The lowdown on Grahamstown

2010-06-12 00:00

PLAYWRIGHT and actor Neil Coppen describes preparing the new version of his play, Tree Boy, for this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown as a “mammoth and all-consuming task”.

“It has taught me invaluable lessons about keeping a hold on one’s vision when faced with avalanches of admin and escalating budgets,” he added.

Coppen, who is based in Durban, has spent the past four years writing, conceiving and designing Tree Boy, with the help of director, Libby Allen. To do so, he has drawn heavily on personal family narratives and themes that have intrigued him for some time.

The play, which will premiere on the main programme at Grahamstown, tells a story of the relationships between three generations of men in sixties South Africa. After the death of his mother, 12-year-old Benjamin Sprout (played by Luc Haasbroek (14), from Eden College in Durban) and his father, Arthur (Michael Gritten), a postman, are forced to relocate from their rustic property in the mountains to a burgeoning mining town in the Transvaal.

Arthur takes up a position as postman in Rykdom — a town located between fact and fantasy, an industrial hub, where people and nature are at odds. As Arthur retreats further into the paralysis of liquor and memory, young Benjamin seeks solace in an overgrown forest on the town’s fringes where he encounters a war veteran and gardener Archibald Drupe (Ron Smerczak).

Coppen said he and Allen consider themselves extremely fortunate to have received the support of the National Arts Festival and the National Arts Council. “They have made sure that our overly ambitious ideas are now able to leap to vivid life on a national platform such as this one.” He added. “We can only hope that our audiences will find the experience as magical, visceral and stimulating as we have; that our love and commitment to this project will ultimately prove infectious; and that Tree Boy will grow and live on in people’s minds for a very long time to come.”

I caught Coppen’s first staging of Tree Boy at the Playhouse Loft Theatre in Durban last year and was deeply moved by its story of relationships, identity, age, growth, loss and healing. Don’t miss seeing it at the Rhodes Box at 6.30 pm on June 25, at noon and 6.30 pm on June 26, and 10 am and 2 pm on June 27.

NEIL Coppen is also taking his play, Tin Bucket Drum — which tells the story of a little drummer girl with a revolutionary heartbeat, who is born into a silent dictatorship — to this year’s National Arts Festival.

With its mixture of magical realism, shadow puppetry, Afro-Kubuki theatre and live percussion, the play is a must-see and recently enjoyed a successful run at Durban’s Catalina Theatre.

Tin Bucket Drum will be staged at the Gymnasium on June 29 at 10 am and 5 pm, June 30 at 11 am and 5.30 pm, July 1 at 10 am and 2 pm, July 2 at 12 pm and 9 pm, and July 3 at 12.30 pm and 7.30 pm.

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