National Arts Festival: Top 10 shows

2014-05-18 15:00

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The National Arts Festival has released its programme. Gayle Edmunds picks the 10 productions you better book early for to avoid disappointment

It’s a big year in Grahamstown this year – 40 years of the festival, 30 years of the Standard Bank Young Artist award and 20 years of democracy. So it’s a bumper programme and, as always, there are the shows that will sell out fast. Here’s my pick of the festival.

1?A Midsummer Night’s Dream

This is a taste of what’s happening on the European dance scene. It’s a production by French choreographer Michael Kelemenis and he draws from Shakespeare’s play and Marius Petipa’s ballet to create something completely different. Performed by the Geneva Ballet Company, this one’s going to be a crowd puller.

2?Ubu and the Truth Commission

This reboot of William Kentridge’s piece boasts the talents of Janni Younge, Robyn Orlin and the puppet wizardry of the Handspring Puppet Company. You can’t say it better than The Washington Post did: “A stunningly theatrical piece that drives home the atrocity known as apartheid without ever uttering the words ‘atrocity’ or ‘apartheid’ or any like them?... a piece of political theatre that transcends politics.”

3?Black and Blue

Still on the nostalgia trail, Sylvaine Strike’s Black and Blue returns after it debuted at the festival a decade ago. It is the piece that launched her unique style. This time, she performs it with Naledi Award-winner Atandwa Kani as they explore afresh the ongoing master-servant relationships that are part of the South African experience.

4?On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco

You might think spreading the news that smoking can kill you is about as overdue as a collaboration between Sylvaine Strike and Andrew Buckland, but I expect this “lecture” has a lot of surprises in its cigarette case. It says it is inspired by people from Franz Kafka to Jane Austen, so expect the unexpected.

5?Waiting for this God Ou

Tara Notcutt, Brian Notcutt and Albert Pretorius make the leap from fringe favourites to the main festival programme with this play that reworks a little Samuel Beckett in contemporary South Africa. The Pink Couch crowd are regular Ovation Award winners. Expect great things.

6?Kafka and Son

One of the spin-offs of our festival’s ties with those across the world is that we get the highlights package from a selection of them. Kafka and Son is one that has travelled here from Prague and explores how a bureaucrat and failed artist living at home with his dad became one of the greatest writers of all time.

7?The Very Big Comedy Show

Rob van Vuuren, himself a festival favourite, gathers a funny bunch of guys to put on the laughs in a one-off show. The cast includes Deep Fried Man, Kurt Schoonraad, Siv Ngesi, Chris Forrest, Kagiso KG Mokgadi, Martin Evans, Jamie MacDowell and Tom Thum. This is like a “best of” package of all their fringe shows.

8?Gala Concert

This one’s a festival institution under the baton of Richard Cock, as always. Featuring the baritone of Njabulo Madlala and the violin of Samson Diamond, it will be an audience pleaser with pieces from The Merry Wives of Windsor, Il Postino, Les Misérables and Ladies in Lavender.


A gathering of great former Standard Bank Young Artist winning voices Gloria Bosman, Zanne Stapleberg and Melanie Scholtz. On the programme are I Dreamed a Dream, Paradise Road, Back of the Moon and Mama Tembu’s Wedding.

10?Lira in Concert

She’s a South African star who knows how to pack out a room and she’ll be doing just one concert on the festival’s music programme. She’ll perform hits from all five of her platinum-selling albums.

For more details on all these shows and the rest of the programme, visit

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