Posts Tagged ‘Woordfees’

Spyt … Where do I even start? Well, I have to warn you, this will be my first negative review. After the incredibly entertaining God van Chaos, I was expecting to see another spellbinding show at Woordfees, in the beautiful setting of the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre in Stellenbosch.

Boy, was I disappointed …

It all started off so well: The set was simplistic with a single stainless steel trolley centre stage, a backdrop of old morgue drawers as a focal point, and three semi see-through flats on either side. With an age restriction of 16, for language, nudity and sexual references, I had prepared myself to see and hear strange and unusual things, but nothing could have prepared me for what was about to unfold.

This very OTT drama grabbed the expectant audience’s attention for the first 5 minutes as some medieval clad men hacked and sawed at a dead man’s chest to expose his heart. Already the lighting was notably amateur and shaky. I also noticed that the actors were wearing mics, of which there was clearly no need. This was followed by an uncomfortably high Afrikaans and somewhat unnatural dialogue between husband and wife. This is not unusual for this style of theatre, namely the Theatre of the Absurd, but somehow, this playwright thought she could throw some Realism in there as well. Not a good idea, unless you know the rules of theatre well enough to break them.

Having said that, I had been intrigued by Braam (Stian Bam), the main character, his icy demeanour towards his wife, Mariana (Leanna Dreyer), and the strange threatening phone calls he had been receiving during their detached conversation, up until this point. Surely this would be an important plot point that would make more sense later on?

The actors juiced a few nervous laughs from the audience in the third scene, as Braam and his buddy, Frans (Waldemar Schultz), crudely described how they were going to “enjoy” the twin blonde prostitutes he had organised for them later on that evening. We then had to sit through a completely unnecessary show of sexual debauchery, as Braam flung mistress #1 (Vicky Davis) around in every intimate position imaginable, while discussing artworks he wished to invest in.

As the mysterious phone calls continue to pester Braam, he begins to experience some bizarre hallucinations that evolve around the morgue drawers between scenes. At one stage he opens one of these drawer doors to find the naked bosoms of mistress #2 (Pumeza Rashe). Then things start to get very weird, as these two partake in, what can only be described as, some odd wordless sacrificial ritual of love-making.

Braam continues on to mistress #3, Jolene (Nicole Holm), who just happens to be his pal, Frans’, wife. There he tries to coerce her into bed by telling her about his morbid fascination with the painting, The Punishment of Marsyas, by  the Italian late Renaissance artist, Titian. Instinctively I thought the author would now bring some parallel between the myth portrayed by the painting and Braam’s sinful reality. Sadly, no. It just added more confusion to the already loopy plot.

He then meets a wacky lady, called Moira Jean (Lulu Botha), who forces him to question his morals and to think about life beyond death, with the help of some funky, yet badly choreographed dancing – after which Braam gets abducted by humanoid versions of a Springbok, Hyena and Rhino … I kid you not. From what I could gather, these animals where the henchman of Frans, who, in the mean time, had discovered Braam’s deceit and the infidelity of his wife, Jolene. Funny enough, instead of inflicting some serious bodily harm or even killing Braam, the two friends end up reminiscing over a poorly written voice over of everything “awesome”. Sound effects and faulty mics made this scene even harder to endure.

From here on in the show just seems to throw in random plot points, such as the mysterious caller, whom I thought would tie up all those loose ends  leading up to this, turns out to be nothing more than a deranged mental patient without any direct link to Braam or anything that had happened in the previous scenes.

To round it all up, if you wish to call it that, Braam gets killed and is inevitably rowed off to Hades by what looked like the Grimm Reaper or possibly Charon. He is the ferryman who carries the souls of the deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron to the world of the dead – the only other reference to any form of mythology.

As the final misplaced monologue was performed by Braam, I looked over to the stunned audience, where I saw some heads shaking, and others sat with their heads in their hands, clearly disappointment with the closing scene. Suddenly all the madness we had to sit trough had no end, no real intelligent conclusion. It all seemed so surreal, like we were watching a real life scene from Hans Christian Andersen’s Emperor’s New Clothes, where the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new (invisible) clothes. It was like no one dared to question the quality or authenticity of this piece and I felt like I imagine many others did, that one child that cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

All in all, Ingrid Winterbach may be a superb visual artist and award-winning novelist, but as far as writing dramatic text (of which this was her first), all I can say is, don’t quit your day job just yet dear.

I give it only a half a stamp of approval, solely for the performance of Leanna Dreyer, who played Braam’s wife, and for the simple, yet effective set design.

One word can sum up this theatrical experience: Spyt.

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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.