Get thee to a theatre
Home, hope and humour — Capetonians, catch it while you can
Each play is very different, splicing humor, drama, satire, mirth and murder; poking fun at politicians, celebrating whistleblowers and asking hard questions about ourselves. They deal with Covid-19, corrupt politicians, “herd impunity”, broken dreams, violence against women; they expose the sublime, the ridiculous and the pompous. They are, what Marty Kintu in The New Abnormal calls, ‘stand-up commentary’ about life Before Covid (BC) and After Donald (AD), in a South Africa after “the Gupta variant has spread to Dubai.”
Mike van Graan is one of South Africa’s most prolific and respected playwrights — 36 plays according to his website. He is known to wield a pen that can capture the quirks, contradictions, ironies and tragedies of South Africa’s post-liberation politic. That’s why, if you live in Cape Town, you should not miss his ‘mini-festival of theatre’ running at the District Six Homecoming Centre in Cape Town (formerly the Fugard Theatre) until Saturday 13 August 2022.
Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions took a terrible toll on the theatre and so the festival is made up of four of what Van Graan calls his ‘portable plays’: “plays that are more economically viable and allow actors to earn an income by playing to relatively small audiences in non-formal spaces.”
However, their portability doesn’t diminish their power.
The four on offer are Country Duty, He Had It Coming, The New Abnormal and Some Mothers’ Sons. The last is a play that has been produced as a short film, and which is now a nominee in the 2022 Safta Best Short Film Category (for very good reason I believe).
Each play is very different, splicing humour, drama, satire, mirth and murder; poking fun at politicians, celebrating whistleblowers and asking hard questions about ourselves. They deal with Covid-19, corrupt politicians, “herd impunity”, broken dreams, violence against women; they expose the sublime, the ridiculous and the pompous. They are, what Marty Kintu in The New Abnormal calls, ‘stand-up commentary’ about life Before Covid (BC) and After Donald (AD), in a South Africa after “the Gupta variant has spread to Dubai.”
The four plays also showcase some of South Africa’s best young actors (two of them women) and directors, each of whose solo performances are brave and impeccable.
Khutjo Green performs Country Duty, directed by Fiona Ramsay; Kim Blanche Adonis performs He Had It Coming, directed by Daniel Mpilo Richards and Marty Kintu performs The New Abnormal, directed by Rob Van Vuuren.
Green and Adonis are both remarkable actors, and the juxtaposition of Green’s drawn-out drama and Adonis’s rapid-fire sketches makes seeing the plays back-to-back an embodiment of all our country’s schizophrenia.
In this festival, Some Mothers’ Sons is the odd one out in that it is a play adapted for the screen after the Covid-19 pandemic made its plans for its physical performance in 2020 impossible.
However, under the directorship of Mbulelo Grootboom and cinematography of Alexandre Ortscheit, the film is a compelling adaptation, with Luntu Masiza and Francois Immelman pulling off a performance that although condensed into a tight, fast 24 minutes, presents a set of issues whose collision is the canvas on which the whole South African nation currently finds itself torn: crime and retribution, rights and reality, restoration and decline.
It’s a mini tragedy in which its tragic hero, Braam Visser (Francois Immelman), goes from human rights lawyer to accused as a result of a crime, and an activist (Luntu Masiza) goes from accused to defender. But its power and originality are that whilst our epidemic of violent crime is often weaponised as an ‘I-told-you-so’ by racists, a vindication of stereotypes and prejudice, in this play the crime becomes the catalyst for one man’s shift from non-racism to ugly thoughts and blame he would rather avoid.
“I’m becoming a racist, I see it happening to me, and it angers me because I cannot do anything about it”, Visser cries in desperation. The play becomes about a test of law and our Constitution, as much as a test of self, but does so without an ounce of didacticism or preaching. I say no more to avoid being a spoiler.
“Not a country for good people” says whistleblower Boitumelo Mgenge in Country Duty, and sometimes you wonder whether she’s right. But without good people, we would be in a much darker place.
My overriding feeling as I watched the four plays was that they ought to be being enjoyed by tens of thousands of people, through better funding and promotion of the arts, supported by a proactive public broadcaster enmeshed in the local creative production and offering a platform to boost its reach to towns, villages and informal settlements where poverty and inequality preclude access to theatre and the arts.
Why? Because they are satisfying, cathartic, even enjoyable, and would help stimulate national conversations and real social cohesion.
But I guess that’s too much to expect from a still-captured Department of Arts, Sport and Culture and a Minister of Condolences and Congratulations.
I leave you with how Van Graan himself advocates for the plays:
“Hope. The Collins English Dictionary defines ‘hope’ as ‘a feeling of desire and expectation that things will go well in the future’. Our home, South Africa, has a range of challenges that often undermine hope in our collective future. Humour is one of our coping tools.
“This mini-festival — through the four works that are being presented — interrogates our home with rigour and humour, in the search for hope that is not naive, denialist or ideological. By placing into the public domain the things that make us anxious, we may experience a degree of catharsis.” DM/MC/ ML
The Home, Hope and Humour mini-festival of theatre is on at the District Six Homecoming Centre until Saturday 13 August 2022. Tickets are available at Quicket.
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