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What Not To Miss At This Year’s Grahamstown National Arts Festival

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If you’re heading down to the National Arts Festival which kicks off this week in Grahamstown, these are the shows that are not to be missed! Rhodes University drama graduate and actress, Amy Louise Wilson, very kindly put together this insiders’ guide to the best of Fest, which features a selection of industry insiders’ picks of must-see performances on this year’s programme. As anyone who has ever been to Fest well knows, picking the gems out of a 300-page programme of shows is an art all on its own.



POPart is an independent theatre, production company and performing arts centre in Johannesburg, which is quickly emerging as one of the most exciting and edgy venues in the city.


This year, POPart is producing three pieces at the National Arts Festival. The Box Comedy, a variety of comedy shows performed by the hottest names in SA comedy is showing daily at the Bowling Club. We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants: 7 Deadly New Stories for Consenting Adults, the sequel to the cult hit The Epicene Butcher, features Jemma Kahn and Roberto Pombo and is directed by Lindiwe Matshikiza. It shows daily at St Andrews Studio 2. On the ThinkFest programme, they are also presenting Florence: A conversation on text, in which actors Jennifer Steyn and Patricia Boyer discuss their upcoming project Florence, directed by Myer Taub with POPArt Productions.


Their Picks:


Tobacco, and the Harmful Effects Thereof, directed by one of South Africa’s foremost director’s Sylvaine Strike and performed by theatre giants Andrew Buckland and Toni Morkel, is the latest offering from writer William Harding.


From the creative team that produced the runaway worldwide success The Three Little Pigs comes a new sinister tale, Three Blind Mice: a gritty, sinister reflection of our times. Directed by Tara Notcutt, featuring Rob van Vuuren, James Cairns and Albert Pretorius.



Albert Pretorius is one of South Africa’s finest actors and is the winner, most recently, of a Fleur du Cap and a Fiesta award for Best Actor for his work in Athol Fugard’s Playland and Chekhov’s Die Seemeeu.


This year he will perform in Three Blind Mice, as well as Fatal, which will mark his sixth collaboration with director Tara Notcutt. Fatal is a one-man tragicomedy written by Pretorius. Catch it at the Princess Alice Hall as part of the Cape Town Edge.


His Picks:


A Doll’s House, directed by this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for theatre Christiaan Olwagen, is a contemporary reimagining of Ibsen’s timeless classic. It boasts a star-studded cast of Jennifer Steyn, Martin le Maitre, Dawid Minnaar, Anthea Thompson and Rob van Vuuren.


In Waansin, Jaco Bouwer presents a selection of mad scenes from famous operas as well as a new South African opera, accompanied by a formidable ensemble of South Africa’s finest musicians Magdalene Minnaar, Jose Dias, Louisa Theart and Dane Coetzee.



Joanna Evans is an award-winning theatre-maker and performer. This year she performs in the South African classic Born in the RSA by Barney Simon, alongside an accomplished cast which includes Faniswa Yisa, Emily Child, Roeline Daneel, Francis Chouler, Mvakalisi ‘Dobs’ Madotyeni and Zanele Radu. The show is produced by the Baxter Theatre and led by director Thoko Ntshinga, who performed in the original 1985 production.


Evans also directs the fringe gem The Year of the Bicycle, the 2013 Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award winner which features Amy Louise Wilson and Aphiwe Livi and has played to sold out houses in Durban, Cape Town and Germany.


Her Picks:


The latest instalment of this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Performance Art Athi-Pathra Ruga’s ongoing performance series The Future White Women of Azania series is The Elder of Azania, a performative exploration of ancient myths and post-apartheid realities.


LoveZero is Underground Dance Theatre’s latest contemporary dance production which builds on the collective’s reputation for producing work that is thought-provoking and entertaining. The piece is divided into two parts: Mode, choreographed by Thalia Laric and Steven van Wyk and Cipher, choreographed by Kristina Johnstone and Cilna Katzke.



Asher Gamedze is a Cape Town-based musician who plays drums/percussion in the band Manny Walters as well as in Moments.


His Picks:


Rising young bassist and composer Benjamin Jephta presents material from his critically acclaimed debut album Homecoming. Jephta, on bass, will be accompanied by Sisonke Xonti (sax), Marcus Wyatt (trumpet), Kyle Shepherd (piano) and Sphelelo Mazibuko (drums). In a separate performance, Jephta will also accompany rising piano star Thandi Ntuli.


Nduduzo Makhathini is this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz. In a once-off performance of Listening to the Ground, this outstanding pianist and composer will pay homage to the musical legends who have contributed to the great legacy of South African jazz. On 3 July at 17.00, he will be accompanied by Nomagugu Makhathini (vocals), Karl-Martin Almqvist (sax – SE), Feya Faku (trumpet), Martin Sjöstedt (bass – SE) and Ayanda Sikade (drums).


Makhatini will also perform on the 7th July at 19.30 in a tribute show which explores his musical roots in the company of some of the leading young proponents of Jazz in South Africa: Mark Fransman (sax), Justin Bellairs (sax), Sakhile Simani (trumpet), Romy Brauteseth (bass) and Kesivan Naidoo (drums). Finally, catch him on piano in The Bjaerv Encounters.



Sne Dladla is a versatile and extremely funny performer and comedian. Catch this Standard Bank Silver Ovation award-winner and Fleur du Cap nominee’s one-man show Jokes on You, directed by Rob van Vuuren.


Dladla also features in The Very Big Comedy Show III alongside comedy greats Loyiso Madinga, Conrad Koch, Stuart Taylor, Donovan Goliath, Aaron Mcillroy, Angel Campey and Rob van Vuuren on 9 July at 19.00,  as well as in the family show Florence and Watson and the Sugarbush Mouse, also directed by Rob van Vuuren.


His Picks:


Worldwide stand-up comedy sensation Dylan Moran appears in Grahamstown for three (already sold-out) performances. His new show Off the Hook promises Moran’s typically dry take on politics, misery and the absurdities of the everyday.


Hatchetman is a three-man folk, blues and rock collective. This Cape-Town based act specialises in otherworldly three-part harmonies. Catch one of their five performances at the Graham Hotel.



Gary Hartley is a theatre-maker and co-artistic director of Horses’ Heads Theatre Company, an award-winning independent theatre company owned and run by Genna Gardini and Hartley. The company is dedicated to producing new and original South African works that focus on issues surrounding the LGBTI community.  Similar To is the companion piece to 2013’s SIMilar, a dance piece that was commissioned by GIPCA and performed at the 2014 Baxter Dance Festival.


His Picks:


On Seeing Red and Other Fantasies is the latest offering from provocative performance artist Gavin Krastin. He collaborates with long-time collaborator and partner, Alan Parker, in a work which straddles the worlds of theatre, performance, installation and choreography. Meet at the Drostdy Arch at 18.00 from 7-11 July to be transported to the venue.


Liezl de Kock’s (who wrote Crazy in Love) extraordinary physical theatre talents are showcased in the nightmarish tale Piet se Optelgoed, directed by Rob Murray. Written by de Kok, this Standard Bank Silver Ovation award-winning play is as funny as it is macabre.



Gavin Krastin is an award-winning performance artist, theatre-maker, choreographer and designer-scenographer with an interest in the body’s representation, limitation and operation.


This year he presents his new work On Seeing Red and Other Fantasies, and assisted with the choreography in Alan Parker’s solo physical theatre piece Detritus for One, a new work from one of the key figures in South Africa’s dance and physical theatre landscape.


His Picks:


Having screened his film series Cape Mongo in Germany, U.K, U.S.A, Indonesia and Columbia, emerging visual artist Francois Knoetze presents his debut solo exhibition in his hometown of Grahamstown. Combining sculpture, performance and video art, the artist presents an extraordinary glimpse into the life of trash in Cape Town. Open daily from 10 – 5pm at the Commemoration Church Hall.


The Last Attitude sees two dancer/choreographer powerhouses collaborate in a Corps de Ballet. Mamela Nyamza and Nelisiwe Xaba will interrogate the politics of the ancient art form of ballet, setting out to demystify the white, female and elitist traditions that are so closely linked with the dance form. See it at the Rhodes Box Theatre between 2 – 4 July.




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