Tag Archives: Theatre

Tennessee Williams in a Hotel

 Only some radical change can divert the downward course of my spirit, some startling new place or people to arrest the drift, the drag.

Tennessee Williams travelled a lot, living in hotels and writing plays, many – unsurprisingly – set in hotels. I can fully relate to his thoughts, above. Travelling makes me happy, too, and far more creative. His having lived in hotels so much, though, is one of many reasons that the Hotel Plays, which use a suite in a hotel, work so well.

Two by Tenn is hosted by the grand ol’ dame of Claremont, the elegant Vineyard Hotel, and included a gourmet 3-course, wine-paired menu: Field mushrooms in a bouche case followed by lamb shank, finished off with sticky pecan tart and brandy ice cream – a perfectly delicious feast for the rainy winter’s night that it was. We sat at a long table and met lovely people.

Welcomed by the oh-so-fabulous Mme Le Monde in her gorgeous lace dress and over the top make-up, we enjoyed starters before heading upstairs for the first short play, wonderfully entitled A Perfect Analysis Given By A Parrot.

One of the suites in the old section of the hotel has been magically transformed into an intimate theatre that seats just forty people. It makes for an entirely different theatre experience, with the audience so close to the actors that one feels involved in the scene.

Life-size puppets of Dame Elizabeth Taylor (Marcel Meyer) and Joan Crawford (Dean Balie) are sat at a bar table discussing their plight as ageing good-time girls … and hoping to be picked up. Puppeteers, Meyer and Bailie – both superb – sit behind the puppets, their suspender-and- stockinged legs, are the puppet’s legs. They control the puppets’ heads with one hand and are the puppets’ arm with the other … hard to describe, but brilliant in execution.The script is irreverent and laugh-out-loud funny.

Back down for mains and a chat with fellow-diners and then its upstairs again for a slightly more provocative and in-your-face production of The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme Le Monde. Young and pretty Mint, very well played by Matthew Baldwin, is visited by Hall (Dean Balie), an old school friend from Scrotum-on-Swansea. Unable to use his legs, Mint lives in a garret above Mme Le Monde’s rather shady rooming house where he uses a series of hooks to swing across the room.

Not only that, he also seems to be regularly abused by one of Mme Le Monde’s numerous ‘male spawn’ and often goes without food. Set amongst this background, the story is darkly funny and illustrates Tennessee William’s tendency toward inappropriate laughter and eliciting it from his audiences.

Back down in the gracious, chandeliered dining room, the pecan pie is enjoyed over much mirthful discussion that lasts well through the after-dinner coffee. This is perfect winter entertainment and ‘dinner theatre’ in its prime.

A version of this review was published at What’s On In Cape Town.

Sizwe Banzi Is Dead

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I went to watch an Athol Fugard play last week – Sizwe Banzi is Dead, at The Baxter. Written by Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona forty years’ ago, it is still completely relevant. I am embarrassed to admit that, at the ripe old age of forty, it was my first Fugard on stage. Especially embarrassing due to the fact that he lives in the place that holds my heart and where I plan, at some stage, to spend more of my time than not.

I love The Baxter, with its porno-70’s-alien-spaceship lights and vast foyer that whispers with the dramatic voices of the thousands of drama students, theatre aficionados and master actors that have passed through it. Even more, I love The Flipside. There’s something magical about watching a play from backstage, knowing that behind the curtain there is a vast auditorium. I always imagine that it’s filled with the ghosts of patrons past, whispering to each other, clapping silently, rustling ghostly sweet papers.

Back to the play. The reason I’ve been lax about seeing a Fugard is that I was worried they’d be too serious (I’m a bit of a philistine theatre-goer, or possibly more aptly described as a bimbo thaetre-goer, if you will). I was mistaken, I’ve been a fool, I am now converted. The script and the story left me breathless with wonder and with heartbreak. I’m not being overly-dramatic (although I know I am, often), when I say breathless. I really was, literally, breathless, three times during the 80-minute two-hander.

I can’t remember that happening before – feeling my chest tighten with sadness as tears poured down my face. The kind of tears that are heavy and big and wet your face, dripping down into your shirt. The kind of tears that flow at the thought of what people had to go through during those horrific days of Apartheid, what people are still going through, albeit in a different political climate – migrant workers, the refugees. There’s a long list of people forced to leave their families and put their lives at risk, to lose their identity, right now in the world. We, as humanity (and I use the term loosely), should be ashamed.

Between the tears, though, as Atandwa Kani and Mncendisi Shabangu wove their magic, I laughed. Loud, joyous laughter. That’s the beauty of this richly-woven story. It’s human nature at its finest – gritty, funny, heart-wrenching. Sitting watching these men, I realised what critics mean when they say “powerful performances”. These were them. I was entranced.

If you’re in Cape Town and you only go to one show this year, make it this one.

Kasi-2-Kasi Public Arts Festival

6Having never been to Gugulethu before, I was a little nervous to go – two whitey females, one in a wheelchair – we seemed to be the epitome of sitting ducks when it came to talking about targets for crimesters. Would we be safe? It turns out that my nerves were completely misplaced. I felt more welcome on the busy, dusty streets of Gugulethu than I do walking down the tarred and manicured streets of my Southern Suburbs street. Everyone was friendly and helpful and we had multiple offers of assistance in getting my wheelchair over bumps in the road and up onto pavements.

Instead, what I saw was art, spilled out onto those ramshackle streets that are so (embarrassingly) unfamiliar to me. Dancers on street corners, poets in playgrounds, pictures hung on walls and an audience made up of those of us there specifically for the Kasi-2-Kasi Public Arts Festival (the minority) and people off the streets (the majority) – kids in their swimming costumes standing in front of their gates, taxi drivers stopping in the middle of the road, passing cars filled with people craning their necks to see.

Mandisi Sindo did a wonderful thing. One of the curators involved in Infecting The City (see my previous post), he’s bringing the same concept onto the streets of Gugulethu (and, hopefully, many other areas). Art in this country is so often inaccessible to so many and this is making it not, and that is just a lovely thing.

To see a homeless man transform into a beautiful dancer (Stoan Move Galela), telling the story of a wise man who lives outside the home affairs building in Khayelitsha; to bump down a stony road between houses and shacks, stray dogs stopping to watch, children at gates, led by a giant puppet, to a street corner with a group who burst into song; to watch two dancers move so fluidly and gracefully on a busy street corner; to listen to the beautiful clicks and inflections of isiXhosa; to watch five girls dance on a tarred incline in the 35 degree heat, an ode to migration… What a privilege.

Did I feel threatened at any point? Yes. On one corner, the spectacular giant puppet who led our little herd of spectators came quite close to me and a tiny girl standing next to me howled in fear, hiding behind my chair and clinging on to my arm. We shared her feeling of threat before she peered around the chair and we laughed together at the lovely puppet.

Was my space invaded? Hell, yes! For the migration dance, we all gathered on the hot pavement over the road from the ‘stage’ – an inclined tarred road leading up to six houses. It was sweltering, so we squashed as much as we could under the shade of the young trees. Mid-dance, a young boy standing right next to me with his hands behind his head rested his elbow on my shoulder. I looked at his young face. He was utterly enthralled.

And that is what art is all about.

Infecting The City

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Infecting the City is the epitome of public art. Accessible, edgy, varied and free, it uses the city itself – its pavements, malls and buildings – as its stages and galleries on which to bring dance, music, poetry and art to the throbbing humanity of the metropolis.

What better way to spend a late summer evening, than to amble through the city as it winds down and enjoy a vast array of performances? We saw two 6m slinky springs fall in love on Church Square before watching Madness, a multi-media work, in the Groote Kerk. Choral singing washed through Adderley Street above the hooting of taxis. Even the city pigeons stopped looking for crumbs on the pavement to listen.

In the main hall of the Golden Acre shopping centre, the commerce-crazed rush of the mall was momentarily stilled as people stopped to watch dancers leap about while Charlotte Hug’s music twisted between the columns and crept down the shop corridors.

But the Infecting the City festival is not just pretty pictures and mind-boggling movement: these performers ask valuable questions and tackle big issues. In Longmarket Street, as darkness descends,Uneducated uses transparencies and shadows on a white city wall to ask “Can our education system free us as Africans?”, while the brilliant Ellipsis questions our sense of identity and belonging.

Herded by very helpful Infecting the City ushers with boards and lights to the Castle, we find food trucks waiting to fill hungry tummies before the next set of performances. The back courtyard of the Castle is scattered with warm blankets on which to sit while watching the ever-wonderful Handspring puppets and then Brent Meistre’s ode to the drive-in, Analogue Eye.

Moving back to the front courtyard for the final performance – New Moon Collective’s Prayer To The New Moon – the evening ends on a very high note. With drums and trumpets and incredibly tall, stilted half-human half-animal creatures and a shining bright floating moon from which an acrobat hangs… It’s slickly performed and all incredibly beautiful.

Divided into five programmes from Monday to Saturday, afternoons and evenings, the festival moves through the city streets encompassing an extraordinary number of mini ‘events’. From recycled sculptures on the Concourse to dance performances, this is the stuff that stills the incessant hum of the city. Some have specific performance times, others are ‘pop-up’. You want to be in the city for this!

This piece appears on What’s On In Cape Town.

…miskien

I went to the lovely Baxter Theatre to watch ‘…miskien’ last night. It was astounding. An embodiment of what theatre means to me, of what I – in my relatively philistine version of a theatre-goer – want to see in a theatre production.

It made me laugh, it made me skrik, it made my heart clench and my eyes drip and, most importantly, it made me think. Not in a complexly philosophical way, with metaphors floating over my head and intricate concepts flashing about, no. This was in a way that resonated with me. These were relatable characters, imperfectly perfect. These were people I’ve seen growing up. Hell, they’re the people I grew up with. They’re the people I want to be friends with, beautifully portrayed by Albert Pretorius and Gideon Lombard.

The play follows two mid-20’s men, good friends, one living with his girlfriend (who is particularly unavailable) and the other living the ‘bachelor’ life. They meet each day for Happy Hour, after spending their days in jobs that don’t fulfil, that post-varsity, where-the-hell-is-this-leading apathy pervades. Sizzling beneath the surface, though, is the (denied) homoerotic thrill that we see all the time between South African men – on and off the rugby field. Brave, fantastically fabulous, South African script-writing.

Fascinating in its simplicity, excruciating in one’s realisation, heartbreaking in the attempted fulfilment and funny in its day-to-day plodding, the play left me speechless at its end.*

And as anybody who knows me, knows, that’s saying something.

*I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who’s still going. If you’re in Cape Town, do yourself a favour and go.

Dancing Tears

The round orange lights from outside trail into the theatre after us. I have to force myself not to spend the whole evening looking up, at those lights. Circle after circle, they’re at once alien and familiar. They’re part of the reason I love the Baxter.

Like all theatres, the air in the quadruple-volume foyer is filled with whispers from characters past if you listen carefully: snippets of a lonely cello practicing in a rehearsal room twenty years ago, bits-and-pieces of plays – both good and bad, well-received and not-so-much, and a good few drama students (they never change), all flitting about amongst the pre-Dance Festival buzz.

I love watching dancing and this did not disappoint. Five pieces performed by five different dance groups and choreographed by different choreographers. They all had merit, but three stood out.

The one, possibly, stood out for me purely because of where I’d been that afternoon, who I’d talked to, some deep-seated and previously unrecognised things about myself and my year that I’d discovered, just a few hours before. A deep wound, uncovered. An acknowledgement of sadness, and its profound effect.

Whatever it was, the first piece, dedicated to a very beloved Spanish dance teacher who died earlier this year, left me awash with tears. It was beautifully put together with strings and voices and all the foot-stamping and ‘Ole’ing necessary, but with a sadness that swirled between the dancers on the stage. Heartbreakingly beautiful. I cried from the first moment, feeling a little fraudulent as my tears were not for her as such (I didn’t know her) but I get the feeling from the way those dancers danced, that she would not have minded my tears, whatever they were for.

It was not planned. The going to the dancing, or the uncovering of some simple truths. They just happened to fall together and there’s possibly nothing more soothing than a good driz while you watch the human form fly as music surrounds you in a dark, big room filled with strangers who don’t really feel like strangers because they, too, are just, there.