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HILTON FESTIVAL SHORT REVIEWS (article first published : 2006-09-21)

Reviewers Peter Mitchell, David Pike, Janet van Eeden and Margaret von Klemperer give feedback on productions. (Courtesy of The Witness)

Tokoloshe Come and Go: The three shows I reviewed were essentially about the art of storytelling, each in a very different way. This highly energetic and wacky piece of fun, performed with relaxed precision and excellent timing by the duo of Liam Magner and Jacobus van Heerden, takes a folktale and expands it into a riotous hour of hilarity and mayhem. Making theatre look effortless and spontaneous is not an easy task, yet these two, with their technical skill and physical prowess, make it seem like a walk in the park. A triumphant example of the physical art of storytelling. – Peter Mitchell

The Boy Who Fell From the Roof: For me, the pick of what I saw this year at the festival. The subject matter could have been self indulgent, even grim, but the freshness and wit brought to the tale of Simon who, shortly after wearing a green carnation in his buttonhole at his matric dance, slipped and fell from the roof to his death while fetching a tennis ball for his old friend Georgina, turns it into an utterly delightful piece of theatre. It manages to be a coming-of-age tale, a reminiscence of childhood, a meditation on the agonies and delights of motherhood, an exploration of awakening sexuality and a gripping and human story. It touches on issues of race and sexuality with deftness and elegance and the stylised telling of the story adds another dimension to the piece. Add the uniform excellence of the cast and it is lifted to a very high level indeed. I loved every moment of it. – Margaret von Klemperer

Concert 5: KZNPO in Concert: The Supersonics hall (a converted sports hall) is large, lino-floored and a little echoing, but a fair venue for a 'big' sound like that of this strong, assured orchestra; and the three vocal soloists managed well enough without microphones (though given one late in the programme.) The programme itself was high-spirited and wide-ranging, from opera (Mozart, Gounod, Bizet and Verdi) to nostalgia (The Merry Widow, In the Mood - remember Glen Miller? - and Abba), and the pieces chosen were all accessible (though no push-over for the performers). Lord of the Dance was rousing, with an exuberant 'Classic Rock' sound. But the highlights throughout were the solos and duets performed by baritone Federico Freschi and soprano Zanne Stapelberg, both in superb voice, with lively performance-styles and relaxed confidence. Robert Petersen did the jazz pieces very professionally. Altogether, an informal, invigorating concert. - David Pike

Tin Bucket Drum: This is a little piece of theatrical magic from Neil Coppin. It is the story of Nomvula, who is born hearing the rhythm of music beating in her heart when all around her have had this rhythm beaten out of them. The very talented Ntando Cele plays Nomvula and the play is directed by Karen Logan. When Nomvula is born her mother tries to hide the fact that her daughter has an unstoppable rhythm beating in her heart. But no matter how she tries to make the girl conform to their world of silence under an extortionate dictatorship, where rhythm, music, singing and dancing are forbidden, Nomvula cannot stop herself making music with whatever comes to hand. Using a table, tin buckets, one scarf and exquisite lighting effects, Logan creates the world of Nomvula. Shadow puppets and a live musician on stage enhance the gifted Cele's performance as she morphs from a little girl to a cruel dictator. This show is an absolute treat. – Janet van Eeden (reviewed in Grahamstown)

Two to Tango: The battle of the sexes is well-worn territory, beloved of sitcoms, movies, plays and fiction. So, unsurprisingly, Two to Tango offers no startling new insights. What it does do is provide slick comedy peppered with sharp one-liners delivered with panache by Bo Petersen and Bruce Young as the married couple grappling with reality when the honeymoon is long over. It fizzles out towards the end and the final scene is too neat and too obvious, but writer Mike van Graan has generally managed to invest the play with enough local references - white anxiety about making black friends, do-we-emigrate-after-a-burglary, and so on - to ensure that if there are clichés, they are proudly South African ones. – Margaret von Klemperer

Prodigal: Tim Redpath, a Carter High Old Boy, shows great theatrical promise in this one man show. But the show as it stands now is merely a show piece for his ability to execute physical theatre. For me, it lacks heart. The characters are created with very broad strokes which result in them becoming stereotypes. Certain characters have become patronizing: most notably the black domestic worker and the mother. One is always sweeping and the other is always cooking. There is a very fine line when creating stock characters. How you depict them dictates whether people laugh with the character, or laugh at him or her. Unfortunately, Redpath has fallen into the trap of the latter, and it is uncomfortable to watch people laughing at their own versions of stereotypes. Perhaps with a more experienced director, this would have been avoided. But this performer is one to watch. – Janet van Eeden

Concert 10: Music for a Sunday Morning: Held in the lovely College Chapel, this was a solidly Classical programme, consisting of solos and duets by the two highly-impressive baritones Federico Freschi and Francois Möller, and two four-hander piano pieces (Mozart Sonata in C KV 521 and Mendelssohn's Rondo Brillant) performed by Christopher Duigan and Claire Wright with accuracy and great vivacity. (The Mendelssohn Rondo is not familiar, and was a special treat, providing an energetic finale to the programme.) Pieces performed were by Purcell, Gluck, Handel, Fauré, Mozart, JS Bach and Gounod; and some of these were real old favourites, such as Purcell's Sound the Trumpet (a rousing start to the programme), Fauré's Panis Angelicus, Bach's Bist du bei mir and (from Messiah) The Trumpet Shall Sound. The standard of musical performance at the Festival is clearly very high. - David Pike

Two: The Beginning of the End: There's a great idea somewhere in this two hander, workshopped and performed by Clare Mortimer and Neil Coppen. She is a Point Road prostitute, surviving as she can; he is a disturbed young man who climbs into her eighth floor window one night, claiming he is the friend of her childhood, the Peter Pan she read to and mothered. But this is no tender fantasy on leaving childhood behind. It is disturbing and filled with menace. But it also has too many rough edges and builds too slowly to its climax as the pair explain and recall their past, the Neverland they invented but could not find. And, at least in their first performance, speaking fast and intimately to create the atmosphere they want, the performers forgot that their audience needs to hear what they are saying. – Margaret von Klemperer

The Devil and Billy Markham: Veteran South African actor, singer and dancer Graham Clarke is back with a remarkable piece of theatre as he performs Shel Silverstein's epic narrative poem for theatre. A brilliant piece of writing which tells of a sleazy blues singer who makes a pact with the devil and manages to come out on top. It is filled with the most riveting imagery and Clarke makes it come to life beautifully, as he plays an astounding array of characters, all in rhyme! His narrator is not a likeable fellow, (an experience described in its original 1989 incarnation by the New York Times as "like being trapped at the bar with an amiable drunk"), but as he slowly draws in his audience one feels reluctantly compelled to be taken on this bizarre but powerful journey. – Peter Mitchell

The Book Club: Kids have left home, husband is only interested in his sport and exercise machines, so what is left for a woman except her book club - and an affair with the author she invites along to entertain "the girls". Fiona Ramsay is as good as ever in this piece which obviously touched a chord with the audience. It seems you can tell a lot about people by the books they choose for their book clubs - and the clever script makes the most of it, giving a flavour of the disparate club members through the eyes of just one of them - Deb. You learn a lot about her, her marriage, her husband and children and eventually her lover. Well presented, easy entertainment. – Margaret von Klemperer

Some Mothers' Sons: It is not easy to criticize a fellow playwright, especially one as respected as Mike van Graan, but I have to admit to being disappointed. The fault lies mainly in the structure of this play which lacks dramatic tension of any kind. It is also not well directed, and one has to feel sorry for Wiseman Sithole and Gideon van Eeden, who were often confined to one corner of the stage, standing side on to each other, very often with one of their backs to the audience for what felt like ten minutes at a time. The play is also didactic in the extreme. Phrases such as 'What would you have done?' and variations of 'Some mothers' sons' are hammered home repetitively. The premise is a good one - what would you do if someone killed your loved ones? Would you exact revenge, even if you are a human rights lawyer? But the strength of this argument is lost in the flaccid structure of the play. – Janet van Eeden

Hoot: The frighteningly energetic Matthew Ribnick in a uniquely South African comedy - the story of a white man who falls on hard times, loses his home, wife and BMW and becomes a taxi driver. He falls but rises again into a very different place. Everyone in this country has their taxi horror story, and one of the great charms of Hoot is that it gives a glimpse of the other side of the equation. Ribnick plays a host of characters with quick change accents and minimal props to produce an audience pleaser with both humour and heart. – Margaret von Klemperer (reviewed in Durban)

Johnny Boskak is Feeling Funny: Greig Coetzee is such a pleasure to watch. His masterful performance in this award winning play deserves every accolade it has received so far. Credit is also due to Genna Lewis for her intelligent direction in a piece which could have been limited through its adherence to rhyming couplets. It is a tour de force, aided by the masterful Syd Kitchen creating a dramatic sound track on stage throughout, creating a Boere Baroque Opera. Johnny Boskak is Coetzee's edgiest and nastiest creation by far, and it is remarkable that one cares about this character enough to hope that he and his beloved Eve make it through to a happily-ever-after. It is also a feat of note to see how Coetzee fills the character of Eve with such sizzling sex appeal that one can virtually visualize the femme fatale's cleavage in the dress she is almost wearing. Younger performers should watch Coetzee to get an idea of how to inhabit a character completely, even if she is a sultry siren miles away from the down-to-earth Coetzee's own persona. Bravo Coetzee. – Janet van Eeden

Blood Orange: I wondered briefly whether this show resonated so strongly with me because I am essentially what the script was about - the pre-democracy white South African male. But when I saw, through tears of laughter and pain, the standing ovation given to performer Craig Morris, I realised that what we had all experienced was a gem of a piece of theatre, brilliantly and skilfully performed, and expertly and lovingly directed by Greig Coetzee. Based on the novel by Troy Blacklaws, and sensitively adapted by Coetzee and Morris, this will remain, for me, one of the most profoundly moving theatrical experiences of my life. The simple story of a white boy's growing pains in an apartheid South Africa is told through physical action and characterisation, each character being beautifully drawn. Moving through humour and pathos, from innocence to painful adulthood and enlightenment, the show engages the audience on every level - emotional, physical and intellectual. A theatrical tour de force which reminds us that the journey has just begun. – Peter Mitchell




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