The Snow Goose Shows Human Nature

I attended the 2016 Hilton Arts Festival in the KZN midlands on a very rainy and cold Sunday, the 18th of September. I felt sorry for the brave stall holders sitting under their flimsy shelters in the miserable weather. Conditions definitely detracted from our enjoyment of the day and no doubt from the crafters’ takings. Indoor art galleries and a bustling food tent with free live music were the more cheery choices for how to spend free time.

While I wasn’t shivering in a tent, I watched three foreign-based plays: The Snow Goose, Tarty Flowers and Blonde Poison. It was a pity I couldn’t enjoy something snow-goose-free-to-usemusical; I had misunderstood the booking system by not reserving tickets even for “free” shows so missed out on Two Guitars, featuring James Grace and Jonathan Crossley. I’ll remember for next time.

The best show of the day was the beautifully scripted, extremely well-acted The Snow Goose. The story is set in England during World War II. It makes a sensitive comment on society’s cruel, and often stupid, vilification of those who are different, and on the stranger who longs to be accepted and useful. Whilst the actors in Tarty Flowers coped well with an unplanned electricity failure during their performance, the story, which seemed to move backwards, lacked a certain crispness of delivery. This meant that some of the cleverness of the show’s inspiration, Fawlty Towers, was lost. Fiona Ramsay gave a 60-minute solo performance in the aptly named Blonde Poison. This play featured a German Jewish woman relating to a journalist the story of how she had ratted on her fellow Jews in Nazi Germany, escaping arrest herself through bribery and her Aryan looks. The play was surprising on so many levels for me: from the energy required for such a lengthy solo performance, to the tale of treachery amongst Jews themselves, to realising what the name “Blonde Poison” really referred to. Ramsay was visibly moved at the end of this demanding performance and deserved her standing ovation.


Red Cafe Wonderland

As my daughter and I ascend the staircase to Red Cafe I feel like I have stepped with Alice into Wonderland.

“The owner suffers, like, really badly from insomnia,” says fourth-year student daughter. Of course then, as we pass the lady at the front desk, I can’t help noticing the simply  enormous bags under her eyes.

“Just a thought,” I say to daughter, “don’t you think running a coffee shop might worsen her insomnia…?” Is it me or does the very same proprietor seem to work at double speed ringing up the till for waiting patrons, flashing away at the keys with a sort of caffeine-fueled energy?

Daughter and I step out onto the deck which is nestled quietly next to the leaves of a tree. The height and shrubbery shield us from the ordinary Grahamstown life below, adding to the fairy tale feel. While waiting for our red cappuccino and avocado shake , I glance across at a couple seated nearby. They breathe not a word to each other for the entire time we are there. And the young man is calmly painting his forearms. After surreptitiously investigating we discover that said young man is painting makeup foundation over tattoos on his inner arms. How curious. Perhaps he’s going to a job interview we wonder?

Even closer to our table is another man. Unlike the painter, this man is accompanied only by a vast bowl of cutlery. To say he isn’t talking to the cutlery would just be silly. But he does seem infinitely more fond of his silvery companion than the painter is of his friend. Even curiouser.

Action speeds up. Our waiter trips across to our table, sloshing my drink into its saucer.

“Oops,” he says cheerfully, “my nickname is Wobbles.” At the same time a tall, slender woman in a denim skirt walks past aiming for the table in the corner. As she sits down the raucous-harmonious sounds of a live singing group fill the air from below. I look up just in time to see the woman’s bearded profile come into view.

Is Red Cafe always like this? Or only at National Arts Festival time of year? I can’t tell. It has an atmosphere all of its own. One of a kind. I’d like to say I highly recommend Red Cafe. That you should go because you’ll have a unique experience. Problem is, I’m not quite sure if I’m dreaming or not…

Shepherding satiated student daughter downstairs after paying our bill to the night owl I say, “Come Alice, it’s time to go.”

National Arts Festival Grahamstown: A Perspective

On the first day of the festival, A Feast of Tales watched Breaking the Wall, a show which set the scene for our day ahead. In this two-man theatre piece the actors did a good job of making the audience feel uncomfortable by presenting issues of race in a humorous yet confronting way by periodically addressing us directly, thus ‘breaking the fourth wall’. By contrast, Whistle Stop was a flawless, tense, well-elocuted show in which the two actors expressed their thoughts in soliloquies. Those thoughts revolved around their attraction for one another, thoughts laden with emotion, conflict and sexual tension, displayed through movement and the use of one stage prop: a bench. Our lighthearted entertainment of the day was Brothers Streep: Stand up Musicians Plugged, a musical in which a band sang originals like the Steri Stumpi song, Intermission and the Day after Christmas, poking gentle fun at a variety of things. Not so lighthearted was Comedy Masterclass by Durban-based Aaron McIllroy. This seasoned actor-singer ‘taught’ his audience the do’s and don’ts of what appeared to be his autobiographical journey with comedy and music. The ‘comedy’, while reflecting the actor’s great versatility, ended with the sombre Charlie Chaplin piece, Just Smile.

Language App Offers Bite-size Learning


When I was at high school I did two years of French. Despite loving the language I chose to carry history as a subject instead of French through to my senior years. BIG mistake. During the 1980s apartheid education school history in South Africa was full of propaganda, the great Afrikaner trek and nothing else. I spent three years suffocating during lessons and the rest of my adult life yearning to do French again. Enter Duolingo!


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Siwela SonkeIf you like watching postmodern-style dancing, well choreographed and performed by beautifully toned young dancers, then Edge by Siwela Sonke may be for you. Siwela Sonke dance company performs five 15-minute pieces, each with a different flavour, in this show, on at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre in Durban, South Africa, 18 to 21 February. Shows on 19 and 20 February are at 7pm, and on 20 and 21 February at 3pm. Tickets are available at the door. Cost: R50.

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Fantastic 50: On at the Sneddon

Viv, Kasvia and Ian von Memerty

Fantastic 50 is a family-run show starring husband-and-wife team Ian and Viv von Memerty. Fifteen-year-old daughter, Kasvia, also makes a guest appearance in the show. This confident young lady was a breath of fresh air on opening night and it was a delight to watch her brief contribution.

Ian von Memerty has been in show business for many years and is known for his role as a judge in Strictly Come Dancing. I knew Ian from his piano-playing antics in A Handful of Keys, a very entertaining piece of musical theatre. Vivienne is a ballroom dancer and at 50 is a beautiful, graceful and composed woman.

The show is essentially the story of this couple’s lives, from Ian’s early days in show business, the pair’s enjoyment of travel, Vivienne’s foray into helicopter flying, their children’s tragic struggle for health, to a renewed sense of love for each other after marital and health difficulties. Singing, dancing, narrating, changing costumes (both off stage and on!) and Ian’s consummate piano playing make up this well-rehearsed revue.

Laced with humour about marriage and ageing the show will appeal largely to a select “mature” audience, and yet has the potential to attract a wider audience of families and dance lovers. I say “potential” because the show lacks the vivaciousness its title promises. On opening night Ian looked tired. And, whilst good as a backup singer, Viv’s solo singing detracts from the polish of her dance performance. Fantastic 50 seems to major on the “50” in a show that could be “fantastic”.

Fantastic 50 is on at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre in Durban at 7.30pm daily until 22 November. Contact Computicket on 0861 915 8000 or


Guest post: Around the World in Potholes

Potholes are nationwide issue in South Africa, in fact they are found giving frustration to drivers all around the world. Below is a post as it first appeared on The Critical Collection that made light of the pothole problem in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape. Roxanne is currently finishing her degree in Journalism and English at Rhodes and has grown to love Grahamstown, in spite of the city being rather hole-y. 

Potholes in Grahamstown are a serious problem. Drivers seem to complain much of the time about the ditches and bumps in the road that have the potential to cause grievous harm to their vehicles. Some people though, are tired of hearing the complaints about road problems in the Eastern Cape, knowing that there are more important issues to care about. To lighten the mood regarding potholes, here follows the FICTITIOUS story of four students. They travel ‘the world’ to different potholes in Grahamstown, seeing places like the Grand Canyon, Lake Kariba and Jungfraujoch. Follow their enticing made-up tale and laugh about the funny moments.

Click on the images to start a slideshow and read the full captions.

P.s Kate and Peter are happily NOT engaged.

Coffee time, with the professionals

Photo: Brenda Daniels

Photo: Brenda Daniels

Picture: Sha Coetzee (left) and Anthony Abiet at the official opening of vida e caffé, La Lucia Mall, Durban, on Thursday 22 May 2014.

Anthony, the exuberant General Manager at vida, educated customers on the opening day about some of the intricacies of how the café makes their coffees. This includes the correct coffee-making techniques, such as time taken to draw the water and temperature to which the milk is heated.

It also involves the customer service process; ordering at one end of the counter and delivering at the other. Another important aspect is the coffee “experience”; the store at La Lucia is a particularly nice-looking one, with cork finishes and oak surfaces, and staff are trained to make “customers friends”.

Sha Coetzee is a customer-come-friend. She has been patronising vida for many years, popping in to a store daily, sometimes twice a day. She started visiting vida in Cape Town first and is now a faithful customer in Durban.

Like Sha, I love going out for a good cappuccino and don’t feel I’ll ever dabble in the art of “proper coffee-making” at home. Many people do though and according to my son-in-law, Stuart Turton, “Durban is experiencing a kind of resurgence toward home-produced coffee.” You can go really big (for example a Bezera Italian machine which a friend reports now costs almost R20,000) or start small. The vida website, for instance, demonstrates a very natty little thing called a capsule machine. My son-in-law has started his coffee endeavours with a “moka pot” and a hand-held milk frother (see the picture below). The, er, jar in the background of the photo is the stage I’m at… Which is why I need to go out for coffee!

Photo: Robyn Turton

Photo: Robyn Turton