Audiences in for a treat

2008-07-31 00:00

IT’S less than two months to go to the Witness Hilton Arts Festival, which is now 16 years old. Festival director Sue Clarence has her shows signed up, and it is all systems go for September 12 when the curtain goes up.

This year, Clarence is not going to differentiate between main and fringe productions. In the programme, shows will fall into various genres — comedy, drama, music, physical theatre, dance and so on. It is a full and varied list, with the line-up including some of the best theatre the festival has presented for many years.

Starting off with a look at the drama line-up: the flagship production this year will be the excellent Nothing But the Truth, written by and starring John Kani, and directed by Janice Honeyman. This recently had a short run at the Playhouse in Durban — its first appearance in KwaZulu-Natal — after being hailed as a great piece of South African theatre all over the country. So now local audiences can see Kani, Motshabi Tyelele and Welile Tembe in this exploration of the divide between those who went into exile and those who stayed in South Africa during the apartheid years. It is a brilliant piece — never moralistic and making its points with humour and tenderness. To see Kani at the height of his powers, and performing in his own work, is a real treat. This is one not to be missed.

Another production to relish in the drama field is I, Claudia, one of the hits of this year’s main festival programme at Grahamstown. The play is performed in masks, and tells the story of Claudia, a pre-teen misfit who hides her sorrows — and other things — in the school basement. It is a play that will make you laugh and cry. KickstArt, who almost single-handedly (or double-handedly as the company is led by Greg King and Steven Stead) keep theatre vibrant in KZN these days, are presenting two of their 2008 hits — the irrepressible Lisa Bobbert in Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine and Tim Wells and Janna Ramos Violante in David Mamet’s Oleanna. Both reach the high standard KickstArt have set themselves.

Craig Higginson’s play, Dream of the Dog, set on a remote farm in KZN and dealing with the clash between a farmer’s wife and a land developer sounds interesting, and is presented by Johannesburg’s Market Theatre; Living Here from the Ubom! Theatre Company in the Eastern Cape combines poetry, pop music, physical theatre and clowning; Clare Mortimer, along with pianist Andrew Warburton and singers from the University of KZN Opera School, will perform Terrence McNally’s Master Class about Maria Callas; and Fiona Ramsey will be back, this time with two stories from Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads — The Hand of God and Bed Among the Lentils.

Annie Robinson and Paul Spence have another dinner thriller — this time it is The Strange Case of Dinah Lane, set in the Roaring Twenties and involving a Natal sugar baron and his wife. Last year, their shows were completely sold out.

When she visited the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) festival earlier this year, Clarence signed up the award-winning director Lara Bye’s production of the American drama, Yellowman. Critics at KKNK made it their pick of the festival — it is a hard-hitting drama exploring the tensions between light and dark-skinned African Americans.

We will shortly publish a run-down of what is happening in the other genres at the festival. The full programme with times and details will appear in The Witness on Friday, August 15, and booking opens that day. From the following day, programmes and booking kits will be available at all major Spar outlets in KZN; Exclusive Books at Liberty Midlands Mall and the Pavilion; Bookworld at Cascades; Adams Books in the Musgrave Centre; the Witness office; the Hilton College theatre and on the website at

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