REVIEW: DIS EK, ANNA

Charlene Brouwer as AnnA
Charlene Brouwer as Anna

This review was first published in Cape Times on 23 October 2015.

DIS EK, ANNA. Directed by Sara Blecher, with Charlene Brouwer, Morne Visser, Nicola Hanekom, Izelle Bezuidenhout, Marius Weyers, Eduan Van Jaarsveldt, Drikus Volschenk, Hykie Berg and Kara Van Der Merwe. STEYN DU TOIT reviews.

*****

A visibly upset, yet determined-looking woman is driving towards her unknown destination at the start of Tertius Kapp’s Dis Ek, Anna. Chain smoking and clearly affected by a programme on the radio about long-term self-deception as coping mechanism, when also breaking down upon hearing a father send out a dedication to his daughter over the airwaves, the viewer is able to start scooping up the first few pieces of her puzzle.

Based on Anchien Troskie’s top-selling autobiographical novels Dis Ek, Anna and Die Staat Teen Anna Bruwer, the film then sees the woman (played by Charlene Brouwer) arrive at the home of an unnamed couple during the early hours of the morning. Opening the door after being woken up, there is only enough time for the woman to say, “It’s me, Anna”, before she lifts a gun and purposefully pumps the man (Morne Visser) full of bullets.

Directed by Sara Blecher and arriving on circuit after winning Best Director, Best Actor and Best Film at this year’s kykNET Silwerskerm Film Festival, the rest of this acclaimed movie then tries to place Anna’s actions within context, while simultaneously following its immediate repercussions and the effect her act has on everyone involved.

Kapp’s script shows each new piece of information to the viewer without embellishments or euphemisms, with the purpose here not to present matters in black or white, but rather as a series of grey areas in which variables are determined based on culture, religion, oppression, suppression and whatever that thing inside each of us is that ultimately govern our behaviours.

We learn that the man Anna killed was her stepfather, Danie du Toit, and with her mother, Johanna (Nicola Hanekom), turning out to be the woman in the house with him at the time of his death. In addition, Anna does not go into hiding but instead hands herself over to the police immediately afterwards – not only confessing to pulling the trigger but also motivating her actions by saying “someone had to stop him.”

As the film previously received an 18 LV (SV) rating from the Film and Publication Board (FPB) and deals with the horrific topics of child abuse and pedophilia, I am not going to lie and say this is an easy picture to watch. However, given our country’s high statistics around these kind of crimes, and the silence with which these matters usually get treated, I’d also say we are way beyond the point of pussyfooting past reality.

Dis Ek, Anna is a product that the Afrikaans (and local) film industry can truly be proud of – both from a technical point of view as well as in its mature approach to presenting its subject matter to the viewer. This is a film for grown-ups, made without any assumptions about its audience, their intelligence or level of conservatism.

Shot by director of photography Jonathan Kovel and edited by Nicholas Costaras, the cinematography accurately captures the various emotions, internal conflicts and eras of Anna’s life as the plot progresses.

Also included in the visual narrative are several casual observations – presented at times so fast you almost miss it – depicting both cultural and political elements from the periods the film takes place in, as well as observations around the predatory/prey nature of Anna and Danie’s relationship.

Whether restless, playing with light and dark or supplemented by Schalk Joubert’s fantastic score, these technical undertones again demonstrates the overall professionalism and sincerity behind the making of this feature.

Dis Ek, Anna, however, is ultimately a character study and therefore everything boils down to its cast. Made up of a large number of stage and screen icons – including Marius Weyers, Elize Cawood, David Minnaar, Elton Landrew and Ilze Klink – there is not one person that comes across as trying to be bigger than the story or common purpose of the film.

As the film’s lead – from the way she nervously flicks her lighter to the confidence with which she announces herself to Danie – Brouwer is utterly convincing from the start. This will likely be the role this gifted actress will be remembered for for a long time, but hopefully will also open the kind of doors that could allow her to take on equally challenging future roles.

In what must have been incredibly difficult parts to accept given the nature of these characters, both Visser and Hanekom are to be commended for stepping up to the plate as Danie and Johanna respectively.

Visser, in particular, has to dig very deep not only to be able to portray the kind of monster required but also in such a way that it forces the viewer to also wonder what kind of a society we are creating that produces such creatures. I was surprised to learn that, after 20 years in the industry, his win at Silwerskerm was the first award Visser had ever received.

While it would be equally easy to hate Hanekom’s character for her role in Anna‘s whole ordeal, once again the character is played with such flaw and focus that you can’t help but both be disgusted and heartbroken at a woman who can witness a man making advances on her own daughter one moment, yet transform into a giddy girl herself minutes later when, in an attempt to win her back over, proposes to her (in front of said daughter).

A film that finds itself in the ruined lives of broken adults and the sick cycles we as humans seem to perpetuate, finding the cracks of hope that ultimately shine through Dis Ek, Anna is the final reason to not miss this stellar film.

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

REVIEW: DIS EK, ANNA

NAF 2015: Interview with Quintin Wils

Carina Nel in Suster (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)
Carina Nel in Suster (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 25 June 2015.

While this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) will be enjoyed by most from the (relative) comfort of the various school and/or other plastic chairs sourced from all over Grahamstown, for those working behind the scenes the story can be quite different.

“To be honest, I think I might just lose it completely sometime over the course of the week,” quips ImpACT Award for Theatre nominee Quintin Wils.

One of several productions he is taking to the festival this year, Cape Town audiences were first introduced to this young Gauteng-based director’s work through Smaarties, which enjoyed a run at Alexander Upstairs last year.

The first part in a theatrical trilogy, Wills will take Smaarties along with its second instalment, Suster, as well as a brand new “mobile thriller”, called aLEXA (a reference to its lead character), to Grahamstown. In addition, he’s also signed up for a collaboration with former Standard Bank Young Artist (SBYA) for Theatre, Sylvaine Strike, as part of Simply Sapiens.

“Because I’m also handling all the technical aspects at my shows as well, I will literally be present at almost all of my productions during the festival. So, yes, I’ll basically be running around like a headless chicken trying to fit everything in,” he laughs.

Quintin Wils (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)
Quintin Wils (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)

A typical NAF day for Wils includes getting up at 6am, attending various technical rehearsals, the setting up of stages and performance spaces, then the clearing of them out afterwards, compiling notes to his casts and crews as well as catching up on admin for other projects he’s got kicking off immediately after the festival.

Referring to the concept behind Suster, he explains that the plot follows the story of the sibling of the main character featured in Smaarties, Mr. Lotz. Both pieces were written by Jannes Erasmus.

“You might recall that Jannes was also the lead actor in Smaarties. Suster, in turn, stars the exceptionally talented Carina Nel. It is a powerful one-woman show which follows the journey of Sybil, a lady diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) after the death of her parents.

“But while both plays are so closely linked via plot and characters, they are at the same time far enough removed from one another in order to be watched as standalone pieces.”

Asked what exactly a “mobile thriller” is, Wils answers that it’s a production that plays of inside a moving vehicle.

aLEXA
aLEXA

aLEXA has three audience members sitting in a driving car, along with the actors, while the production is taking place right in front of, and around them.

“I have also given the piece an immersive theatre edge, which means that the audience will not only be observing and watching the actors, but they will also interact with them and have a say in which direction the production can take a turn.”

When approached to stage Simply Sapiens alongside Sylvaine Strike and Megan Wilson, he says he “completely freaked out.”

“The production features three standalone plays, performed by the same two actors – Greg Melvill-Smith and Craig Morris – over three acts.  Each play was written and directed by a director from a different generation. I was chosen to represent the younger generation.

“My piece is Crossing, and in it Greg’s character is asking whether we as humans are just surviving, or trying to survive through violence without even noticing it. Physical theatre is used at first by an unnamed creature to try and word this to the audience, but is then stuck by having to resort to words to communicate with his audience instead.”

When coming to experience his work for the first time at NAF, Wils advises that the most important thing to remember is to enjoy each piece for what it represents individually.

“Some audience members have told me that my work usually kicks them in their stomach and throws them into deep ends that they’ve never explored before – but all in a good way!

“When started directing, I decided for myself that I will always try my utmost to create and direct work that people will not only look at and remember, but that they feel like they have actually experienced something afterwards.”

l NAF takes place from July 2 – July 12. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

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

NAF 2015: Interview with Quintin Wils

INTERVIEW: BAXTER THEATRE AFRIKAANS FESTIVAL

Gerben Kamper as Gregor Samsa and Antoinette Kellerman as Josephine in Samsa-masjien.
Gerben Kamper as Gregor Samsa and Antoinette Kellerman as Josephine in Samsa-masjien.

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 10 February 2015.

Afrikaans is currently taking centre stage at the Baxter, with a trio of last year’s biggest festival hits each enjoying a proper theatre run.

Kicking off what will hopefully become an annual event was Willem Anker’s ATKV Woorveertjie-winner, Samsa-masjien (January 16 – 31).

After debuting at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) last year, this sensory production received the event’s Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director awards, as well as the Herrie prize for “mind-shifting” work.

Dirty, noisy, primal and performed on a multi-level set in which the actors were sometimes seen crawling or having sex covered in dirt among the scaffolding below, Samsa-masjien was directed by Jaco Bouwer (RooilandBalbesit) and starred Gerben Kamper, Antoinette Kellerman, Ludwig Binge and Ilana Cilliers.

The devastation of old age and the therapeutic powers of friendship are looked at in Die Ongelooflike Reis van Max en Lola (The unbelievable journey of Max and Lola). Currently showing and ending on Saturday (February 7), this dramedy stars Vinette Ebrahim and Chris van Niekerk (both 7de Laan).

Taking place on the eve of Max’s 80th birthday, the play opens to him getting ready to host a dinner for those of his friends still alive. Following a series of apologetic phone calls, however, he suddenly finds himself with only one guest left: Lola. A sassy 79-year-old, it is their shared love for “the bioscope” that have kept her, a coloured woman, friends with him, a quirky gay white man, for the past five decades.

The final production in this year’s Afrikaans Season is Marthinus Basson’s two-hour epic adaptation of Eitemal’s original translation of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth.

Renamed Macbeth.Slapeloos (Macbeth.Sleepless), through this prolific director’s goggles the viewer is given a conceptual look at the emotional and psychological effects that all of Macbeth (Dawid Minnaar) and his wife’s (Anna-Mart van der Merwe) violent scheming will eventually have on their sleeping patterns. The production runs till February 21.

Edwin van der Walt, Dawid Minnaar, Antoinette Kellermann, Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Senzo Madikane and Jana Cilliers in Macbeth.slapeloos
Edwin van der Walt, Dawid Minnaar, Antoinette Kellermann, Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Senzo Madikane and Jana Cilliers in Macbeth.slapeloos

“As an institution the Baxter has always been interested in Afrikaans theatre. The idea behind the Afrikaans Season was to market it in a way that would create a sensation,” says Baxter CEO and artistic director Lara Foot.

“By doing a season, as opposed to sporadic presentations such as Rondomskrik last year, we’ve put together the cream of current Afrikaans theatre. These three productions have all done extremely well on the festival circuit in 2014.”

While seasoning the plays together has so far reaped good rewards in terms of bums on seats, Foot adds that she also sees this venture as a way for the Baxter to provide “a home” for Afrikaans theatre in Cape Town.

“Here these theatremakers are treated the way they deserve to be. They are being provided with the full technical and logistical support that the Baxter offers. We are very excited about developing non-English audiences.”

Referring to Afrikaans theatre’s place within the broader industry, she adds that one of the qualities she admires the most about its practitioners is that they take the art of theatre seriously.

“Obviously I’m talking about a specific group of theatremakers, such as the Marthinus Bassons and Jaco Bouwers of the world. Those who demonstrate a real intellectual and artistic approach to their work.

“People like Antoinette Kellermann or Anna-Mart van der Merwe. These are actresses who engage with their work in a truly artistic sense. They push the boundaries of performance.

“While I certainly can’t say that these qualities are specific to Afrikaans theatre, it is certainly one of its major attractions in the sense that it’s not geared towards commercialism, but rather intellectual encounters.”

A reason for the longstanding consistency in the quality of Afrikaans theatre, as well as a steady output of new scriptwriters, performers and directors over the years, Foot explains, is due to the value placed on these individuals by their community.

“Festivals such as KKNK, Aardklop (Potchefstroom) and Vryfees (Bloemfontein) are well attended and funded. There’s a sort of identity that is maintained through the work offered. That’s been important both politically and culturally.

“But while festivals have given these artists a life, it is dangerous to have them only rely on these events for a living. Sponsorships aren’t necessarily always maintained, or a drop in the economy could lead to less ticket sales next year.”

The solution, Foot argues, is to also give celebrated productions residencies and runs at established theatres outside of festivals.

“That is how you build an audience. We should be moving these works into theatres for lengthy runs with proper marketing and technical support.

“Simultaneously, we also want to avoid a marginilised or exclusive situation. When you come to the Baxter, we want you to know that there are all kinds of theatre being hosted under one roof. It’s not about Afrikaans theatre specifically. It’s about the best theatre.

Getting ready for Friday night’s (February 6) premiere of Macbeth.Slapeloos, she cites its veteran director as one of her personal career inspirations.

“Marthinus is incredibly imaginative and inventive. He speaks in a visual language. His productions will often combine language and iconography in order to blur the viewer’s senses. The result is a visceral experience that takes one into subconscious territory.

“Basson is the kind of director that burns lasting images into your mind. I can still remember specific set and prop elements from his first staging of Macbeth, and I must have seen it nearly 20 years ago!”

l Tickets are R100 – R120. 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. 

INTERVIEW: BAXTER THEATRE AFRIKAANS FESTIVAL