Hilton Arts Festival

2011-09-15 00:00

AFTER a short, but successful run of his new work, Abnormal Loads, at the National Arts Festival in ­Grahamstown, playwright and ­actor, Neil Coppen, is looking forward to sharing the play with KwaZulu-Natal audiences at The ­Witness Hilton Arts Festival.

“This is a story which needs to be told here, at home. I want to share it with the people that it’s about… when it comes to relevance I can’t think of a more perfect place to stage it,” he said.

Abnormal Loads is set in the ­fictional northern KwaZulu-Natal town of Bashford, and tells the story of its residents — both past and present — as it sweeps the audience through 200 years of South African history.

Central to the play is Vincent Bashford Liversage, played by Mothusi Magano (Tsotsi, Hotel Rwanda and SABC3’s The Lab), the mixed-race child of a radical mother, Linda Bashford, and a political-activist father, Sizwe Gumede, who has been raised by his grandmother, Moira Bashford Liversage ­(Alison Cassels), and finds himself caught between two worlds.

Moira, meanwhile, is determined to keep the history of her family and the town founded by her ancestor, William Bashford, alive — even if it means keeping some family secrets buried and feuding with the Joubert family, whose youngest member, Katrien, played by Jenna Dunster (Isidingo), bursts into Vincent’s world and forces him to confront his past and think about his future.

The Grahamstown run was ­Coppen’s first chance to test the play on an audience, and he’s taken all the feedback — both positive and negative — on board and made some changes. A few scenes have been trimmed to speed up the action, and others have been moved to make the story flow better.

For the Hilton run, Coppen has ­also had to make a few changes to the staging of a battlefield sequence because the theatre doesn’t have a back projection screen to allow him to do the shadow work he used to great effect in Grahamstown.

“We’ve had to do a lot of reworking to make it more streamlined ­because the actors can’t use the back projection screen to change behind, and now have to run underneath the stage to get from one side to another,” he said. “But I think it’s a good thing. It’s something which we’ll have to do at other venues, like the Market Theatre, which doesn’t have a projection screen either.”

Abnormal Loads is headed to the Market Theatre in April 2012, and will also be staged at The Playhouse next year.

Technical issues aside, Coppen’s delighted to have the chance to show the work to school pupils in Jongosi, the youth element of The Witness Hilton Arts Festival, which takes place tomorrow.

“I like to write stories with layers, and to create work that will one day be studied by drama students,” he said, adding that discussions were underway to publish the script of Abnormal Loads. “I want to create work that encourages constant ­discovery, work that people will keep going back to. And I want to create the kind of material which made me interested in the theatre when I was young.”

With its human drama and historical scope it certainly does that, and should not be missed at Hilton this weekend.


• Abnormal Loads will open the festival this evening, and can be seen in the Grindrod Bank Theatre at 5 pm tomorrow night. Tickets are R150.

• A full festival programme and booking kit is available online at www.hiltonfestival.co.za

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