Of magic recorders, whacked rats and homeless children

EYES left: The children, (Pascalle Durant, Gugu Dlamini and Gomolemo Tsosane) negotiate with the rich: the Mayor (Gamelihle Bovana) and his Assistant (Danny Meaker). Photograph courtesy National Children’s Theatre.

UNEQUIVOCALLY DARK IN its condemnation of the hypocrisy and divide in society, the Pied Piper of Hamelin was penned by Robert Browning in 1842. Like Charles Dickens’s work, it holds a strange kind of magic which makes it understood to be for children, but the message is grim and the issues terrifying. It takes a very special directorial hand to be able magic all 303 lines of the famous poem, in rhyming couplets into a context that is fresh and locally relevant and appropriate for young audiences. This is what you get in the National Children’s Theatre’s production of Pied Piper. Bearing the unmistakable mark of Francois Theron’s artistic magic, the story of corruption and economic divides, of rats and a magical being who knows more about children and their contexts, and music and its value than the stuffy old wealthy blokes do, simply sparkles.

Couching the tale in a South African context, where the mayor (Gamelihle Bovana) is self-contained and filled with air, twiddle twaddle and blah-blah-blah, to say nothing of a lack of empathy and too much self-love, the work centres on the street kids, who have nothing but make do. Gugu Dlamini embraces the role of the lame boy who is something of a hero, articulating the truism that each person has their own talents and tasks, which doesn’t necessarily coincide with what anyone else does or can do. Dlamini’s theatrical robustness lends her presence and credibility, enabling her to carry the work’s local back story in conjunction with Browning’s.

And with the wonderful child performer, Pascalle Durand as Sam, the work has a texture and a local sense of integrity that enables earnest and delightful asides, keeping you focused on the children but not compromising the plot. Durand is a delightful child with unabashed personality. She embraces her role completely, and of course, there’s the adorable factor too, but this young lady grabs the soul of her performance (and you in the audience) simply and directly by the heart.

It’s an adventure like no other, with nuggets of service delivery protests, comments of  local status quo and real dreams of South Africa’s homeless, tucked into its interstices without being crass or silly or hurting the flow of the work. Songs framed by chestnuts from The Sound of Music, or part songs that children still sing, have been wonderfully reworked with lyrics that fit the story, and the set is just completely astonishing – offering a magical yet real sense of space, geography and texture.

Pied Piper resonates like a National Children’s Theatre classic: it’s local, it’s informed, it’s innovative and it will leave you – and your child – with the kind of energy and optimism that a tonic brings.

  • Pied Piper is written by Robert Browning. Directed by Renos Nicos Spanoudes and Sarah Barlin, it is performed by Gamelihle Bovana, Gugu Dlamini, Danny Meaker, Sibusiso Nhlapo Ferguson and Kopano Tshabalala, and a child cast comprising Group 1: Pascalle Durand, Kesiah Irvin, Lwazi Ntombela and Gomolemo Tsosane; Group 2: Shayna Burg, Tlholego Mabitsi, Tlhopilwe Mabitsi and Matthew Ruzsnyak; and Group 3: Erin Atkins, Kefilwe Gaborone, Tebo Moahloli and Hloniphile Myaka. This review is premised on the performance of Group 1 with the cast. It features design by Dale Scheepers (musical directions), Sibusiso Nhlapo (choreography), Stan Knight (set), Jane Gosnell (lighting), Sarah Roberts (costumes) and Mike Koenig, Yo Mama and Daniel Simion (sound effects) and performs until July 15 at the National Children’s Theatre in Parktown. Call 011 484 1584.

Don’t tell anyone, but …

HAVE you heard? Gossip is under the loupe in Eleanor Combrink’s hilarious radio play Die Reine Waarheid.

A MAN EATS some preserved figs and develops a painful wind. Before you know it, the slight discomfort has turned into a severe heart attack, nay, cause for a quintuplet bypass. If there is such a thing. In the blink of an eyelid, he’s been whisked off to intensive care in Bloemfontein and is shivering on death’s door. And what’s more, his personal life is falling to bits because he’s bonking the neighbour, and takes too many little blue pills, and that’s nothing, in relation to his financial situation… This delightful Afrikaans-language radio drama offers bold and clearly defined insights into the anatomy of community gossip. It’s tragic and hilarious at the same time, and reflects an astute and really funny portrait of internal dynamics, the kind that keeps the gossip on the boil.

Beautifully structured and articulately played by a strong cast, there’s a peppering of soapie energy in this hour-long play, but it also has the kind of texture that lends itself well to the energy of community narrative. This play works in Afrikaans, but it probably would sing with just as much parochial vibrancy in Yiddish for instance.

Rich with idiomatic expressions, it’s a play about neighbourhood and about the hand-to-mouth-to-ear relating of the ‘dinkum’ truth through the proverbial grapevine. From the post office to the hardware shop, to the phone lines, between well-meaning women and their kind-natured concerned husbands, the tale under scrutiny goes through the proverbial blender and forays into the man’s bed, his bank account and his future are made with sincerely earnest speculation.

Die Reine Waarheid is a strong and clear portrait of the smallness of society, crafted with a sense of wisdom and a perfect understanding of rhythm and timing.  It’s hilarious and cynical and will keep you glued to the wireless from its honky-tonk beginning to its delightful closure.

  • Die Reine Waarheid (The dinkum truth) is written by Eleanor Lombard. Directed by Joanie Combrink, and featuring technical input by Cassi Lowers, it is performed by Susanne Beyers, Johan Botha, Lida Botha, Johann Nel, Lindie Stander, Johann Stassen, Elanza Swart and Esther von Waltsleben, and debuts on Radio Sonder Grense (RSG) – 100-104fm – on Thursday, June 21 at 8pm. It will be rebroadcast on Deurnag, RSG’s all night programme, at 1am on Monday, June 25 and is also available on podcast: www.rsg.co.za

Never curtail your dreams

A little help from my friends: Saliya Kahawatte (Kostja Ullmann) memorises brands with his magnifying glass and his intellect. Photograph courtesy www.theupcoming.co.uk

SALIYA KAHAWATTE (KOSTYA Ullmann) has everything. He’s 15 years old. He knows what he wants out of life and he’s completely focused on being the best he can be. He’s also extremely presentable and is loved by many. And then disaster strikes, in the form of a genetic illness, robbing him gradually and then rapidly of his sight. Based on fact, My Blind Date with Life is a German-language (with subtitles) film that tells the story of indomitable courage in the face of every challenge in the book. It is beautifully made, wonderfully performed and you won’t want it to end.

Structured along the lines of the classic hero myth as outlined by sociologist Joseph Campbell, the story takes you along the necessarily bumpy path of this young hero. He chooses not to be in the handicapped division of anything, even though he is left with but 5% of his vision after surgery – that enables him to distinguish light from dark – and he opts to be apprenticed to the best hotel in the business: Munich’s Bayerischer Hof boasts five stars; it was founded in 1841 and it boasts the finest attention to hotelier discipline and detail.

You would think he’s like a lamb to the slaughter. But with careful planning and assistance on the part of his mother and sister, he manages to pull a fast one on the whole establishment. Billed as a comedy, this film will have you weeping real tears at the acts of kindness people are capable of. Ullmann does a very fine job in representing this humble hero who had a dream, but the writers and decision-makers in this work need to be lauded for their levity and sensitivity to such a fine project. Perhaps it is billed as a comedy because it is light hearted all the way and never teeters off into being morose or self-pitying.

Fail, he must, even though you hope he won’t. And fail, he does, catastrophically. But this story, rather than one of blindness is about friendship and the courage to hold on to who you think you are. It’s a beautiful film which also offers satisfying and engaging insights into the hotel industry and all its severity and humour, as it offers an understanding of management: who has empathy and who doesn’t.

More than all of this, My Blind Date with Life is about the proverbial beach-comber: the guy who doesn’t really fit in, because he is different. It’s also a tale about xenophobia and love, about social rituals and when to stop lying. In short, it’s completely wonderful.

  • My Blind Date with Life is directed by Marc Rothemund and features a cast headed by Nilam Farooq, Michael A. Grimm, Alexander Held, Sylvana Krappatsch, Jacob Matschenz, Anna Maria Mühe, Kida Khodr Ramadan, Kostja Ullmann and Johann von Bülow. Produced by Simon J. Bucher, Yoko Higuchi-Zitzmann and Tanja Ziegler, it is written by Saliya Kahawatte, Ruth Toma and Oliver Ziegenbalg and it features creative input by Michael Geldreich and Jean-Christoph Ritter (music), Bernhard Jasper (cinematography), Charles Ladmiral (editing), Stephany Pohlmann (casting) and Ramona Klinikowski (costumes). Release date: May 4 2018.

Sound and fury of 22-year-olds

BURNING down the house: Students, (from left): Ameera Conrad, Sizwesandile Mnisi, Oarabile Ditsele, Tankiso Mamabolo, Cleo Raatus, Sihle Mnqwazana and Thando Mangcu. Photograph by Oscar O’Ryan

PROTEST ERUPTS ONTO the stage with unmitigated fire and authenticity in this beautifully written, tightly constructed reflection on the student protests which rocked South Africa in 2015. The Fall encapsulates the ethos of an era and rises supreme in its focus to become universal in the values and energy it espouses. It is the Sarafina of this generation and is as much about student protest as it is about the anguish and complexity of what it means to be 22 in a contemporary world.

Focused on seven individuals and their plight and interface with the conjoined student protests, The Fall is satisfyingly choreographed and designed to allow each young voice to shine gloriously. While you may initially be convinced that these University of Cape Town students have been cast for their extraordinary voices, you will soon realise there’s much more going on here: they collaborate with mature ease; they act with fire in their bellies; they can move and they can articulate the multi-sided nature of the issues that so thornily populate the symbolism of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes, as they address the myriad of other issues which rise in the wake of the #RhodesMustFall fervour.

In 2015, the presence of the statue of this arch-colonialist which stood prominently on UCT’s campus, reached a head amongst the students, and havoc broke out demanding the universities’ structures in this country be decolonised and the symbol in question be deposed. The revolts were articulate and fierce, and this cast, representing different stereotypical individuals, from the product of a privileged so-called “Model C” schooling, to the medical student who is supporting his family on his grant and the young person who doesn’t identify with a gender-specific binary, to the Coloured lesbian Muslim student complete with her keffiyeh are part of the fray and the diatribe.

Men and women, black and white, poor and rich, and everything in between these values all contribute to the melee of opinions cited and debated in this fiery and deeply engaging work which serve as a fabulous cipher to student voices, not shrinking from the use of contemporary jargon and slang. It doesn’t promise to make the situation go away or be resolved. It opens the boils and explores the pus within, in a way that forces you to see all sides of the issues.

The importance of a play of this nature cannot be understated, which is why there is a mystery surrounding its marketing for this short season which represents The Fall’s Gauteng debut, and the indictment rests on theatres in this province. Where are the students who should be filling this theatre to capacity? And filling the rest of the night with vociferous debate about issues that matter?

Admittedly, the State Theatre is not a friendly space. Indeed, it’s nothing short of a disgrace in terms of its hospitality. Not only is it architecturally a perplexing nightmare to negotiate, with absolutely no pretence of accommodation for people who may be handicapped – you have to walk what seems likes miles of passages, through doors which are locked and with the aid of a security guy who is impatient – but it also reeks of utter contradiction and unkempt focus. There’s a skanky restaurant in the front of the building that boasts tv-watching patrons in its darkened corners, jiving to loud piped music, fit to contradict everything the hallowed theatre implies.

There’s a security man who hangs around while you’re paying your parking ticket, who asks for the change ‘for bread’. And there’s another security guy who seems unsure what the Arena Theatre actually is, let alone where, in the parking lot you can find it. The venue, which still boasts some truly horrible art installations from the self-consciously conceptual 1980s, shriek, in entirety, for a decision maker to address it from top to toe; you’ve got to really want to see The Fall, and be willing to suffer all the ostensible indignities that you must, in order to get to the theatre to see it here.

Having said all of that, at least, one might say that the building isn’t completely derelict and at least someone is ensuring that theatre happens here in one of the establishment’s myriad venues. And once you’ve negotiated the bureaucracy and the security men, you will not be disappointed in the work which is as lucid and as furious as it should be.

  • The Fall is written and performed by Ameera Conrad, Oarabile Ditsele, Kgomotso Khunoane, Tankiso Mamabolo, Thando Mangcu, Sizwesandile Mnisis, Sihle Mnqwazana and Cleo Raatus, facilitated by Clare Stopford. It features design by Patrick Curtis (set), Poleng Mabuya (lighting and audiovisual operation), Marisa Steenkamp (costume design)and performs until June 24 at the Arena Theatre, State Theatre complex, in Pretoria, part of the #YouthExpressionsFestival.

A few of everybody’s favourite things

LISTEN to the worms! Georgina (Taryn Bennett) thinks of life, the universe and a box of worms. Photograph courtesy Contagious Theatre.

YOU KNOW THE little critters: you buy them off your buddies at primary school, pop them into a mulberry-leaf-filled shoe box with holes punched into the lid, and watch them chomp away and grow as you marvel at their fabulous metamorphosis. This new play, Silkworm, by the creative team that gave The Snow Goose its stage-wings and brought The Old Man and the Sea to magical life, offers a beautiful platform for a highly skilled performer, but it is Taryn Bennett’s performance rather than the work’s narrative structure and the tricks and gimmicks that holds it together, that will keep you focused and laughing.

A young woman fabulously named Georgina Aurora Clementine (Bennett), all kitted out in Italian clownish tradition, armed with acute social awkwardness and the kind of persona that evokes Klara van Wyk’s Prettina in her work You Suck and Other Inescapable Truths, will tell you a story of magic and possibility. Bennett reprises this role with great fondness and astuteness, allowing the character to play with the notion of make-believe as she teases her audience.

The work, clocking in at just one hour, will take you to the movies and on a date with a stranger in a jacket and a spot of tiramisu. It will take you to a picnic and onto the beach. And ultimately it will bring you back home to the marvellous miracle that silkworms are able to perform by vomiting kilometres of silk at a time. While some of the stories’ premises are totally delightful, the work doesn’t hang together with sufficient conviction to leave you perfectly satisfied.

You will laugh and you almost weep at a moment that concerns a fish who seems to be drowning, but you don’t: the narrative doesn’t push the poignancy of the work far enough. Bringing in members of the audience is easily the flaw in the piece. While it gets all the schadenfreude-based giggles, it doesn’t serve its approach well.

Having said that, Bennett is always a joy to watch. Her clowning skills, offering a conjoined reflection on a vulnerable character and physical presence, are tight, funny and sophisticated. And even if you don’t emerge from this play with its story clanging wisely in your heart, you will emerge with a sense of having seen someone do something gossamer thin yet lovely.

  • Silkworm is directed by Jenine Collocott with dramaturgical input by Nick Warren. It is performed by Taryn Bennett and this review is premised on a brief season at PopArts Theatre, Maboneng. It performs at Princess Alice Hall, during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown from June 28-July 5.

Jewish Jo’burg through a dirty keyhole


EVERY ONCE IN a while a novel might cross your path that snatches at every spare minute you have and occupies your every waking hour – until you’ve found out whodunit, that is, or how the narrative comes to closure. When you read Marilyn Cohen De Villiers’s Deceive and Defend, the third novel in her trilogy, mooted the Silverman saga, about conflict and sensationalism in an opulent Jewish Johannesburg family, be aware that all your other deadlines or commitments may fall into abeyance.

A story that begs comparison with the dexterity with which Agatha Christie plies her characters and inserts hairpin bends in how things transpire, this work (and the two that precede it) have something of the urgency and energy in the Lynda la Plante stories that were magicked into television mini-series in the 1990s under the Trial and Retribution titles, featuring David Hayman.

Even if you haven’t read Cohen De Villiers’s two other books, A Beautiful Family (2014) and When Time Fails (2015), you will be sucked into the complex relationship of the members of the Silverman family, addressing the threads cast out by the first two books. It’s a saga that touches on everything from sexual abuse to incest, child molestation to murder and while the authorial voices paints Jewish Johannesburg with devastating hues, it’s clearly fiction.

But it’s fiction that gives the notion of self-publishing a very important compliment: this writing, which is crisp and well defined, informed, racy and alive with contextual relevance, is stronger than a lot of contemporary published fiction. Similar to Peter Harris’s brilliant debut novel, Bare Ground, published earlier this year, the book is written with a firm sense of narrative, a playful and deeply intelligent understanding of language and a clarity that embraces all levels of contemporary South Africa, in a way that makes this trilogy arguably something of a great Jewish South African novel, that brings together many strands.

If you know Jewish Johannesburg, you may respond to this story more profoundly and with recognition. But, if you don’t, this book is not moored in a sense of insularity or parochialism – rather, against the broad narrative of the collapse of the journalism industry with the character Tracy Jacobs in the complicated quandary of wanting a story, a reputation and love but having a news editor with clear biases to contend with, the story is bigger than just the smarmy bits.

With research-based eyes on the field and current status of social work and that of prison in South Africa, Deceive and Defend is tightly woven, easily the strongest of three already strong texts, it’s an astonishing read which will keep you guessing incorrectly until the very last pages.

Having said all of that, the type setting of the book is not always satisfying on the eye – while the text is tightly packed, the attention to ‘widows and orphans’ in terms of hanging text is taken into consideration leaving the layout of the text upsetting to the eye. But as the narrative begins to flow, you forgive everything, as you hope your domestic responsibilities will forgive you for your absence, while you’re reading it.

Deceive and Defend by Marilyn Cohen de Villiers is published by Mapolaje Publishers (2018).

Lulu in the sky. With spiders.

CREEPY cargo: Buckle up for your time with The Jet Set.

THE AIRPORT: A place of meeting and greeting, of tearful goodbyes and certain levels of anxiety – particularly given the history our world has faced with the complexity of flight. Playwright Frances Slabolepszy does a delicious kind of a mash up in this English medium radio play, in which she takes two event managers fairly new to the job, the whole machine of the airport, a bunch of international delegates and a film crew who are using the airport as a backdrop to their psycho drama with spiders. Not to forget a woman with jujitsu skills coupled with an anxiety disorder. In less able hands, this would have been a silly fruit salad. But it isn’t.

Slabolepszy’s work is structured with the funnies all carefully in place to their best advantage. As the play begins to unfold, so do you get swept up into the drama, unsure as to how it will unfold. Tossed into the mix is the issue of African names that do not stoop to gender specificity, and foreigners who have a slight command of English idioms. The result is complete hilarity, of the ilk you might have seen on TV in the 1970s and 1980s with the weekend series, Mind Your Language, written by Vince Powell.  Xenophobic? Not a sausage: this work is about gorgeous misunderstandings and cultural miens.

It’s a work that you are forced not to take too seriously in thinking about all the kinds of things that can go wrong in the confines of an airport, but it is put together with wisdom, beautifully cast and performed with a sense of theatrical fun and perfection. The cast brings together well established performers such as Louise St Claire and Esmeralda Bihl, together with younger, but no less seasoned thespians. You will laugh because it is funny and you will laugh because there’s an element of terror here that messes with your sense of safety.

Clocking in at just under an hour, it’s the best possible reason to stay at home this Sunday evening, with a warm cuppa and a comfortable chair.

  • The Jet Set is written by Frances Slabolepszy. Directed by Posy Keogh and featuring technical input by Bongi Thomas and Evert Snyman, it is produced by Julia-Ann Malone and Niquita Joseph and is performed by Esmeralda Bihl, Patrick Bokaba, Ryan Flynn, Sibulele Gcilitshana, Robyn Heaney, Victor Malepe, Lerato Mvelase, Jeremy Richard and Louise St Claire. It is broadcast on SAFM (104-107FM) on Sunday, June 10 at 8pm.
  • See the work being made on this instagram video.

Of hairy girls, guilt trips from mommy and how to get hitched

SELFIE with the audience. Sonia Esgueira in Porralicious 4. Photograph courtesy twitter.com

MAKING THEM LAUGH at cultural idiosyncrasies of your own is a complex challenge that draws together bias, cringeworthiness and caricatures in a way that can never be precious. Ask Sonia Esguiera, who for the past eight years or so has been developing the Porralicious brand. This, its fourth iteration, reflects on the same soap opera-like family shenanigans as the previous versions, only now the family is older, a tad more manic and the granny makes ghoulish appearances from heaven.

Clocking in at about 20 minutes too long, it’s a work bright with local colour, reflecting on the behaviour and guilt trips, the relation to God, sex and properness of members of the South African Portuguese community, with all their fragile pride, their vegetables and their very 1980s-redolent local dialect. Even if you haven’t seen Porralicious 1, 2 or 3, you will quickly catch up with the wiles and dreams of Ruiz and Paula Ferreira and their parents Luisa and Jose, who are about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. It’s a generally hilarious tale of broken dreams, over-the-top melodrama and a yearning for home, in Madeira.

Esgueira is a lovely and imminently watchable performer; she switches seamlessly between characters boldly describing everything from the dead granny to young and older men, as she goes. And she leaves no description untrammelled: from what your vagina feels like after child birth to fellatio at the school dance, and interaction with church rituals and politics, comes under her often very funny and incisive scrutiny. Curiously, it is the men in her repertoire that are more successfully sketched than the women, who tend to be very shrieky and too similar to each other; often their words become part of the casualty causing you to lose the funnies because you can’t recognise what she’s saying.

You may watch this work and think of Irene Stephanou’s groundbreaking Meze Mira and Make Up, which in the 1990s opened the door for this kind of narrative which slices open the belly of prejudice, self-identity, cynicism and tribalism of the Greek community. But the flavour of this kind of shtick reaches all the way back to the self-deprecating humour of Yiddish theatre out of the pen of Sholem Aleichem, which portrayed a community with all its brokenness and pathos with a grin.

Porralicious is an interesting theatrical product which has in a way branded who Esgueira is, and in a sense, this is a double-edged sword for the actress and the industry. Clearly, she’s a performer with great skill and versatility. She handles the work with consummate ability, and digresses, in this work, unfortunately in a spot of audience participation which feels a tad too forceful. Ultimately, you leave the theatre with your yen for the story generally quenched, but a wish that you could see her stretch in a broader diversity of formal performance directions.

  • Porralicious 4 is written and performed by Sonia Esguiera and directed by Heinrich Reisenhofer, at the Studio Theatre, Montecasino complex, Fourways, until June 24. Call 011 511-1988.

No home improver like an old home improver

ALTOGETHER now: Geriatic energy is in the focus of Joe Kleinhans’s Die Gang.

NEPOTISM, CORRUPTION AND other kinds of detected shenanigans in the management of a Pretoria  old aged home which has passed its prime comes under the delicious loupe of Joe Kleinhans’s vision in this lovely Afrikaans-language play with a tight structure and a strong sense of geriatric morality. It broadcasts in a few hours and is arguably one of the finest possible ways to pass an hour on a chilly winter’s evening.

Within minutes of the opening scene, we meet Jakob Swart (Louis Van Niekerk), a dapper and elderly widower with a good eye for the flaws in a building and a cell phone in his hand. He’s just moved into TuisBes, a residential place for the elderly which prides itself on its image and reputation and we – and the establishment’s matron – find him ostensibly rifling through her confidential files as the scene is set. Aggressive accusations fly with abandon, making hilarious use of idioms and beautifully painting the idiosyncrasies of the two characters and their context.

There unfolds a tale of intrigue, titillation, marital blues and money in the form of church subsidies, in its embrace of the complexities of growing old with dignity in the network of an institution designed to make things flow as smoothly as possible for its residents in their latter years. But flow is not always something reserved for the passage of time, and Jakob, still moored in his professional skills smells a rat – or rather finds some problems in the building, which enables him to worm his way into everyone’s – or at least most people’s – hearts.

It’s a happy story in which the dodgers of strict moral behaviour are ferreted out, but also a yarn which is characterised by a strong sense of empathy for the elderly and their penchant for unadulterated gossip. As you sit back and listen to this drama, you can in your mind’s eye and nose – imagine the wall paper and the walkers, the institutional smell of TuisBes and the way in which this widower becomes the one they gravitate towards.

  • Die Gang (The Gang) is written by Joe Kleinhans. Directed by Christelle Webb-Joubert, and featuring technical input by Bongi Thomas and Patrick Monana, it is performed by Marintha Labuschagne, Heidi Mollentze, Janine Opperman, Ria Smit, Woutrine Theron and Louis van Niekerk. It debuts on RSG (100-104FM) on June 7 at 8pm, will be rebroadcast on June 11 at 1am in Radio Sonder Grense’s Deurnag programme, and is also available on podcast: rsg.co.za

Have we forgotten what we’re here for?

FOR the superficial love of just being in the audience.

WHEN A MAN comes on stage just before a heavily touted show starts, to announce his great respect for all the people performing here because no one is earning money for doing so, is this a thing you’re meant to clap about? There is a huge problem in the arts industry when expensive tickets get sold on the backs of performers giving of their time with no serious acknowledgement of their skills. When amateurs take to the stage and real money changes hands for the questionable privilege of watching them do their shtick, who suffers? The industry itself, which includes the performers who leap at the chance to work, even if it is under people who know not what they do; and the audiences, who get royally conned of their time and their money and more seriously, perhaps, the idea of what good art actually is.

It seems reasonable to expect, when a production is professionally marketed, on radio stations and social media, when it is staged at a mainstream auditorium and when it comes with a price tag of between R200 and R475 a seat, that what you will pay for will be something of quality. You might not be condemned for wanting to understand it to be about a sense of event, not in terms of the bling in the audience or the food served at interval, but because of the bottom line technical expertise injected into the work itself. You might expect this, but contemporary Johannesburg, it seems, is flooded with something of a different stripe.

Call it unabashed mediocrity. Call it kowtowing to the idea of the money generated by promoting something and pretending it were professional. Call it blatant disregard for the real structures, effort and challenges that make performed theatre, opera or dance so difficult. Call it what you will, but the danger in this type of show that’s flourished and touted as a great wonderwork and collapses in a rush of angry people leaving at interval does more to damage the industry than it does to build it.

And yes, the corollary is blatant and feels extreme: would it be better to have dark theatres and nothing on stage than to fox would-be audience members with way under par productions, where the orchestra is too thin, the performances devastatingly bland and the ensemble laughably weak? Maybe it would. What would this mean? People with talent would lose their dreams or leave the country to chase them. Or perhaps they would go the extra mile in finding whatever it takes to make, mount and stage a work of unequivocal quality.

Perhaps this industry needs to take a step back and consider how easy it is to stage a show at a major theatre in this country. How easy is it to publish fiction? How easy might it be to show work at a major art gallery? Is it about the flash of some money at the right people? Is it about a spot of nepotism or curtseying in the direction of SEO talk? The wheel does turn and quality has a tendency of always, eventually rising to the surface; but when big budget productions are mounted, marketed and received with no regard for skill, or for acknowledging skill and paying professionals properly, we all suffer.