Posts Tagged ‘Theatre’

Two Wednesdays ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Baxter Theatre’s “Taste, Tweet & Theatre” evening to view the opening of the latest multimedia production performed by the Handspring Puppet Company, Ouroboros. For those of you going “Huh?” and with thumbs at the ready to Google this odd title, allow me to spare you the surfing time: Ouroboros is an ancient symbol of a snake or dragon eating and/or swallowing its own tale. It symbolises the cyclic Nature of the Universe: creation out of destruction, Life out of Death. The ouroboros eats its own tail to sustain its life, in an eternal cycle of renewal – the “circle of life” sort of thing, as Mufasa put it in The Lion King.

So, that having been said, back to the production at hand. Ouroboros, directed by Janni Younge, was, as many of the Tweeters that evening had said, absolutely “magical” to watch. I would say this is a production for the kid in all of us – filled with fantasy, it had a tangible quality that can only be described as “weird and wonderful”. It was both nakedly realistic and beautifully wistful.  

The thing that immediately caught my attention was the fact that the puppeteers were distinctly visible throughout the show, wearing cream coloured clothing whilst manipulating the nearly life-sized puppets into being. And, yet, as I became more and more enveloped in the story these silent creatures were telling, the puppeteers became less and less noticeable to me. One beautiful attribute I observed about this production was how the puppets and their puppeteers were cleverly paired, both racially as well as according to gender. Three young black women puppeteers handled only the three black female puppets, whilst three white men handled only the three white male puppets. This added a certain authenticity to how these puppets moved and interacted with each other, which, I believe, would have been lost otherwise. The actors (Jason Potgieter, Cindy Mkaza, Gabriel Marchand, Tali Cervati, Beren Belknap and Chuma Sopotela) who manipulated the puppets’ movements and whose faces expressed their characters’ emotions so vividly, created a non-verbal language everyone in the audience could relate to, without intruding on the performance.

So doing, they told a story of love and life shared between Nokobinisa, a graceful dancer, and Andre, a haunted poet, spanned over three key stages of their lives –  childhood, adulthood, and the latter years. We follow them from their innocent meeting as children to their reintroduction and sensual entanglement as adults, and on to bitter-sweet goodbyes as elderly sweethearts.There is a central and an ever continuing theme of new life birthing out of that which seems dead and lost. Yet nothing ends. Nothing truly dies. They live on in their children and grandchildren. The cycle continues. 

The audience experiences all three stages of their lives as being lived presently and, on occasion, I could not differentiate between the characters, as their lives intertwined and in the way they related to each other beyond the dimensions of time. Throughout the piece they encountered creatures of spiritual significance – a dog, an Oryx, and, on occasion, even Death itself. This created the atmosphere of foreboding and we all knew that another spectre of life loomed in the darkness. One we would all rather not think about. On so many levels the audience could relate to the human emotions and experiences of each character. I laughed with them, I shed a tear with them, I dreamed with them, I feared with them, I hoped with them, but most of all, I fought for dear life with them.

“Tonight I got to see a little girl kick death in the face.” – Rob van Vuuren (@RobVanVuuren via Twitter)

These puppets, with their delicately etched features, demands constant attention and emotional investment from the audience. I for one could feel them breathing, blushing, laughing, weeping. Even the delicate love scene between the Nokobinisa and Andre is handled with such sensitivity. Such a tangible intimacy was created by the four actors who manipulated these puppets so beautifully. Their finely crafted props, along with the clever use of multi media animation, poetic citations from the Billy Collins, original music by Neo Muyangaand, and delicate shadow puppetry, made for a production that completely encircles its audience in a world of fantasy and wonder. Three stamps of approval in my book. What a show.

“What I experienced in Ouroboros. Magical, mystical, strange, uncomfortable, often unfathomable trip. Beautiful, magnificent, moving puppets who float in and out of the complicated story like cloud people. Strange art animation that delights and confounds. Haunting music. Moments of heartbreaking theatre beauty…Exquisite lighting. Confusing. Captivating. Breathtaking. Sad.” – Theatre critic Megan Furniss (@meganshead)

 

All Smiles

Woordfees couldn’t have opened at a more beautiful setting than the open-air amphitheatre at Spier Wine Farm, nor with a more appropriate side-splitting South African comedy!

Translated by Trix Pienaar from the original French, Le Dieu du Carnage, and adapted and directed by Hennie van Greunen into a South African setting, this Afrikaans masterpiece of comedy’s all-star cast consisted of Anna-Mart van der Merwe (one of South Africa’s favourite actresses), Johann Nel (2007 Fleur du Cap winner for his work in Festen), Leon Kruger (Om Soos ‘n Lyk Te Lê), and Martelize Kolver (Die Francois Toerien-show, Die Ryk Weduwee, and KykNet’s popular new improv series, Proesstraat), and was without a doubt a very welcome addition to the Woordfees theatrical program this year.

What do you see?

The set, designed by Leopold Senekal, spoke of the harmony that was expected of the gathering, with a very noticeable black and white patterned decor and a focal point of four Rorschach Ink Blot Test images on the back wall. Nothing of colour stood out, except for some bright yellow flowers notably displayed on a liquor cabinet stage right. Precisely placed books lay on a coffee table, all with the same black and white patterned material. Even the actors wore black,white and grey clothing, all which seemed to blend in with the rest of the furniture and the room as a whole.

Knibbel die Knaagdier

Who would have thought that among slices of carefully baked Clafouti, a prominent organic flower arrangement, a vibrating cell phone and a “marmot” murderer, there would be so little clear-cut ‘black and white’ order left, after what was supposed to have been a cordial meeting between the parents of two young boys?

Well, this was the case when Yvonne, a self-professed believer in social responsibility and an avid art history book lover (Anna-Mart van der Merwe), and her long-suffering husband, Magiel (Johann Nel), who admits to being a bit of a “gomtor”, invites Alan and Annette Le Roux to their house to resolve a brawl that had happened on the playground between their two young sons.  Alan (Leon Kruger), clearly a workaholic and specialist in sarcasm, makes it very obvious that he does not want to be there and, much to the annoyance of his wife, his phone seems to be glued to his ear throughout most of the meeting. Annette (Martelize Kolver) is, again, the complete opposite of her husband: nervous, highly strung and prone to feeling queasy when anxious. It’s the combination of these four distinctly different characters that creates the comedy and the friction that eventually boils up in all of them.

I watched as a very civil get-together slowly turned into a full-scale suburban clash, as each character gradually began to crack and all good manners flew out the window. We can all familiarise ourselves with this type of confrontation and suppressing our anger and frustration, for the sake of being courteous. The humour is well written, fast paced and quick-witted – not an easy feat for any actor, yet they didn’t  lose the required momentum even for one second.

Now, having watched this production, I can understand why Yasmina Reza’s text had won three Tony awards (out of a total of 6 nominations) including the award for Best New Play.  Hennie van Greunen could easily relate to her hilarious view of the absurdities of modern life and was quoted saying:

“When I first read the script, I just knew that the play would work wonderfully in Afrikaans. I have always been fascinated by the masks that people wear, and by the chaos that ensues when those masks start to drop. How deep would we have to dig under our European skins to find the god of carnage? And what happens when he is set free? At the opening of the play at the 2010 ABSA KKNK audiences were so hysterical that the actors had to wait before continuing with the play. And laughing opens up learning and to the truth, according to Ms Reza.”

A must see for all and definitely five stamps of approval in my book!

*Gasp* Yes, I am writing this in English, even though I am a “trotse Afrikaanse meisie” myself. But don’t worry, I’ll be “gooi”-ing quite a few Afrikaans words your way through out this 3-part blog post.

Woordfees has captured the heart of many Afrikaners and birthed a new-found passion for their mother tongue in the beautiful setting of Stellenbosch and its surrounds. It has only been on for a couple of days and already my little brain is having a meltdown, because I cannot decide which shows to watch when (and which I can afford, naturally).

It is a fantastic festival with a great mix of local music, theatrical performances, and an atmosphere where both experienced and aspiring writers can come together to educate, write and inspire each another, and so much more!

As I mentioned before, I will do this in three parts. I will be reviewing two theatrical performances: (1) God van Chaos and (2) Spyt, as well as (3) a historical ghost walk, called Aandwandeling met spoke. Needless to say, I am “BAIE” excited!

There is bound to be something you will enjoy, even if Afrikaans isn’t your first language, and I encourage you to get your tickets booked through Computicket as soon as possible, as they are selling mighty fast.

For an online program visit www.woordfees.co.za 

Part One: Review of God van Chaos and more blogging to follow.

Hungry Little Fellow

Last week I viewed another splendid performance by a visual theatre group called Mummenschanz, which roughly translated means “masquerade” — and they were, the most lovable and excentric imposters ever. Having been performing for many years (since 1972), they are well-known for their imaginative and laugh-out-loud form of non-verbal theatre and has quite the reputation, so I did some poking about to read up on their history before I went to see their show.

It all started with three enthusiastic young people from Switzerland , Bernie Schürch, Andres Bossard, and Floriana Frassetto, who came together with a common goal:

To create a theatrical language that would transcend traditional barriers of nationality and culture in a fun and exciting way.

The Creators

Together they created some of the most magical beings and illusions of their time. With their extraordinary theatrical style they thrilled audiences at the Bijou Theatre on Broadway for 3 years, before taking their beloved figures and fantasy creatures on tour all over the world.

Familie Floz Group

This is the second time they have performed in South Africa, and I was eager to see how it compared to Restaurante Immortale, I had seen years prior, by one of my all time favourite visual theatre groups, the German Familie Floz Theatre Group. Restaurante Immortale took my breath away with their imaginative use of lighting, perfectly illuminating the actors’ oversized masks and altering their facial expressions throughout the performance. They also used body language, mood music and simple gestures to tell their story to the enraptured audience. Now I wanted to see if Mummenschanz would do the same.

Mummenschanz opened with a hand. Yes, that’s right, a hand — one actor, dressed in all black, except for one massive glove-like costume that covered more than half of their body. It communicated to the members of the audience without any words or music to set the mood, like some old friend who didn’t need to speak to get its message across. It went about opening curtains, waving at people, pointing, patting an audience member on the head and swallowing another whole.

Courtesy of www.theculturemom.com

Slinky Slinky

 

The show continued with a wide variety of hilarious aliens and cuddly monsters, who completely entranced the audience (myself included). We found ourselves, grown adults mind you, doubling up with laughter on watching a brown blob attempting to climb onto a step. They came and went in different shapes, versatile face masks, three-dimensional sculptural heads, and other everyday objects and materials that had been turned into abstract costumes. There were cylindrical critters that played ball with the audience, bin bag men who had a punch-up, and black velvet lady, who needed the assistance of the audience to create her face with masking tape.

These wonderful things seemed to engage us in a wordless dialogue as they slid, wobbled and bounced about on stage. What was most impressive was the giant living blob that taunted the audience and then when the audience taunted back, it formed a large angry face and tugged at our heartstrings when it shyly turned away, only to be reduced to a deflated heap of rubber.

Face to Face

The optical illusions in this piece are excellent, the simplistic lighting was superb and the best of all was that all these creatures were performed by two of the original creators, Bernie Schürch and Floriana Frassetto, as well as Raffaella Mattioli and Pietro Montandon, who joined their company in 2000, after long-time friend and co-founder, Andres Bossard, passed away in 1992. They are incredibly fit for their age and their creativity astounds everyone who watches their dream world unfold on stage.

Blobtastic

Mummenschanz is truly magical and easy viewing for all age groups. Even described by David Copperfield as being “truly magical”, this visual poem will leave you with a childish grin on your mug.

A special thanks to Baxter Theatre for a lovely night with many well deserved laughs. We hope to have many more!