by Roxanne Daniels
I had been working in London for three weeks and was finally able to pay my gracious hosts back and keep a bit of pocket money. After a failed and cancelled Berlin trip (which caused me to nearly implode, but let’s move swiftly on from that) I decided to go into the city and buy a last-minute ticket at a reputable ticket office in Leicester Square. As I joined the queue at 4pm, I hurriedly chose Half a Sixpence. The process was a breeze and I had a decently priced seat at the Noel Coward Theatre for the musical. I had three and a half hours to kill, so I wandered around and stumbled into the shop of my dreams – Stanfords. I was absorbed by stories of adventures and world maps in so many different forms that this took nearly an hour of my time.
On 22 December 2016 I went with family to see the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. What I would describe as “3D” extras made the play interesting to watch. These included lighting that danced across the walls, audiovisuals that reflected the main character’s state of mind, a moving model train to simulate a journey and (spoiler alert) a real live puppy that elicited uninhibited “aahs” from the audience. A lovely experience.
But the actual act of going to London’s West End at that unimaginably
The wonders of underground station advertising. Photo: Brenda Daniels
busy time of year was also part of our atmospheric evening out. The theatre at which the play is being staged (until June 2017) is the Gielgud in Shaftesbury avenue. To get there from home we took a tube (or three) and stepped up onto the heaving pavement of Charing Cross Road. Being London’s bookshop street Charing Cross’s first offering for us was Foyles bookshop. We squeezed into the store and wormed up and down six storeys, just managing to get a coffee before staggering out again. I can’t understand why some writers support the notion that writing in coffee shops is romantic and inspirational. I found it completely distracting.
A gingerbread city we stopped to look at in Knightsbridge. Photo: Brenda Daniels
Next up on our journey was dinner – McDonald’s (limited budget you see) which is apparently on the site of the original bookstore of 84 Charing Cross Road. After our feast we crossed the road and passed the Palace Theatre at which Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is being performed. Theatregoers enjoying a feast of their own had come out onto into the open for a breather; the play is in two parts and, together with two intermissions, runs for a whopping five hours and 55 minutes. I read in The Telegraph that marathon theatre sessions like these might catch on as a new trend. Phew.
We turned off Charing Cross Road and jostled our way to the Gielgud
Christmas lights at Knightsbridge in London, December 2016. Photo: Brenda Daniels
passing Christmas lights and “Mulled Wine” signs. Our booking was for the cheapest seats in the house (budget, remember) which had warnings like “obstructed” view and on the computer seating plan looked like we would need opera glasses just to see the stage. No fear of that. The Gielgud is quite small and spacious and the “obstruction” was merely a roof overhang which really didn’t spoil our view at all.
Back out into the cold air after the show we fought our way back to the tube station, past runners in Father Christmas gear, buskers in the underground and pedestrians everywhere sporting Christmas jumpers. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was for us an entertaining theatre event indeed.
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 musical; 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.
Day five of the national arts festival turned out to be a bumper British one for Feast of Tales. First up was Kettling of the Voices. This documentary showed footage from the ‘other side’ of the student protests in 2010 against university fee increases, as well as the 1990 protests against the poll tax. ‘Kettling’ was the police response to the crowds – a technique that involves forcing large groups of people into a confined space and keeping them there for hours. Police actions aside, we found it fascinating to see that student protests against fees are not unique to South Africa. Next up was the brilliant Oxford Imps. This improvisation comedy troupe from Oxford university were outstanding in their skits that fed directly off the audience. Highly recommended. Our last show for the day was the very thought-provoking Those You Pass in the Street, an Irish piece about dealing with past conflicts in Ireland. Kabosh Theatre Company, responsible for this play, uses drama to help heal hurts from political conflicts – such a purposeful way of using the medium. Their play was intensely applicable to South Africa.
Music and imagination formed the most enjoyable part of day four in Grahamstown for A Feast of Tales. Our first encounter was Nefilibata which was a dance piece set to light, uplifting sounds. The ‘dancers’ were in fact musical theatre students who gave a delightful presentation of a love story using contemporary dance, mime, and props designed to look like clouds and birds. The Festival Gala Concert was our second. Conducted by the personable Richard Cock and played by the Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, the well-attended performance delivered a variety of pieces that were explained by the conductor. So, we heard a piece to which the composer had, on its debut, invited women with the name (and variants of) ‘Anne’; another set composed by an Eastern Cape man in the midst of pain and sorrow; a concerto about a ‘gold and silver’ ball; chariots of fire; a piece called Mambozart; and beautiful compositions performed by the Standard Bank young performer of the year. All were designed to transport us listeners to a place of beauty and grandeur. Death of a Donut, while not exactly doing the latter, was nevertheless a fun murder mystery show – accompanied by suitably mysterious music – in which the audience was involved in the implication and solving of the murder. A number of school boys attending the performance were ecstatic when one of their teachers ‘died’ and the other ‘implicated’ in a murder. Women in Theatre, part of a Thinkfest, was definitely not musical, nor did it do much to stir the imagination. A little disappointed with its depth we left feeling that much more could have been made of the topic.
Thinkfest was first up on A Feast of Tales’s agenda on day three of the NatArtsFest with a discussion on Gender Politics. The hour’s dialogue indicated that this rhetoric-laden topic still favours too much – well – dialogue and too little practical application. An over-aggressive approach also emerged as a problem. Number two on our schedule was the dialogue-heavy House of Truth in which actor, Sello Maake kaNcube, told the story of writer Can Themba and his struggles during apartheid to be recognised as a teacher. The drama had a good script but was depressing and failed to hold the audience’s attention for its overly long 90-minute duration. Hannah Arendt was another ‘struggle’ piece, though this time in the form of a movie. Like the Sophie Scholl film we saw on day two, Hannah Arendt presented a view of Nazi Germany somewhat different to what we were used to. In this story German-Jewish philosopher and author, Hannah Arendt, wrestled with the problem of evil, putting forward the – scandalous – ideas that German perpetrators of crimes in World War II may simply have failed to think and that Jewish victims may have been complicit in their own victimisation. Our day ended with the brilliantly executed The Echo of a Noise by Pieter Dirk-Uys, in which this renowned performer gave an autobiographical account of his life, revolving mostly around his combative relationship with his ‘Pa’. Rich, funny, tender and well-rounded, Uys’s performance was very deserving of its standing ovation.
Day two in Grahamstown dawned difficult for the humans of Feast of Tales, which made the day’s entertainment ahead all the more welcome. First up was Brothers Streep: Same Streep Different Day. Unlike the previous version we had seen this show involved just the two ‘brothers’ rather than the whole band. The pair’s constant banter, their originality, and their songwriting – in the present as it were – was clean, enjoyable and made us forget our troubles. As the weather turned stirringly blustery we hurried off to one of the fest’s scheduled films, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. This absorbing film tells the true story of a brother-and-sister team who were part of the White Rose student movement in Nazi Germany. Told mostly from the sister’s (Sophie’s) perspective, we learnt how Sophie and her brother were arrested and ‘tried’ for bravely disseminating anti-Hitler literature. Sophie’s Christian faith is portrayed as a strong, yet gentle, motivator for her actions. Own the Spotlight was the last viewing of the day for us, a dance show involving beautifully choreographed pieces of ballet, modern and contemporary dance set to engaging movie sound tracks.