Grahamstown 2014 - many beauty spots, some warts

  • NAF
It’s that time of year, when Grahamstown, the small town in the Eastern Cape, reverts back from its sparkly arty veneer, into something drab. Sadly, this year, owing to municipal strikes, the city, according to local radio station, Algoa FM, is still full of festival detritus.
by ROBYN SASSEN | Jul 16, 2014

Grahamstown 2014 - many beauty spots, some warts

Pictured: Keeping it sharp and vicious: Patricia Boyer and Lurdes Laice in Cooking with Elisa, at Auto & General Theatre on the Square from next week.


A critical post mortem in the wake of this, the 40th year since the idea of a National Arts Festival was coined, is valuable: At this festival the big names were feted. Celebrating 30 years of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, the festival invited previous winners, to present new or revive old work - from William Kentridge to Tutu Puoane. And disappoint they didn’, but boundaries were upheld.

This festival didn’t feature a Brett Bailey work which took you through the cemetery by the hand of a child, or one in which you stood looking into a quarry, your hair blowing hither and yon in the bitter Eastern Cape winter, as you looked for Orpheus’ wife Eurydice, stolen into the underworld.

It didn’t feature a Pieter van Heerden piece on rape, or a James Webb gesture about the horror of mines.

The toughest challenge was by choreographer Gavin Krastin, #omnomnom. Mixed references to the behaviour of South African businessman and secretary general of the Patriotic Alliance Kenny Kunene and ones considering Peter Greenaway’s film The Cook The Thief, his Wife and her Lover, the work positioned the artist naked on a metal gurney. Food was placed on his body; the audience were invited to eat off it. A power gesture like others in the annals of performance art, it was sensationalist.

Also, for a festival that began as a Shakespeare celebration, there was not a great deal of work from the bard - but Marthinus Basson’s macbeth.slaapeloos and Jenine Collocott’s Hamlet! so beautifully represented both sides of the interpretative spectrum, they would have been sufficient food for thought for any Shakespeare buff.

The Basson interpretation of Macbeth was brilliantly violent, with Dawid Minnaar in the eponymous lead. Hilarious and replete clowning gestures, the Collocott version of arguably Shakespeare’s most respected tragedy, in its snappy 35 minutes, was potent.

While some giants disappointed with trying too hard, some midget unknowns emerged with shining potential. Many young people are trying to understand where they fit, post-apartheid, where the values are murkier than ever. But Mandela, a mere seven months after his death, was almost absent.

Dance retains its inaccessibility, by and large; visual art explodes all over the city, making every hill face a gallery and every street corner a beauty spot. An exhibition of work by Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler, the Handspring Puppet Company, was such that you could have arrived in Grahamstown, imbibed the work and then gone home: you would have had your fill of festival gorgeousness. Indeed, their War Horse, in Johannesburg in October, was one of this festival’s wow factors.

As is always the case, shows on the festival grow legs: Cooking with Elisa, an Argentinean play showcasing the inimitable skills of Patricia Boyer at their cruellest, opens July 22 in Sandton, as does the Wits 969 festival, until July 27, showcasing Ameera Patel’s Whistlestop, Jemma Kahn’s Amateur Hour, amongst others.

Visit  and And start thinking about Grahamstown 2015: it’s only 11 months away.



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