A successful 21st-birthday run for arts festival

2013-09-16 00:00

THE Witness Hilton Arts Festival celebrated its 21st birthday in style at the weekend.

Thousands of festivalgoers turned out to enjoy the hot weather and some of the best theatre and music currently on offer in South Africa.

Dame Janet Suzman and her co-star, Khayalethu Anthony, received standing ovations for every performance of The Witness flagship production, Solomon and Marion.

Speaking at a cocktail party at headmaster Peter Ducasse’s house on Saturday night, Suzman said she had loved her first visit to the festival and thought the Midlands audiences knocked those at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland — where the play recently enjoyed a triumphant run — for a six.

Sue Clarence, the festival director, said that despite having a few wobbles with this year’s pre-bookings, ticket sales had been excellent and while figures weren’t final, she believed they had achieved at least an 80% capacity.

This year’s sales were partly affected by higher ticket prices, and Clarence said she hoped that more companies, and government agencies, would consider investing in the festival.

“If we could get more sponsorship, we could undercut the ticket prices and make the festival more affordable for even more people. It really would make a massive difference if we could get that kind of funding,” she added.

The quality of the shows on offer was exceptional and Clarence said she was not aware of anyone who had walked out of a show disappointed. “I feel very happy that KwaZulu-Natal gets to see the pick of South African theatre at Hilton … no one would see these shows if we didn’t bring them to the province.”

Away from the various performance venues, visitors to Hilton College were able to enjoy free music at the Marriott Stage and the Tops Long Table and view a range of stunning visual art exhibitions around the campus.

Favourites included Val Adamson’s Love Dance exhibition in the Buzz Rooms at the Centre for Innovation, which showcased this exceptional photographer’s dedicated coverage of dance in KwaZulu-Natal; and the Legacy Exhibition at the Centenary Centre, which paid tribute to the ceramics created by the late Professor Juliet Armstrong and her colleagues, and students at the Centre for Visual Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Pietermaritzburg).

Festivalgoers were also tempted to part with their cash at the art and craft stalls selling every­thing from giant metal elephants to intricate jewellery, clothing in every hue, furniture and lovely quilts made by the Mzansi Zulu Quilt Centre.

A variety of good causes also benefited from the event. Burg 167 Round Table dressed up to sell bandanas for the Sunflower Fund and visitors were able to support organisations like Wessa, based at the Umgeni Nature Reserve in Howick, FreeMe KwaZulu-Natal, the Msunduzi Hospice in Pietermaritzburg, the Centre for Rehabilitation of Wildlife (Crow) and Grow A Tree.

And, thanks to Saturday and yesterday’s soaring temperatures, vendors selling food and drinks did a brisk trade.

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