What is it that can take a language coloured by historical violence, a conservative community with historical bias on its hands, and turn them completely around, enabling the community in question to view itself in an hilarious and truthful mirror? The unequivocally miraculous phenomenon of Afrikaans culture that singer-storyteller-performer of many additional talents Nataniël has been bringing to South African stages since 1983 is arguably amongst the best success stories in the arts of this country. And he continues, relentlessly: Banket met Nataniël (Banquet with Nataniël), a radio show that will be flighted on November 20, on RSG, as the finale of this year’s RSG Arts Festival, is one of those impeccably delicious bits of theatre that will leave you completely the richer.
This afternoon saw a live studio recording of the work, in the SABC’s magnificent if desperately underused recording studio, and within a set comprising large candles, an orchid and black drapes, the inimitable performer gave the spellbound and oft almost hysterical audience another beautiful gem.
A concatenation of his stories told in Afrikaans, and his songs, mostly performed in English, features in this show, which is about the back story of food and etiquette and what makes human society, tick. Above all, it’s a one-man revue which will make you remember why the arts are important to society and why you need to cherish each day, and make the simple gesture of eating a piece of toast with a lump of butter melting into it, as memorable and beautiful as a banquet.
Delivering a heady mix of home truths, hilarious nonsensical juxtapositions, and asides in his characteristic deadpan approach, Nataniel cocks a fond and gentle, but nevertheless blatantly honest snook at the society from which he originates; a master of succinct storytelling, he conjures up such delights as the young opera singer with a lazy eye that made everyone too frightened to look at her when she sang; the woman with a body resembling in Volkswagen beetle, in light blue crimplene; the security guard with beautiful muscles but a cake-less history and a detailed and thoughtful glance at the underbelly of manners in our society.
He tosses in a bunch of clichés about life being unpredictable and precious, but never allows himself to digress into the maudlin or even the anticipated. Rather his material, like his reflection on a dark chocolate-covered koeksister, remains hard and crispy to the first bite, but blending sweet and sour tastes. Indeed, his material, like his fondness for aligning seemingly contradictory flavours, throws salty in juxtaposition with sweet, hot with cold. But above all, it’s about a celebration of the nuances and texture, the spiciness and caveats in the language of Afrikaans itself.
The experience is astonishing. The show will not be repeated but should not be missed.
- The RSG Kunstefees, comprising a rich array of culture that you can imbibe with your ears runs from Sunday November 15 at 3pm until Friday November 20 at 10pm. This, the third radio-based arts festival in South Africa may be accessed on 100 to 104FM or on DStv channel 913. The festival is also available online on rsg.co.za – where the full programme is available.
- Banket met Nataniël will be broadcast on November 20 at 8.40pm.