Watch a ‘wicked’ play

2013-09-03 00:00

TWO critically acclaimed comedies are heading to this year’s The Witness Hilton Arts Festival at Hilton College from September 12 to September 15.

First up is Morris Panych’s award-winning black comedy, Vigil, which is one of those wicked little plays that comes along all too rarely and leaves the audience wondering whether they should have laughed or been shocked at the protagonist’s deathbed conversations with his sickly aunt.

At its heart, Vigil is a two-hander about mistaken identity and even tenderness, but it is also about loneliness and mortality, and the reality of so many people around us whose lives remain lonely because we do not wish to become involved.

The story, which serves as a reminder of the perils of isolation for all of us, whatever the age, is also a play of humour, as we join Kemp in his vigil and smile with Grace as she cautiously accepts his clumsy efforts to make her final days a little more comfortable.

We shake our heads at his deathbed conversations with her, at his total absence of empathy and secretly hope for his awakening. But will it come?

Sue Clarence, director of The Witness Hilton Arts Festival said: “For me this was my pick of this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown … It is quite simply funny, funny, funny. Ninety minutes sitting on cold scaffolding just flew by.

“Watching Graham Hopkins trying his best to ingratiate himself with his dying aunt — his purpose totally obvious — is a delight. The aunt, played by Vanessa Cooke, remains unimpressed. The reason only becomes clear in the dying moments … of the play.”

Vigil premièred in Canada in 1995 and that year won three Jessie Richardson Awards, including outstanding original play.

It has since been performed in more than 30 theatres in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, including major theatres in Toronto, San Diego and Washington to sold-out houses.

The 2009 Broadway production of Vigil opened to rave reviews and, in 2011, the play opened in Los Angeles with award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis.

The South African production, which is directed by Christopher Weare and stars Hopkins as Kemp and Cooke as Grace, is presented at the festival by Susan Danford and Stephen Jennings.

Vigil can be seen in the Grindrod Bank Theatre at 8.30 pm on September 13 and 6 pm on September 14. Tickets cost R170. Please note: no under 12s allowed.

Also coming to Hilton is the equally funny, but very different, The Pirates of Penzance, directed by Greg Homann.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic masterpiece gets a serious down size in this production. Using just five men, one pianist and a whole lot of dresses, eye patches and swashbuckling, Homann brings this witty theatrical masterpiece to life.

Originally written for a full orchestra and a cast of 30 plus, this reduced version takes the satire and the comedy to its extreme.

Don’t miss Poor Wondering One, I am the very model of a modern Major-General, Hail, Poetry, When the foeman bares his steel (Tarantara! Tarantara!) and the other favourites, sung with all the gusto (and falsetto) that this cast of men can muster.

The Pirates of Penzance was nominated for nine Naledi Awards, winning for best ensemble production, best actor (David Dennis) and best choreography (Shelley Adriaanse). It is produced by The Theatre on the Square in Johannesburg.

Speaking about the show, Clarence said: “It is incomprehensible that a dated and stylised — and essentially very English — operetta can be given such a dynamic, vibrant and amusing new life. But it has.

“Greg Homann is an artistic force in South Africa to be reckoned with, not to mention his cast of superbly talented actors.

“You will laugh, be amazed at the dexterity of costume changes and still revel in the original wonderful music. Purists will even be thrilled.”

•  The Pirates of Penzance is in the Grindrod Bank Theatre at 11.30 am on September 13, 8.30 pm on September 14 and 6.30 pm on September 15. Tickets cost R170.

• The full festival programme can be viewed online at www.hiltonfestival. or collected at selected Spar and SuperSpar stores in KwaZulu-Natal, as well as selected theatres, art galleries, coffee shops and book stores.

• Keep in touch with the festival through the Facebook page: Witness Hilton Arts Festival or follow the festival on Twitter @HiltonFest.

Inquiries: 033 383 0126/7 or

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