addition, through McGinley’s arresting performance, the piece also asks its audience to consider universal matters relating to relationships, sexuality, human behaviour, the nature of morality, biology and psychology.

While it’s not necessary to have read Nabokov’s Lolita in order to understand this piece, I did find that being familiar with the novel helped me draw similarities between the narratives easier as well as help me follow the action on stage faster.

Both as a playwright and as an actor McGinley displays a range of skills and interesting ideas. Successfully adapting a well-known story into one of modern relevance is no mean feat. Yet she succeeds because she understands that the best kind of theatre is not always about reinventing the wheel. Sometimes one just has to spin it at a contemporary speed.

First staged in London last year at Camden People’s Theatre, while there certainly is no lack of bravery or content in the play, it is also admittedly not “easy” viewing – both in terms of script as well as in presentation. Finding tweaks to making both aspects more accessible to a wider audience is perhaps something that could be considered for future runs.

That said, for those who like life to a little more abstract and a little less paint-by-numbers, Inherent End might prove to be an interesting and unique trip to the theatre.

It is also a great opportunity to see a formidable duo (Kerfoot and McGinley both graduated from UCT in 2007) embark on what will hopefully become a long and prosperous creative partnership.

“They fuck you up, your mom and dad. They may not mean to, but they do,” Philip Larkin writes in his poem, This be the Verse. “They fill you with the faults they had. And add some extra, just for you.”

Part confessional, part discourse and part innocence lost, you only have until Thursday to go see what Inherent End’s programme means when saying its characters will “straddle the gaps between victim and preda­tor, circumstance and action, innocence and guilt.”

l Tickets are R80 – R90. To book, call 021 300 1652 or see www.alexanderbar.co.za.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

REVIEW: INHERENT END

REVIEW: DIE GLAS ENNIE DRAAD

Daniel Richards, front, and Gantane Kusch, back.
Daniel Richards, front, and Gantane Kusch, back.

This review was first published in Cape Times on 25 March 2015.

DIE GLAS ENNIE DRAAD. Directed by Sandra Temmingh, and starring Daniel Richards and Gantane Kusch. At the Artscape Arena theatre, Tuesday to Friday at 8.15pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8.15pm and Sunday at 3pm (Until March 29). STEYN DU TOIT reviews.

“If drug dealers make so much money, why are they still living with their mothers?” economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner asks in 2005’s Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.

The process of reaching their conclusion is one of many reasons why this fascinating book proved so popular, but for the purposes of this review I’ll cut to the chase. Drug dealers and gang members still live with their mothers because, well, they actually end up making less money than the average McDonald’s employee.

Levitt and Dubner would have a field day here in the Western Cape. While our population might only be around one-tenth of the country’s population, the province nonetheless still manages to account for 60% of South Africa’s drug and gang-related crime.

Housing an estimated half-a-million Numbers gang members alone – seven times the staff compliment of the entire South African National Defence Force (SANDF) – the Cape Flats in particular would no doubt provide interesting research territory for the two authors.

Similar to their American counterparts, it is also most often the young men from places such as Lavender Hill that are sucked into this “profession”. Statistics show that a whopping 72% of males born on the Cape Flats will eventually go to jail for it, and a lot of them will return there so many times over the course of their lives that “going home” has become a euphemism for serving time.

With the odds so obviously stacked against you, why then would someone choose to become a Numbers gangster and tik dealer in the first place I hear you ask while reading this review and sipping espresso on your sunny suburban porch. The answer, of course, is that they don’t choose the lives they end up having to live out. They are, simply put, born into it.

Directed by Temmingh and starring Kusch as a mid-level general with an estimated 3000 gang members serving underneath him, through the various characters he meets (all played by Richards) in Die Glas Ennie Draad (The glass and the wire) the viewer is taken inside a bright young mind too promising to have been dealt such a heavy hand in life.

Named “Marlin” for the purposes of the play, by having Kusch interact with Richards as both a psychologist as well as one of Marlin’s fellow gangsters, we are also given profound insight into the complexity of the kind of individual the media (and those of us comfortably living in the upper to middle classes) all too easily want to refer to as the skidmark of Cape Town’s society.

Based on interactions Kusch and Richards had with an anonymous real-life former gangster, the play’s script fuses poetry and movement to explore a life destroyed before it had a chance to even begin. “Believing in oneself” and “becoming anything you want as long as you apply yourself” are not slogans Marlin heard growing up. Here it was only bowana in en bowana uit. Blood in and blood out.

Gantane Kusch, front, and Daniel Richards, back.
Gantane Kusch, front, and Daniel Richards, back.

Temmingh, who, after more than 25 years of lecturing have chosen this production as her swan song from UCT’s Drama Department, has her formidable actors demonstrate the inseparable nature of blood once it mixes. Incorporating rhythmic gang hand signs, the assembling of guns and other related mannerisms into their performance, we start to see how their unforgiving environment cyclically both spawn as well as consume them.

Kusch as the fearless yet conflicted gang leader gives a commanding performance, as does the Fleur du Cap-nominated Richards (Fergus of Galloway) in his various demanding roles. True to the play’s title, as a duo these two also do a solid job in demonstrating the interrelationship between higher-ranked gang “officials” (the glass) and their subordinates (the wire).

Performed in a mixture of English, Afrikaans, Cape Flats dialect and Numbers lingo, while there are parts that might be difficult to follow for non-native Afrikaans speakers, Die Glass Ennie Draad always makes sure to bring everyone back up to speed with frequent cuts to Richards’ anglophone psychologist.

While admittedly the past few years have seen more than a fair share of Cape Flats-related gangster films, plays and even photographic and art exhibitions, where this one differs is in its focus and intention.

This isn’t a play about scary characters, gratuitous violence or slow motion shootouts to the sound of Die Antwoord. Rather, it’s a gritty, psychological and often-abstract look at the fear and trauma related with simply being born on the wrong side of Table Mountain.

l Tickets are R100. To book, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or see www.computicket.com.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

REVIEW: DIE GLAS ENNIE DRAAD

INTERVIEW: NICOLA ELLIOTT on CHALK

Adriana Jamisse and Julia de Rosenwerth in Chalk (Pic: Nicola Elliott).
Adriana Jamisse and Julia de Rosenwerth in Chalk (Pic: Nicola Elliott).

This interview was first published in Sunday Independent on 8 March 2015.

Choreographer Nicola Elliott debuts a brand new work at Cape Town’s Infecting the City festival this week. Steyn du Toit talks to the former Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance about parkour, cityscapes and drawing lines with chalk.

“I’ve always been inspired by bodies that treat the cityscape as a playground for expression,” Elliott tells me at the start of our interview.

“They aren’t confined by rules, yet they aren’t destructive either. Just look at how parkour allows its practitioners to use the cityscape as a springboard for their own assertion of freedom.”

Elliott’s latest performance piece involves performers Richard Antrobus, Julia de Rosenwerth, Adriana Jamisse and Kopano Maroga engaging in a “dance game” within the unstable demarcations of a shifting and busy pedestrian intersection on Cape Town’s Parliament Street.

Performances are scheduled for Friday, March 13 at 12:30 and Saturday, March 14 at 10:30.

Nicola Elliott (Pic: Timmy Henny).
Nicola Elliott (Pic: Timmy Henny).

“Aiming to explore the power and play of demarcation, Chalk sees the disruption of the status quo through opposing the normative mode of physicality within a particular environment.”

Referring to the psychogeographical concept of the dérive as one of her inspirations, she continues that the practice envisions bodies in the cityscape that are not defined by product or purpose.

“Rather, they drift or wander through the city often into places or across boundaries in direct opposition to how the city aims to process its bodies.

Chalk is about the human shape within Cape Town’s cityscape. Its beautiful buildings seem rather inorganic, and even permanent, in comparison to our very fleeting human shapes.”

By drawing chalk lines in a similar way to how it is used to demarcate a space for bodies to play during sports, Elliott has also framed her performers’ game within its public setting. It now becomes a playground on which their bodies can be “non-product orientated”.

“Of course, theoretically, one doesn’t need a cordoned off space to be allowed physical expressive freedom in the city. Or do you?”

Adriana Jamisse and Julia de Rosenwerth (Pic: Nicola Elliott).
Adriana Jamisse and Julia de Rosenwerth (Pic: Nicola Elliott).

During their performance, the dancers are required to use the chalk to record “where” they’ve been and “how” they’ve been as well.

“Sometimes it’s a very calming and harmonious process to watch, and then there are moments during which they proceed to break out of the order in search of some well-deserved chaos.

“During rehearsals the cast and I worked with a lot of task-driven improvisation when creating the ‘language’ and experiences of the piece. The first step was to define what it was that the work wanted to say or do.

“After learning the ‘language’, we then set out finding a way of ‘talking’ with the space that we’ll be performing in. While the language itself has its moments of being physically demanding and virtuosic, what’s more important is that the dancers need to be highly sensitive to their environment, as well as to how their bodies respond to it”.

When coming to see Chalk, Elliott hopes that viewers will leave feeling more sensitive to their own physicality within the busy environment of the Mother City.

“I hope that they will notice their own body more, and perhaps even allow it a few more deep breaths, or to take the time to wander around the city a bit.

“I conceive of it introducing a broader spectrum of human body shape into the performance of the city. It’s to make us self aware and more sentient.”

To book tickets for Chalk, or to see the full Infecting the City programme and schedule, on until March 14 , see www.infectingthecity.com and  www.facebook.com/InfectingTheCityFestival, or follow @InfectingtheCT on Twitter.

INTERVIEW: NICOLA ELLIOTT on CHALK

REVIEW: AN AUDIENCE WITH PIETER-DIRK EISH

Pieter-Dirk Uys
Pieter-Dirk Uys

This review was first published in Cape Times on 2 March 2015.

AN AUDIENCE WITH PIETER-DIRK EISH. Written and performed Pieter-Dirk Uys. At Theatre on the Bay, Camps Bay, Monday to Friday at 8pm, and Saturday at 5.30pm and 8pm until March 14. STEYN DU TOIT reviews.

“I am standing up here today because I used to sit down there,” Pieter-Dirk Uys tells us shortly after appearing on stage dressed in a plain black t-shirt and pair of pants.

Behind him an army of his most iconic characters from the past 50 years are stashed away inside an assortment of numbered boxes, bags and crates.

Cape minstrels, disreputable politicians and, of course, the one and only Divine Mrs. E; each one is poised and ready to pop out with a tale to tell.

Starting by relating to the audience why he originally chose to pursue a career in theatre, Uys’ story is an all too familiar one for those of us who were also exposed to the magic of live performance at an early age.

Not only is it the main reason I personally became an arts journalist, but returning to Artscape’s foyer’s steps as a child busy watching one of their holiday panto productions are one of my most cherished memories.

Effortlessly incorporating references to recent news events, parliamentary skylarking and even a bit of sexual innuendo into his dialogue, any young comedian committed to his craft should be sitting in the front row taking notes directly from Uys.

Loosely adopting the format of the old Springbok Radio programme Pick a Box, there is no further set script in An Audience with Pieter-Dirk Eish. Instead, individuals are chosen out of the audience to pick a number between one and 19.

Whichever character lurks inside the chosen container is the one Uys will then transform into right before your eyes. No two shows will therefore ever play out in exactly the same way, or even in the same order of character sketches performed.

“Who voted for the NP after 1994?” he asked us during opening night’s first sketch, or “Are there any gay people in the audience?” during another. Adopting a spirit of inclusivity, the purpose here is not to poke fun at individuals, but to create a relaxed atmosphere in which everyone is able to enjoy him or herself.

While tannie Evita will most certainly give me a snotklap for revealing much more, those of Uys’ characters who made appearances during opening night included Groot Krokodil PW Botha, Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman, former foreign minister Pik Botha, kugel Noelle Fine and, of course, South Africa’s most famous white woman herself.

Among the other persons we missed out on, but who I’m told on good authority are also waiting to be unleashed, are convict Oscar Pistorius, retired Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu, German chancellor Angela Merkel as well as First Lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe.

While several of his characters’ un-PC jokes won’t necessarily work if performed by another comedian, they do here (including Madiba’s sketch) because we can see without a doubt that they are executed with the best of intentions.

“There are two things I hate about South Africa. Apartheid and the blacks,” Noelle’s character contradictorily remarks at one point, while during another scene a racist Afrikaner-type can be heard dropping the K-bomb repeatedly.

But it is Uys’ infectious optimism that ultimately trumps all. In addition to his current residency at Theatre on the Bay, earlier this month also saw him, through tannie Evita, launch a Twitter campaign called #CommitYourSelfie.

Proudly holding up her own sign on social media (a notice urging president Zuma to “Pay back the money”), tannie Evita asked her followers to post pictures of themselves while posing with messages against government corruption.

“Does history repeat itself and turn tragedy into farce?” Uys queried in a recent interview ahead of this production’s opening. “Maybe, on some minor levels of stupidity. For instance, the famed Gupta wedding and Nkandla fire pool.

“But looking at the characters and stories I have lined up – some old, some new, some borrowed and some blue – I don’t really believe that history does repeat itself in South Africa. It simply rhymes: from apartheid to tripartite; from Amanda to Nkandla!”

On only for another three weeks before moving to Johannesburg’s Pieter Toerien Main Theatre, An Audience with Pieter-Dirk EISH is already the most sought-after invitation in town.

By sequenced hook or camp crook, do anything you must to secure your seat.

l Tickets are R95 – R165. To book, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or see www.computicket.com.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

REVIEW: AN AUDIENCE WITH PIETER-DIRK EISH

INTERVIEW: JENNIE REZNEK on I TURNED AROUND AND SHE WAS GONE

Jennie Reznek in I Turned Away and She Was Gone. (Pic: Mark Wessels)
Jennie Reznek in I Turned Away and She Was Gone (Pic: Mark Wessels)

This feature was first published in Sunday Independent on 1 March 2015.

With I Turned Around and She Was Gone Jennie Reznek has reworked the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone in order to tell the story of three generations of women in her own family. STEYN DU TOIT talks to the theatre icon about motherhood, growing older and taking up scriptwriting.

The other day, while driving, I was suddenly taken aback when, looking into my rear view mirror, I saw the face of my father returning my gaze.

How was it possible, I wondered, that my eyes could overnight have turned into the same pair I had seen reflected so many times while sitting in the backseat as a child?

Noticing how they even came complete with my dad’s eyebrows and crow’s feet around them, something started shifting inside me. In that moment I felt as if I was both my father and myself.

I mention this incident to Cape Town’s Magnet Theatre’s co-founder, Jennie Reznek, at the start of our interview. She immediately starts smiling in recognition. It is, after all, one of the core themes explored her latest play, I Turned Away and She Was Gone.

“It’s a sign of the passage of time. You’ve reached a landmark in your journey of growing older,” she answers.

“I once had a baby who I thought was going to stay a baby forever. Then, one day, I turned around only for a moment. When I turned back she was gone. An adolescent woman instead stood in her place.

“Later, when looking away from the mirror briefly, my own image was somehow replaced with that of an old crone in the split second it took for me to turn my head back.”

She goes on to explain that our bodies contain both the younger past, and older future versions of ourselves. Often the spare parts making up these versions, whether physical or personality traits, also make up our children and our parents, hence the tendency to recognise ourselves in one another.

Jennie Reznek in I Turned Away And She Was Gone (Pic by Mark Wessels).
Jennie Reznek in I Turned Away And She Was Gone (Pic by Mark Wessels).

Describing the process of fusing together the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone with that of her own life as “a long one”, she recounts that the script’s development was driven by the need to frame her story with references that would move it towards a more universal narrative.

“Mark Fleishman, who co-founded Magnet with me as well as being the director of this play, suggested we find a way of ‘containing’ these stories of growing up and growing older.

“At the time I was reading up on the abduction and rape of Persephone, who was also known as Kore before her disappearance. A lot of the feminist writing I found on it made a strong case for the myth not actually talking about a real abduction or rape.

“Instead, these authors argued, one should rather see it as Kore going into her own unconscious, her own underworld, in order to individuate. She needs to become her own woman, her own person. To do that she needs to separate herself from her mother. This is when she becomes Persephone.”

Simultaneously, Demeter has to let go of her hands-on approach to raising her daughter, and start realising that Kore has now reached a stage where she’ll have to start making it through this world as an adult woman.

“The third character I’ve brought into my play is that of the old woman, Hecate. In the myth she’s the one that witnesses Kora’s abduction, and I thought it would be interesting to incorporate her as a grandmother figure into the play.

I Turned Away and She Was Gone is the first-ever Magnet Theatre production in 27 years that comes with a script beforehand. Everything else to date has been workshopped by directors and casts during rehearsals.

It is a recipe that has proved very successful so far, with Voices Made NightRain in a Dead Man’s Footprints and Every Year, Every Day, I Am Walking being a few examples of the exceptional work that the company has put out in the past.

“This production started out similarly, until Mark came in and said, ‘Nothing’s happening here. It seems like the physical text is not interesting. The verbal text is not interesting. We’re trying to do things at the same time.

“He then suggested I go try and write something, which was an idea that I found very funny at first because the body has always been our domain. We are used to creating things on the floor.”

Turning to poetry, feminist writing, academic journals and even Jeannie DuBose’s The Mother Daughter Dance, the more Reznek read, the easier it became to match the themes she was busy exploring with that of the various chapters found in Demeter and Persephone.

“In the end, the writing process actually turned out to be a lot of fun. When I showed Mark the first draft he liked it, and it was at this point in rehearsals that we brought in the help of choreographer Ina Wichterich. She has been a crucial part of our company’s success in the past.

“With Ina’s help we proceeded to trim the text further and to bring in more of Magnet’s traditional visual elements and images. Eventually, I think we found a good balance between the physical and the verbal.”

When talking to designer Craig Leo, another longtime member of Magnet, Reznek and Fleishman knew that they wanted water to feature prominently as part of the set.

“In the myth, Kora has to cross the river Styx in order to reach the underworld. That was therefore our first point of visual departure. Secondly, we wanted to keep focusing on the notion of flowing. How do we move from one stage in our lives to the next as we grow older?”

Situated across the stage and climbed in and out of as part of Reznek’s performance are tin tubs of various sizes. They serve to represent the body as a vessel, or container, for what is commonly referred to as our “souls”.

“Even though Neo Muyanga weren’t often in rehearsals due to time constraints, I was nonetheless blown away by how accurately he managed to ‘feel’ the production, and then to articulately create such a beautiful soundtrack for us.”

When coming to see the play, Reznek hopes that each viewer will see it for what it is: An invitation to come on a journey with her.

“Although this journey is at times a painful one, it also has lots of moments of joy and playfulness. I’d love people to just sit back, and to come and experience this passage with me.”

For more information or to book tickets for I Turned Around and She Was Gone (on until March 14), see www.magnettheatre.co.za andwww.facebook.com/Magnet.Theatre, or follow @MagnetTheatre on Twitter.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions, please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

INTERVIEW: JENNIE REZNEK on I TURNED AROUND AND SHE WAS GONE