What to see and where to go at this year’s National Arts Festival: An insider’s guide

It’s almost time for the annual National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, and as you may well know, narrowing down the plethora of shows, activities, restaurants, and general to-dos into 10 short days can be a daunting task. We’ve all had those experiences (or heard from someone who has) where you’re one of three members in the audience stuck watching a three-hour post-modern solo performance of Beckett or the like. So to help you get started on planning your NAF schedule, we asked a few of this year’s actors, directors and musicians to find out which shows they’ll be watching and where they’ll be hanging out in between performances.  

Ameera Patel: Actor and writer (Rat Race, Scorched, Whistle Stop)

What to see: I’m really looking forward to the all-female Animal Farm, it has a stellar cast! I also can’t wait to see some pieces from the so solo section, in particular Jemma Kahn’s new piece In Bocca Al Lupo as well as Unveiled, which looks interesting. I saw Father, Father, Father at Pop Art in it’s early days, I loved it then and I’m excited to see how it’s grown.

Where to go: Long Table is a staple for me, however, this year I will have a baby with me so I think I’ll be doing more daytime socialising, probably at Red Cafe, Revelations and I love a bit of Hare Krishna food from the Village Green.

'Animal Farm' directed by Neil Coppen
‘Animal Farm’ directed by Neil Coppen

Tyson Ngubeni: Actor, comic and director (Blue, Lambs to the Laughter, The Dark Ages, The Very Big Comedy Show IV)

What to see: Mojak Lehoko’s How Did I Get Here? should be a masterful display of really sharp stand-up and I’m excited to see his brand of funny improvised gems when he interacts with the audience. I’ve seen him numerous times on the Jo’burg circuit and he is quite simply phenomenal. Also, The House of Truth! I was stoked when I saw that my screen and stage idol Sello Maake kaNcube is portraying my literary hero Can Themba. What is this bliss?

Where to go: I’m keen for a braai with friends at Mandisa’s in Fingo – was introduced to the place last year and am taking more folks this time around. I’m also hoping to sweet-talk my way into a meal at Saints Bistro if it’s as packed as I anticipate it to be. Lastly, I will spend so much time at the galleries again.

Mojak Lehoko, 'How Did I Get Here?'
Mojak Lehoko

Roberto Pombo: Actor (Father, Father, Father!, We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants)

What to see: I really want to watch as much live music as possible this year. Choirs and classical music especially. Festival can get really intense, so a bit of calming choral/classical is what I am really looking forward to. 

Where to go: The Spur. They’ve got beer on tap. Wifi. TV’s. And onion rings.

Rachael Neary, Roberto Pombo and Joni Barnard perform in Father, Father, Father!
Rachael Neary, Roberto Pombo and Joni Barnard perform in ‘Father, Father, Father!’

Tara Notcutt: Writer and director (Life, Stuart Lightbody’s Sleepless Dreams, The Incredible Journey, XX)

What to see: So many shows! So little time! Some of the shows on my list are: 

Dangled (with Rob van Vuuren), because I love Gogol short stories, and Rob is one of my favourite performers. Also, Ubuze Bam (at Cape Town Edge) directed by Thando Doni. It’s a project presented by Theatre Arts Admin Collective and Young in Prison, performed by four ex-offenders. I missed it in Cape Town and can’t wait to see it at NAF.

Where to go: Red Cafe is one of my favourite breakfast spots, so I’ll definitely be there one morning. Also, for the first time this year there will be a Fringe Club, which I’m very excited to see! I’ve been lucky enough to be in some really fabulous Fringe Clubs at other festivals around the world so I think the Grahamstown one will be something special to see.

Rob van Vuuren
Rob van Vuuren

Asanda ‘Msaki’ Mvana: Singer and songwriter (Msaki & Golden Circle, Msaki, Dakawa Jazz Series)

What to see: Standard Bank visual artist of the year, Mohau Modiseng. The ability to narrow imagery down to something simple, striking, powerful and spiritual is something I have always been in awe of. Mohau has this down on lock. I am a follower of his work and journey and it could be what I am most excited about at Festival this year. Also on the fine art front, found materials sculptor Francois Knoetze is strong and I am keen to see what he is making out of rubbish this year.

Umle Sounds too. They are presenting a show called  Amakhoboka Anomsindo: ‘The Angry Slaves’ on the Arena. Winning a standing ovation last year really encouraged them and I know they have been working very hard. They have a way of addressing deep social issues with a lightless and a swaggerful flair. Everyone should see them.

Where to go: Definitely Haricot’s! Also The Rat & Parrot for pizza and warmth, and the Fingo Festival for some time with the youngsters giving workshops and just checking some fresh hip hop.

Francois Knoetze's 'Semi Gloss'
‘Semi Gloss’ by Francois Knoetze, Siyabonga Bawuti, Ayanda Nondlwana, Athenkosi Nyikilana and Monwabisi Dondashe. 

Cover photograph of Rob Murray’s Waterline by Mia van der Merwe.

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