2013 South African Theatre Retrospectives: New South African Plays
With the end of 2013 fast creeping up upon us, it is once again time to look back at some of the key productions that have appeared on stage in South Africa during the past 12 months. This is the first in a series of five retrospective columns looking back at the past year, all of which feature comments from members of South Africa's theatre community. Today's column focuses on original South African theatre, with pieces focusing respectively on revivals of classic South African plays and local productions of the work of international playwrights; comedy, variety and storytelling; musical theatre, opera and cabaret; and physical theatre and dance and all lined up for the next week.
Original work by South African theatre-makers featured prominently in the past theatre season, with several plays that debuted last year gaining momentum with further runs at festivals and theatre venues across the country.
Robin Malan, the owner and manager of Junkets Publisher, a company that specialises in new South African plays, selected Philip Dikotla's SKIERLIK, which was performed at the Baxter Theatre Centre's Golden Arrow Studio and at the National Arts Festival, as his personal highlight of the past year. Malan describes his reaction to the play: 'One of those pieces - like Lara Foot's TSHEPANG, where you say, "How can you make a piece of theatre out of this?" - in this case, the unprovoked shooting into a whole community of black people by a single white boy. What Dikotla does so expertly is take the sprawling headlines his newspaper-vendor character Thomas speaks of, the big generalisations, and he pulls the focus in and in and in, he particularises it, to just Thomas and his wife Anna and their infant daughter Elizabeth. And that's where the theatre, the drama, the catharsis, resides. It's beautifully written, and Dikotla is also a consummate actor, with eyes, face, hands and body that mesmerise. It's a very powerful piece: I sat, dazed, afterwards.'
Malan also listed Oskar Brown's gay drama, BETWEEN, and Atandwa Kani and Nat Ramabulana's HAYANI amongst his picks for the year, as well as a play that popped up as one of last year's favourites, Philip Rademeyer's THE VIEW, which was performed at the Artscape Arena this year. THE VIEW is based on an idea articulated by an American pastor, who stated that gays and lesbians should be contained in isolated enclosures, thus eliminating the moral degeneration that homosexuals instigate in society. Arts publicist, Christine Skinner, also named THE VIEW as one of her highlights for the year 'for its magnificent text and utterly compelling performances from Gideon Lombard and Ella Gabriel.'
THE VIEW was one of several original plays that continued to make an impact in its second year of performances. Two other plays that continued to build on solid 2012 debuts as they made their way around the country were THE THREE LITTLE PIGS and THE LINE.
THE THREE LITTLE PIGS is - in the words of Simon Cooper, the owner of Kalk Bay Theatre and a producer at KBT Productions - 'a totally convincing, sinister look at corruption in SA'. The play was created by director, Tara Notcutt, in collaboration with the cast, James Cairns, Albert Pretorius and Rob van Vuuren and constructs an allegorical narrative based in contemporary South African politics, in what could be described as a fusion of ANIMAL FARM and RESERVOIR DOGS. Having at its premiere at the National Arts Festival in 2012, the play toured extensively this year, starting with a season at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town before moving to other venues, both locally and internationally. The effectiveness of the show is such that Cooper selected THE THREE LITTLE PIGS as one of his theatrical picks of the season for the second year running: 'I know this was one of my highlights last year but it still is.'
Gina Shmukler's THE LINE, selected by award-winning writer, director, actor and designer Neil Coppen (who is the Artistic Director of Think Theatre), deals with trauma related to the xenophobic attacks that took place in South Africa in 2008. Coppen says that the play was one of the most effecting theatrical experiences of the year for him, with its 'beautiful direction, performances and design and a powerful reconstruction and re-telling of events.' He continues: 'I thought Khutjo Green and Gabi Harris were impeccable on stage together. The documentary theatre style (using actual testimony as text) is seldom employed in SA and watching THE LINE, I was reminded of how powerful this mode of theatre making and storytelling can be, especially in a local context. I intend to begin dabbling in documentary theatre in 2014, so this was a great affirmation of what can be achieved with a crack theatrical team.' THE LINE ran at the the Baxter theatre, at the National Arts Festival and at the Hilton Festival this year following its debut at the Market Theatre last year.