2012 South African Theatre Retrospective: The Plays
Cooper also ranked one of the Main Festival presentations, SUNDAY MORNING, as a favourite alongside THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, admiring how the play took 'a simple story of everyday life and, with brilliant acting (from James Cuningham), amazing direction (by Jenine Collocott) and a magnificent script (by Nick Warren), turned it into the most important story you have ever heard with insights into the human condition that are eye-opening.' SUNDAY MORNING told the story of Mat, a successful photographer whose life appears perfect until the day his girlfriend tells him she is pregnant. A jog taken to process this announcement turns into a life-changing experience when he strays from his regular route and ventures into a strange part of the city where he makes a gruesome discovery.
Two other plays that also made an impression on the Main Festival were the stylistically diverse productions of MIES JULIE and RED. Yael Farber retooled August Strindberg's MISS JULIE as MIES JULIE in a production that, under the auspices of the Baxter Theatre, has toured the country and the world. Steven Stead, Executive Director of KickstArt Theatre, picked this piece, which expands the master-servant relationship politics that is the foundation of Strindberg's original into a metaphor dealing with land claims in South Africa - 'a restitution of body and soil' - as his favourite production of the year. Stead himself directed the play I enjoyed most this year, John Logan's RED, which deals with the life and art of Mark Rothko. Performed by Michael Richard and Jeremy Richard, the play looks at the nature of art and the universal human desire to connect that drives the artist to create his work and it was wonderful to see a local company triumph with a contemporary Tony Award-winning Best Play. In addition to performances in Grahamstown, the play also played Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Another contemporary play of international origins that made a huge impression locally was THE BROTHERS SIZE by Tarell Alvin McCraney, which played in both The Market and Baxter Theatres. Infusing elements of the West African Yoruba culture into its makeup, the Louisiana-set play told the story of the hardworking and steady Ogun Size and his aimless younger brother, Oshoosi. Marcel Meyer, the joint founder and artistic director of Abrahamse & Meyer Productions, singled out the play as his personal highlight of the year, calling it 'a brilliant new play by a very exciting new American playwright in the mould of America's legendry poet-playwrights, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill.' Meyer continues: 'It's great to know there are young playwrights of his calibre writing for the stage today. The production itself was beautifully directed, designed and lit and the performances were a master-class in acting: such an inspiring production.'
While contemporary plays like these made their mark on the theatre scene, the classics also made their presence felt around the country. Sylvaine Strike revived Moliére's THE MISER with Lionel Newton in the titular role at the Market Theatre, while Shakespeare's THE COMEDY OF ERRORS was presented at Maynardville under the direction of Matthew Wild, featuring Nicholas Pauling, Andrew Laubscher, Rob van Vuuren and James Cairns as the two sets of twins at the centre of the play. Tennessee Williams's KINGDOM OF EARTH, directed by Fred Abrahamse, toured overseas before premiering in South Africa in December. Rarely seen on stage, the play resonates well with South African themes, and the remarkable production and performances (by Anthea Thompson, Nicholas Dallas and Marcel Meyer) made the production memorable. There are still a few performances of KINGDOM OF EARTH left at the Artscape Arena if you want to bring your theatre-viewing season to a memorable and compelling close.
In a few days, the 2013 theatre season kicks off and things looks set to be just as exciting as they have been 2012. Look out for a feature early on in the New Year where we take a look at what is in store for both locals and tourists in the upcoming months.
Want to share your thoughts on the best plays you saw around South Africa over the past year? Leave your comments beneath this article and let us celebrate together the cultural heritage that is being created for future generations of the South African audiences.