Theatre pickings freshly in from Grahamstown
Wits 969 has a choice from the National Arts Festival, writes Robyn Sassen
IF you did not make it to Grahamstown for the National Arts Festival — which ends today — do not despair. The Wits 969 Festival, coined 10 years ago for the 969km between Grahamstown and Johannesburg, follows hot on the one held in Grahamstown.
It starts on Tuesday and features a happy mix of theatre hand-picked by Wits Theatre’s new director, Gita Pather.
Skierlik by Phillip M Dikotla is one of them. In 2008, the Cape Townbased and Market Theatre Laboratory-educated Dikotla’s world — along with thousands of other South Africans — was shaken during the countrywide xenophobic massacre. “I was just 18,” he said. “For a while I was paranoid and uncomfortable about black-white feuds. I thought we were over all that. It kept coming back again and again into my awareness. I wrote Skierlik to help me say what I was thinking.”
Set in an informal settlement in North West, it focuses on January 14 2008 and the horrific true story of the young son of an Afrikaner farmer who went on a shooting spree, murdering four people and wounding eight. It is told through Thomas, husband of the murdered Anna and father to the slain infant Elizabeth. His journey is one of forgiveness and bitterness, anger and hopelessness, change and acceptance.
The play is also performed by Dikotla, who won last year’s Arts and Culture Trust Impact award for theatre. It was play of the year in the Baxter Theatre’s 2013 Zabalaza Theatre Festival in Cape Town and enjoyed a season there before the festival.
“Skierlik has been my passion for years. Many mentors, including professionals Mpho Molepo, Mncedisi Shabangu and Omphile Molusi, have helped me grow it into a play.”
Another titbit from Grahamstown 2013 is The Last Show, directed by Jemma Kahn of The Epicene Butcher and Other Stories for Consenting Adults fame. The Last Show features relative newcomer Roberto Pombo and veteran Toni Morkel, who cut her teeth as a performer with the Handspring Puppet Company and with contemporary dance choreographer Robyn Orlin, and whose raw honest portrayals veer between manic and mannered. These two extraordinary performers began collaborating about four years ago: “We love playing together.”
“When this play debuted last year,” said Kahn, “people laughed themselves into complete hysteria over it. It’s been reworked. We’ve had script assistance from [ TV soapie writer] Gwydion Beynon. He’s made it a lot darker. We still think it’s very funny.”
“The Last Show was born as a black comedy about the Mayan calendar and the end of the world,” said Morkel, who plays Ronel, the mother of Pombo’s character, Ronnie. “Recently divorced, she is very fra- gile and anxious about everything. She relies on her 19-year-old son and her ‘mother’s helpers’ kept in her handbag.”
Added Pombo: “Ronnie is a lovely sweet boy who just wants everything to be okay.”
Other shows at Wits 969, at the Wits Theatre complex from July 9 to 21, include:
The Snow Goose, with Tarryn Bennett and James Cairns, directed by Jenine Collocott and adapted from the Paul Gallico classic by Nick Warren;
Lake, a slice of magic realism by Daniel Buckland, Ryan Dittmann and Jaques De Silva;
Wednesday Night, written by Ingrid Wylde and directed by last year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for drama, Princess Mhlongo;
Writer’s Block, a tale of writing, reconciliation and struggle featuring Jennifer Steyn, who played Marge in Madam and Eve, directed by her husband, theatre stalwart Nicky Rebelo;
A Day in the Desert, a collaborative work under the direction of Jenine Collocott that features a German clown who can play the harp;
Milk and Honey, confronting the 1913 Natives Land Act 100 years on, directed by James Ngcobo, incoming artistic director of the Market Theatre; and
Vlakkant/Diepkant, a burlesque gem starring Elzabé Zietsman and also featuring Mark Hawkins and Tony Bentel, directed by Isidingo star Robert Whitehead.