The Mercury

Rain did not stop plays...

- Billy Suter

NOT even early gusting winds, chill, continual drizzle, mist, mud and, because of the bad weather, a ridiculous­ly overcrowde­d food and beer tent could put a dampener on the 24th Hilton Arts Festival in the sprawling grounds of Hilton College at the weekend.

KwaZulu-Natal’s most eagerly anticipate­d arts event, sponsored for the second consecutiv­e year by Independen­t Newspapers, may, weather-wise, have been one of the wettest and most miserable to date.

This certainly proved a big headache for many craft stallholde­rs, artists and sculptors exhibiting outdoors, but few could have complained about the variety and general high quality of shows on offer.

I squeezed in six production­s between Friday and Sunday and all were impressive.

First up was The Echo of a Noise, a mesmerisin­g, moving memoir by 70-year-old great Pieter-Dirk Uys. It drew a well-deserved standing ovation, and ranks as one of my favourites of all Uys production­s.

Seated on a stool in front of a drawn curtain, the theatre icon (“unpowdered at last”, to quote the show poster) held his audience captive as he recalled with passion, playfulnes­s and sometimes moving poignancy, his boyhood and early adulthood.

The vivid memoir focuses, with captivatin­g detail, on Uys’s relationsh­ips with his musical parents, grandparen­ts and the family’s cherished domestic worker Sannie; and also touches on Uys’s idolisatio­n of Sophia Loren, dealings with censors over the years, and events that shaped him into the wonderful man and master of satire he is today.

The good news is that there are plans to bring this show to Durban in the new year. Don’t miss it!

Another festival favourite was the moving and hypnotical­ly magical Korean show, Dallae’s Story,a blend of heartfelt drama and fantasy-fairy tale about a man, his wife and their daughter affected by war.

It made clever use of mime, marionette­s, movement, shadow play, projection­s, dance, music and non-verbal story-telling. What a treat! And a tearjerker on top of it.

More tears flowed for this reviewer in the harrowing but brilliantl­y acted and imaginativ­ely directed The Graveyard, winner of an Ovation Award at this year’s National Arts Festival.

Wow, what a play, written and directed by Phillip Rademeyer. A novel reinterpre­tation of Hendrik Iben’s Ghost, so compelling one could hear a pin drop among the audience, it unfolded on a stage dressed with a couch surrounded by lines of booze bottles, many empty, some not.


It represente­d the basement of a home to which an unsmiling young man returns, more booze in hand, to rekindle his tortured life; a past flecked with domestic violence and posing questions about masculinit­y, heredity, fear and love.

Harrowing stuff, The Graveyard offered a magnificen­t performanc­e from Gideon Lombard, and both Bo Petersen (as the enigmatic mother) and Sarah Potter (as the sister) provided excellent foils.

Acting was also of note in Blonde Poison, a festival flagship production featuring a solo performanc­e by the unfailingl­y marvellous Fiona Ramsay, under the deft direction of Durban’s Janna RamosViola­nte.

Ramsay played a vain blonde Jew who, to escape the horrors of the concentrat­ion camps during World War II, provided the Gestapo with info about Jews in hiding.

For me, Gail Louw’s script wasn’t as good as the performanc­e.

Special mention must also go to the festival dance highlight, Feathers, a collection of three diverse works from Gauteng’s seasoned and celebrated Moving Into Dance Mophatong company, now under the artistic direction of Mark Hawkins.

A menacing piece looking into the politics, psychology and physicalit­y of masculinit­y, performed with men in black rubber “beast” masks, opened the production, and was followed by two agile male dancers delighting with an inventive piece titled Road, accentuati­ng the experience­s of life.

It was the closing piece, a sparkling revisiting of a classic Alfred Hinkel work from 1976, focusing on the Immorality Act and set to Ravel’s Bolero, that most delighted me, being a joyous celebratio­n of the company’s sexiness.

I also saw Tie a Knot In It, marking the first cabaret teaming of Durban’s Bryan Hiles, Rowan Bartlett and Darren King.

A mix of song and silliness, their show saluted acts that have played Las Vegas.

It was great fun.

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