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

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.

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.