Not your average productions

2008-01-15 00:00

The weekend saw the end of the third annual Musho Festival, a 10-day celebration of theatre with 15 one- and two-person plays on offer, along with workshops for actors and a closing party on Sunday evening. The festival takes over the Kwasuka and Catalina theatres in Durban, and by all reports the KwaZulu-Natal branch of the Performing Arts Network of South Africa (Pansa), which organises the festival, is generally happy with the way things went.

A lot of the work is new and experimental, particularly on the Fringe, which was based at the Kwasuka. That theatre seems to be pulling in a young crowd, which is encouraging. Musho is not offering the kind of theatre that will fill the Playhouse (in fact, those plays seem to be pretty thin on the ground at the moment) but it can offer great entertainment for those prepared to take a chance. And it is a proving ground for performers who have new work.

At the end of each play, each audience member is given a voting slip and can mark whether what they have seen was a winner, good, okay if a bit uninspiring, or a disaster. The winner (by a narrow margin of one percent) was Felix and Fred created by the Neon Anthems, performed by Jakobus van Heerden and directed by Liam Magner. Runner-up was Mary Stewart from Cape Town’s My CV: One Woman at Work, directed by Emma Durden.

The audience award for the best fringe production went to Reality Bytes, which was written by Rowin Moonsamy and performed by Moonsamy and Tessa Sessions, with directorial assistance from Tamar Meskin. A Durban family of theatre supporters — the Sullimans — decided last year to contribute an annual prize for their favourite production. This year the floating trophy award went to Felix and Fred, with two runners-up — My CV: One Woman at Work, and Ewok and Liam Magner’s Bombstyle (directed by Libby Allen).

I managed to get to three of the shows — The Life and Work of Petrovik Petar, The Tricky Part and Voetsek. Written and directed by Sanjin Muftic and performed by Jason Potgieter, Petrovik Petar had its moments and made clever use of multi-media, but ultimately seemed a bit adolescent and uncertain of what it was trying to do. As his name suggests, Petrovik Petar is of central European origin and is travelling through Africa, trying to see if he belongs. In the play, the continent is peopled by animals, dictators and sexy women, and Petrovik’s insights don’t add much.

The Tricky Part is an American piece, written by Martin Moran and based on his own experience of being abused by a Catholic camp counsellor when he was a child. It was very well received when it premiered in New York and Peter Hayes, who is the Western Cape Pansa chair, has performed it for the past two years at the Grahamstown Festival. There’s no doubt that The Tricky Part is a sincere, heartfelt work that avoids easy answers as it explores the complex relationship between abuser and abused. Coming, as it does, after well-documented scandals in the Catholic Church, it treads familiar paths, and I would have liked to see 15 or 20 minutes cut from the script to tighten things up. But Hayes gives a compelling and poignant performance.

Andrew Buckland is still South Africa’s leading exponent of physical theatre, and in Voetsek he also shows that he takes some beating when it comes to puppetry. The story concerns a refugee from a civil war that has seen death squads killing innocent people, and an evil dictator who ends up murdered. Gogo Voetsek — a wonderful half-body puppet manipulated by Buckland — is a good woman who has tried to help her community. The refugee and narrator is her grandson, struggling to flee to the border with a terrible load of baggage. As one expects from Buckland, it is a tour de force of performance — perhaps a little too much so. At times the story risks being lost in the audience’s admiration for the way it is told.

Musho is very much a good thing. Pencil in next January for trips to Durban to take in some of what is on offer and get an early look at what is happening at the smaller end of the theatre business.

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