Hedwig takes it all the way


OPEN wide: Paul du Toit is Hedwig. Photograph courtesy Pieter Toerien Theatre.

YOU KNOW THAT headache you get when you are grinding your teeth really energetically to ensure that the outer chaos doesn’t make your whole head implode? That is the kind of feeling you may emerge with when you exit Hedwig and the angry inch. It’s a mash up of 1970s David Bowie dress-up values with the fierce weirdness of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, a splash of the aesthetic of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and a generous heaped tablespoon of the kind of stuff that Pieter-Dirk Uys used to fuel Evita Bezuidenhout’s sinister Nazi sister, Bambi Kellerman. Does this make it a transgender anthem? In spite of rave reviews the world over, this is not a certainty.

Telling the story of an East European cabaret singer with a horrid past and a botched sex change operation, it’s a tale of love and disappointment, abuse and self-deprecation, filled to the brim with sexual innuendo. Its hammer comes down not only on the biases tilted at the gender-uncertain,  but on everything and everyone else as well. The Holocaust, epileptics and deaf children are part of the butts in the jokes repertoire and they reach so far down in the bin of distaste that there’s almost a turnabout in your knee-jerk reaction to be offended. Do you laugh, though? Or do you feel the smile freezing horribly on your face?

You don’t get the space to think about that, because on top of all this wretched and ragged humour, are vicious lashings of strobes, in a theatre where the sound is about seventeen times bigger than the space itself. The casualty, as always, becomes the intelligibility of the lyrics, which is a pity – those that you do hear are tight and bitter, strong and wicked.

And while Genna Galloway and Paul du Toit shine unequivocally in their complex genderised roles which dodge stereotypes and stir up discomfort, with humiliation and cruelty spread all around with abandon, there’s just so much of a sensory assault in this work that something of the wit and the wisdom, the schlock and the social critique that you know it embodies feels lost.

It’s staged in a fantastic set that brings all the mess and unglamour, the grubby clutter of a caravan and a drag artist’s sense of self to the fore, where barely an inch of space is left bare. The band performs from above the set and the work is outrageously cluttered with shocking pink spangly stuff, vinyl records and washing pegged on lines.

The songs in this work are potent with potential. They present quirky narratives that resonate with tales from Ovid; and there’s a moment of hand-drawn animation which will make you stop in your tracks to adore it.

A work which leaves you rushing home in a quest for painkillers, but also one that opens your head and eyes to war narratives which have not yet been explored on a popular platform, Hedwig and the angry inch is a strong show with a weak sense of the power of gimmicks. It leaves you pondering what it would feel like if du Toit and Galloway were allowed to wow their audience without the dazzle and flash of the technology.

  • Hedwig and the angry inch is written by John Cameron Mitchell and directed by Elizma Badenhorst. It features creative input by Stephen Trask (music and lyrics), Wessel Odendaal (musical direction) and Niall Griffin (production design), is performed by Paul du Toit and Genna Galloway until April 1 at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino complex, Fourways. Call 011 511-1818.

How to realise you are beautiful


MY sister, my best friend forever: Celie (Didintle Khunou) writes a letter to her sister Nettie (Sebe Leotlela), who lives in Africa. Photograph by enroCpics

THERE ARE SO many “wow” moments in the South African stage version of The Color Purple: The Musical, you’ve got to hold onto your seat with both hands. Supported by a set that features diagrammatic representation of space and texture, a cast that sparkles with magnificent voices and fine acting skills, and a classic narrative that just doesn’t get tired, this is the cultural imperative of the year so far, in this city.

The translation of Alice Walker’s 1982 classic black women’s liberation novel into a stage musical is simply gorgeous, offering a gloss on the horror of black women’s lives in America between 1909 and 1949, punctuated as it was by rape, battery and an implicit understanding as chattel. The songs are wrenching and potent but jazzy and full of poetry. And the choreography in this work represents an understanding of the rhythm of the spoken language, the lyrics and the context that will completely satisfy your head and heart. Ultimately, The Color Purple a tale of victory and it is a six-tissue show – you’ll shed tears of outrage and of joy, in an unmoderated way, from beginning to end.

With magnificent Didintle Khunou in the role of Celie – a role performed by Whoopi Goldberg in the original 1985 Steven Spielberg film – the brilliance is cast. And while the production is not flawless, there is a moment in the second half of the piece, where Khunou, slight of size, stands alone on the stage and embraces the whole huge space and all its audience, with her rendition of “I’m Here”. It’s a moment which will stay in your heart forever.

But Khunou is not alone in giving this production incredible vocal muscle. Stand out performances by Lerato Mvelase in the role of Shug Avery, the catalyst to Celie’s abusive marriage, who teaches her that sex can be fantastic, Neo Motaung as Sofia, Celie’s daughter-in-law, who gives as good as she gets and who has a voice that reaches across generations in its heart and soul, and Dolly Louw, as Doris – an ensemble member – who has physical presence onstage that makes you simply fall in love with her.

Mister, played by Aubrey Poo and Harpo, his son, played by Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri, collectively offer an understanding of flawed black American maleness, which is violent and crude, aggressive yet still capable of love – and indeed capable of turning around. The work is replete with sarcasm and the power of defiance in the name of unfairness and it is funny and rich and nuanced with gossip and jazz.

It is supported by a set that simply takes your breath away. Slats of wood are hammered in place to set up a sketched illusion of context. It’s free of gimmick, strong and direct, and does exactly what a set should do. There are moments when you stop noticing it, simply because it cleaves so perfectly with the work. Similarly, the costume designs are understated yet appropriate, they’re comfortable on the eye, on the cast members and on the context being represented.

And while the individual voices in harmony and alone are beautiful enough to make you weep, by themselves, there is a glitch in the work — or rather, two — which stand like two book ends for the show. The ensemble songs, at the beginning and the end of the work, which feature the whole company belting it out, fight mercilessly internally and with the orchestra and as a result, they’re very shouty. And the casualty: the lyrics and the clarity. You get a bit of a fruit salad instead. Occasionally also, in the sphere of sound design, some of the voices, including notably Funeka Peppeta’s, goes rogue and turns into a shriek.

One other glitch in the overall show’s identity is weak design on the part of the production poster which is emblazoned on the highway as a massive billboard. The work is so much more than those bleached out sad faces which take the colour purple to dreary and corpse-like lengths: it really doesn’t do justice to the colourful, rollicking monster of wisdom and intimate poetry that you see on stage.

That said, the work, a tale of unmitigated sisterly love and extreme hardship, of church values and the magic of discovering one’s own sexuality, is one that celebrates women’s pants in the most delightful of ways and continues to be a benchmark work in the name of black women’s identity, liberation and voice. But be warned: Just one viewing just might not suffice.

  • The Color Purple: The Musical is written by Marsha Norman based on the eponymous novel by Alice Walker. Featuring music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, it is directed by Janice Honeyman. Performed by Zane Gillion, Didintle Khunou, Sebe Leotlela, Dolly Louw, Andile Magxaki, Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri, Venolia Manale, Namisa Mdlalose, Phumi Mncayi, Neo Motaung, Lerato Mvelase, Tshepo Ncokoane, Thokozani Nzima, Funeka Peppeta, Aubrey Poo, Senzesihle Radebe, Lelo Ramasimong, Zolani Shangase, Ayanda Sibisi and Lebo Toko, it features design by Sarah Roberts (production), Mannie Manim (lighting), Richard Smith (sound), Rowan Bakker (musical direction) and Oscar Buthelezi (choreography). The orchestra, under the direction of Rowan Bakker, comprises Dale-Ray Scheepers (keyboards), Leagh Rankin and Brian Smith (reeds), Kuba Silkiewicz (guitar), Viwe Mkizwana (bass), Donny Bouwer (trumpet) and Mike Ramasimong (drums). It performs at the Nelson Mandela Theatre, Joburg theatre complex in Braamfontein, until March 4. Call 011-877-6800 or visit joburgtheatre.com

Never say quit


YOU and me between the sheets: Thina (Neo Sibiya) and Arnold (Joe Young). Photograph courtesy Binnie Christie.

IT’S A GENUINE joy to see players and writers, young and frisky, engaging with the challenges that confront their lives in a manner which is loose and fast, hilarious and tight, creative and intelligent all at once. Binnie Christie, Neo Sibiya and Joe Young sparkle in this delightful little two-hander that takes a peek into the vagaries of love, life and smoking.

You Take My Breath Away is a tight little work, clocking in at just under an hour. It plays on all the double entendres the team could milk from idioms relating to smoking and loving and it’s done with a crisp air of unprecious competence that makes the performers imminently easy to watch on stage. Sibiya and Young manifest an energy individually and collaboratively that fizzes and the give and take between them as a couple is strong and sophisticated, yet not self-indulgent. It’s light enough to hold the laughs and still dig into issues of bias and hypocrisy, complexities of being in a relationship.

The characters are well written and beautifully developed: Arnold (Young) meets Thina (Sibiya) in a smoke-filled pod for smokers, adjoined to a franchised restaurant. They breathe in one another’s secondary smoke and imbibe a sense of possibility in being together. Involving everything from Nina Simone to caravans, ducks on the Zoo Lake and happy and angry coffee in bed to being polite to the neighbours, to say nothing of skirting the biases and faux pas of their respective parents – he is white, she is black – the plot unfolds with ease, but ends a little flatly.

The work itself is, however, animated into a state of frenetic and deliciously dizzy life by the physical theatre skills of both performers. They’re quick and witty on their feet and under the sheet that forms the central aspect of the set and this adds to the jazz and the fire of the piece. There are some small anomalies in this aspect of the work – where a mimed cigarette gets puffed on before it is lit, or a cigarette seems to change hands for the smoker invisibly – but these can be forgiven because there’s  a rhythm and a fire to this work which is infectious and delightful and will leave you reluctant to wait to see these young thespians on stage again. This season is short: don’t let it slip through your fingers.

  • You Take My Breath Away is written by Binnie Christie, Neo Sibiya and Joe Young and directed by Binnie Christie. Performed by Neo Sibiya and Joe Young, it features design by the cast and director, and performs at Space.com at the Joburg Theatre complex in Braamfontein until February 18. Call 011-877-6800.

Diabetic habits and histrionics for dead strangers

Anotheronesbread Suzy.docx.jpg

THE power of prayer in the face of reality: Brenda (Awethu Hleli), Karabo (Chuma Sopotela) and Andiswa (Motlatji Ditodi) mourn; Pumla (Faniswa Yisa) jives. Photograph by Suzy Bernstein.

FOUR FIERCE BLACK women toss caution and values to the wind in this carefully crafted take on hypocrisy, the culture of mourning and too much sugar in the African diet. Laced with political barbs and advocacy ciphers, the work is funny and crass, moving and evolved and little escapes the pen of the inimitable Mike van Graan in presenting a township world where three women get together to form The Substitutes, a professional mourning syndicate.

Darting along similar social fringes presented by films such as Radu Mihăileanu’s 2009 Le Concert which reflects on crowd sourcing as a political hook and a financial saviour, and Hal Ashby’s 1971 Harold and Maude, that presents a cemetery-centred romance, Another One’s Bread takes apart the  idiom about one man’s meat being another man’s poison. Tumbling through the cultural preciousness of loss and sadness, it focuses on the business of death with a capitalistic eye and presents a platform for farce at its most shouty.

Pumla (Faniswa Yisa), Karabo (Chuma Sopotela) and Andiswa (Motlatji Ditodi) live in a household where they need a little more money for jam, proverbially speaking. With a mix of vegetarianism, a spot of poetry, a story of Karabo’s niece Brenda (Awethu Hleli) needing a change of climate after a stint in jail, for crimes of passion involving sweets which were not hers, and a vegetable garden, they develop a repertoire and a funeral resource. Bringing in several references to Brenda Fassie, the work blends feel good social values with a shrieking intensity that forces you to go with the flow.

There are some hilarious choreographic moments and a richer understanding of loss wrapped up in the over-the-top characters and how they interface, which enables this work to soar, but Brenda’s very shrill antics and her lumpy costume sometimes hurts the work’s integrity.

Either way, the madcap subtleties of Karabo and the vulnerability of Pumla, who is the oldest of the four, lend the piece the kind of balance and charm that gives the notion of a fresh food stokvel, a plan to feed children in the environment, and the harsh and scary predominance of death in society to be presented without coyness, crude advocacy or blandness. And the political barbs fly with abandon, touching everything from Jacob Zuma’s school education to the #MenAreTrash tweet that went viral to Oscar Pistorius and his declarations of innocence.

It’s a lovely work, but the turning of the vocal volume all the way up, throughout does tend to bruise some of its more developed assertions, contexts and story lines.

  • Another one’s bread is written by Mike van Graan and directed by Pamela Nomvete. It features design by Jacqueline Kehilwe Manyaapelo (choreography), Nomvula Molepo (lighting) and Karabo Legoabe-Mtshali and Nthabiseng Makone (set and costumes) and is performed by Motlatji Ditodi, Awethu Hleli, Chuma Sopotela and Faniswa Yisa until February 4 at the Mannie Manim Theatre, Market Theatre Complex in Newtown, Johannesburg. Call 011 832 1641 or visit http://www.markettheatre.co.za

And would you some jam on that, sir?


WAITRESS and tea things, complete with black eye rings of exasperation. Photograph courtesy http://www.rsgplus.org

ANYONE WHO HAS suffered the busy indignity of having to be a waiter in a coffee shop will relate to this punchy, spicy little foray into the horror and sarcasm, the do’s and don’ts of this, one of the oldest professions in the book. More a monologue with vignettes, Sjarrap en eet jou kos! (Shut up and eat your food!) is a delightful Afrikaans-language radio theatre gem, which will have you laughing with gusto and weeping just a tad in the frisky nuanced approach taken by Ilné Fourie in its construction.

It’s an hilarious lament about poorly-behaved, indecisive, rude and ill-tipping customers and their children and or lovers – or their gossip pals, and as such, the work presents a portrait of Afrikaans culture, not withholding punches with its description and engagement with the different types of people. The vantage point of the ubiquitous waiter (played by Martelize Kolver) who is there to serve, but also often morphs into a proverbial fly on the wall, is a fascinating one, something which you may have tasted a suggestion of in works as diverse as Lionel Newton’s 2014 play Jasmine’s Jewel and Lauri Wylie’s (1963) film Dinner for One. It’s about taking the mundane, and lifting it, with incisive and witty observations, into art.

Under the gentle scathing of Fourie’s sharp pen, you get introduced to the ‘M & M’s (moedige – courageous – moms) who are relentless in peppering their language with diminutives, particularly in dealing with stroppy littlies. The ‘turtledoves’ are the newly infatuated who will share a cup of coffee while they toss embarrassingly syrupy sweetnesses to each other. And then there are the ‘vluister vroutjies’ (whispering little wives) who gather around their tea treats to indulge in exploring the doings and the screwings of their nearest and dearest. To say nothing of the coffee snobs; the guy who wants different parts of his egg cooked at different frequencies; and the picky madams who vie between the restrictions of banting and their own basic ignorance of what goes into food.

But that’s not all. There are also the people for whom you become an uninvited guest in their delicate private moments, moments which make you remember why life is indeed beautiful.

Sjarrap is a lovely holiday play which celebrates the heart and cuisine of what it takes to exist in this country, in certain pockets, where the harshness of dinner table discipline bears fruit.

And it’s as good a reason to stay at home by the wireless this evening, as anything.

  • Sjarrap en eet jou kos! (Shut up and eat your food) is written by Ilné Fourie. Directed by Eben Cruywagen, and featuring technical input by Cassi Lowers, it is performed by Gina Assanté, Susanne Beyers, Ludwig Binge, Roeline Daneel, Martelize Kolver, Leon Kruger and Chris Majiedt. It debuted on RSG in November 2016 and is presented this evening, December 28 at 8pm. It will be rebroadcast on January 1 at 1am in RSG’s Deurnag programme. It is also available on podcast: www.rsg.co.za.
  • RSG can be found on 100-104FM, on DStv channel 913 or live on http://web.sabc.co.za/digital/player/1.0/rsg/index.html#listenLiveTab


My mother’s dignity, my society’s shame


BETRAYED as a repository for sins: the Scapegoat.

A BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED tale of loyalty and values learned and imbibed, Dalene Matthee’s novel Die Judasbok (The Scapegoat) translates with a true sense of Klein Karoo grit into an Afrikaans-language radio drama you won’t forget in a hurry. It’s an extremely sensitive and intelligent radio-adaptation that will haunt you with all the moral decisions you’ve made that you would change if you could. And while its live broadcast was hosted a few weeks ago, this is the kind of work you will want to listen to again and again.

Karel (Dean Balie) and Lillian (Danielle van der Walt) are engaged to be married. They’re on a 1 300km road trip, to visit Karel’s mother, Ou Bet (June van Merch) in Wolwedans, the farm on which Karel grew up. They’re planning to leave the country; it’s a farewell visit. Sounds idyllic? It is, until you take a step back in terms of context. It’s 1982. It’s South Africa. Apartheid is rumbling like a destructive force through society, breaking hearts, confusing beliefs and smashing values in its wake. Andries Treurnicht, a government minister, is in the process of carving out a place in South African politics for the Conservative party. Bad things are happening everywhere.

And, yes, Karel is not white. Lillian is. Technically, their relationship, under the apartheid jurisdiction, is illegal. Ou Bet, whose the general factotum in the house and has raised the farm’s family as best she can, believing herself to be a part of it. She knows that Karel has a “Lillian” in his life, but the two women have not yet met. This roadtrip is infused with the ghosts and memories of Karel’s past, the beauty of the farm in Lillian’s unsullied eyes, and deep, difficult crossroads to encounter and confront for the mom. And there’s the memory of the farm’s dam which too contains mixed understandings of what skin colour means.

Along similar lines to Mark Behr’s Die Reuk van Appels, it’s a play which contemplates the horrors of being ‘different’ in a society that promulgates very specific race and class and gender values. Containing revelations about the past that will make you tremble, it’s a story that wrenches an old woman from her sense of where she fits in, in her everyday world, and one of bravery and beliefs in the face of disbelief.

The first adult novel penned by Matthee in the 1980s, it’s a book which contains all the energy and verve, the rich and complex understanding of an Afrikaans-speaking community who are not white-skinned and where they fit into the society in which they exist. As you listen to the crisp and solid tones and scene changes in this work, so do you melt, under the tough sway of the story’s impact, but also the way in which the environment is conjured by words and references, music and the twittering of birds. It’s a must-hear and a must-have.

  • Die Judasbok (The Scapegoat) is written by Dalene Matthee and adapted for radio by Anton Treurnich. Directed by Eben Cruywagen, it features technical assistance by Ricardo McCarthy is performed by Dean Balie, Susan Beyers, Danielle van der Walt and June van Merch, and debuted on RSG on November 17. It is available through the rsg website as a podcast.
  • RSG can be found on 100-104FM, on DStv channel 913 or live on http://web.sabc.co.za/digital/player/1.0/rsg/index.html#listenLiveTab

Sectional title woes at the seaside

Sea Point

MY suburb my home: Sea Point Mansions is an Afrikaans play which glances at the changing face of the eponymous Cape Town suburb. Photograph courtesy http://www.capetownguy.co.za

SEA POINT. ARGUABLY, still one of Cape Town’s most densely populated suburbs, on the one hand, is a place of paradise with its Atlantic Ocean view. Tucked between the sea and Lion’s Head, a landmark in the mountain range leading to Table Mountain, it’s idyllic to live in. Or is it? It has also, in the last several decades, become the province’s landmark suburb for high rise development, which opens myriads of social doors to property dispute and the kind of grubby values that constitute the complexity of sectional title woes. It is this that comes under the loupe of playwright Annemarie Roodbol in the Afrikaans-language play that debuts on Radio Sonder Grense this Thursday evening: Sea Point Mansions.

It is here that we meet Francois Fick (Johann Nel). He’s an owner in the building, which contains 13 residential flats and six shops. By all accounts, and with passing detail you glean as the work unfolds, the building is one of those magnificent Art Deco examples of architecture, which sits like a succinct poem in the built up landscape of the suburb. It has parquet flooring and a foyer small enough to be repapered with the detritus of wallpaper from someone’s bathroom. The texture of the scenario is captured beautifully.

The characters in the work are constructed so as to reflect on territorial issues as much as they grapple with the melting pot of culture in Sea Point’s flat lands – they’re clichés, but necessary ones. We meet the old Jewish residents – including a pharmacist in one of the shops downstairs – a hip and cool Capetonian, with his characteristic drawl, a gungh-ho and coloured shop-owner, not to forget the Dlaminis in one of the flats, and the Swedish couple, in another.

And then, there’s Dean Roger-Smith (Waldi Schultz), the owner of the building. Given the way in which his shenanigans are described, and the clipped tone of his presence, this chap is one of what may well be considered a Randlord of sorts – a big property owner who has made his wealth on buildings such as Sea Point Mansions, but the gossipy fighting and the sticklers for rules is not quite his cup of tea.

The plot lies around the ways in which rules can be bent – or can they? – in the hurly-burl of social redefinition. It’s 2016 and an ombudsman to deal with sectional title disputes has just been put into legal place. As a play, it unfolds rapidly and with frequent scene changes. There’s a curious use of RSG punts to give you an understanding of the passage of time in the work, but as it ends, you might feel a sense of ho-hum: these kinds of disputes happen all the time: do they really warrant the vehicle of a play?

  • Sea Point Mansions is written by Annemarie Roodbol. Directed by Joanie Combrink and featuring technical production by Cassi Lowers, it is performed by Dean Balie, Vicky Davis, Johann Nel, De Klerk Oelofse, Waldi Schultz, Frieda van Heever, June van Merch and Nigel Vermaas, and it debuts on RSG on Thursday December 21 at 8pm. November 30 and is available on podcast: rsg.co.za.
  • It will be rebroadcast on December 23 at 1am in RSG’s Deurnag It is also available on podcast: www.rsg.co.za.
  • RSG can be found on 100-104FM, on DStv channel 913 or live on http://web.sabc.co.za/digital/player/1.0/rsg/index.html#listenLiveTab