Arts and Culture 2007-2015


Review: Wall of Days

First appeared
Thursday, 31 March 2011

I have approached this review with some trepidation, not least because of the debate about South African reading, writing and critical practices that continues to dominate both literary online chat forums and the books pages of major local newspapers. Indeed, it occurs to me that – even though I have presumed to weigh in on the discussion – it has been many months since I last wrote a straightforward “book review”. Caveat scriptor!


Richard III at the Market Theatre

First appeared
Thursday, 24 March 2011

Shakespeare remains well ensconced in South African high school and university curricula but the twin knock-on effects of this literary Bardolatry are, arguably, detrimental to Shakespeare-in-performance. Firstly, many people who encounter Shakespeare in the classroom find his work either impenetrable or dull. Secondly, those plays that are dramatised are typically school set works, put on stage by university drama departments for audiences predominantly composed of learners and teachers.

Mozart, Cock and Koapeng - Classical music in SA

First appeared
Monday, 07 March 2011

The 2011 Johannesburg International Mozart Festival (JIMF) opened with a double-bill symphony concert on 27th January – the date, as Artistic Director Florian Uhlig reminded the audience in his welcome address, of the famous Bavarian’s birthday. A full house at the Linder Auditorium, the city’s foremost classical music venue, was treated not only to a performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” but also to the world premiere of South African Mokale Koapeng’s “Dipesalema Tsa Dafita” (Psalms of David).

Koapeng was appointed as the Composer-in-Residence for this year’s festival and his “Dipasalema” was specially commissioned for the event. Apart from Mozart, he shared the JIMF programme with a host of other revered names: Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Rossini, Schubert, Liszt, Sibelius ... the list goes on. Of course, this raises the question, Why Mozart? Why not a Bach festival, or a Brahms festival, or a Haydn festival?

Mass Appeal

First appeared
Thursday, 03 March 2011

Towards the end of Mass Appeal, a nuanced two-hander in which parish priest Father Tim Farley (Graham Hopkins) develops an unusual relationship with seminarian Mark Dolson (Clyde Berning), the genial old Irishman and the earnest young American share a series of “moments” that really shouldn’t work onstage. Losing his patience after yet another provocation from Dolson, Father Farley attempts to punch his new deacon; the blow ricochets off Dolson’s stomach and has no effect other than to injure the priest’s weak wrist. This breaks the tension between them and they are soon laughing at the incident – but Farley’s laughter turns into sobbing as he acknowledges the full weight of his personal and professional failings.

Crrritics and writers - the latest instalment

First appeared
Friday, 25 February 2011

The story so far: 

A couple of years ago, the books editor of a major South African newspaper – let’s dub her M.I. – called for more honesty from book reviewers, even if this resulted in “knife jobs”. She suggested that local literary people were being far too nice to one another (which, let’s be honest, they were; the only spats seemed to stem from personality clashes and cases of plagiarism). 


Fascinating Aida

First appeared
Thursday, 10 February 2011

We’re approaching the end of a witty, bawdy and provocatively satirical show by British cabaret act Fascinating Aida. The trio of songstresses (Dillie Keane, Adele Anderson and Liza Pulman) have had the audience in stitches with their clever lyrics and self-mocking posturing. Yet when Keane – a founder member of the group, which has been around since 1983 – steps forward to address the audience, she begins: “You may have noticed that we take a rather grim view of the world ...”

Sizwe Banzi is Dead

First appeared
Thursday, 20 January 2011

There was a time – fifteen or twenty years ago – when Athol Fugard’s popularity in this country was on the wane. He was criticised for being out of touch, for clinging to “white liberal values” that didn’t sufficiently address the political urgency of late-apartheid and transitional South Africa. It was, ironically, precisely during this period that Fugard became widely recognised as the key representative of South Africa’s artistic and cultural life, and that his international reputation reached its peak; he was famously described in a 1988 Time magazine article as “the foremost active playwright in the English-speaking world”.

Criminals and Krimis - writing crime in SA

First appeared
Thursday, 23 December 2010

South Africans like to talk about crime. It dominates conversations at dinner parties, in shebeens, on radio talk shows and in parliament. This is hardly surprising, given the outrageous statistics relating to murder, armed robbery, hijacking, fraud and more; many of the country’s citizens have been direct victims of crime, and everyone is indirectly affected by criminal activity.

Theatre: It's that time of year ...

First appeared
Thursday, 09 December 2010

There is a reason (beyond crass materialism) for the perpetual popularity of Christmas and other end-of-year religious holidays, even in a largely secular age. It’s the universal desire for reassuring familiarity; the basic human yearning for ritual. From family traditions to cultural habits to international customs, at this time of year we set aside our postmodern celebration of flux and long, instead, for the familiar.

Theatre-makers are wise to this longing and they cater for it.


Thoughts on art and tradition

First appeared
Tuesday, 07 December 2010

“Tradition” is a loaded word that tends to evoke strong responses.

Those who oppose tradition tend to associate it with the conservative, the old-fashioned, the out-of-date. Those who endorse it prefer to think of tradition as representing the authentic, the timeless, the tried-and-trusted. In most countries, cultural traditions (or traditional cultures) are of greater interest to tourists than to locals; they are part of national identity and history, but rarely register in citizens’ collective daily consciousness until they are used as political tools.


Standard Bank Young Artist Awards 2011

First appeared
Monday, 15 November 2010

For any South African feeling gloomy about the state of the nation, the plight of the continent, the receding world economy or similar anxiety-invoking subjects, attending the annual Standard Bank Young Artist awards ceremony should be prescribed as an antidote.

From the Hip: Khulumakahle

First appeared
Tuesday, 02 November 2010

What does it mean to “listen with your eyes”? It may sound like a symptom of synaesthesia, the neurological condition in which input from different sensory organs gets confused. This, however, is no medical diagnosis. Instead, it’s an invigorating piece of advice from a unique group of theatre-makers to their prospective audiences.

The Girl in the Yellow Dress

First appeared
Thursday, 04 November 2010

In an ideal world, reviewers would be inveterate loners; they would emerge briefly from their respective hermitages to engage with artworks before retreating once more to their isolation and their keyboards. Unfortunately, few of us have the luxury of exile – actually, few of us desire it – and through our interactions with the wider world we make objectivity impossible. This truism becomes particularly anxiety-invoking when, every now and then (and in South Africa’s comparatively small arts community, it happens as often as not), we find ourselves reviewing the work of colleagues or friends.

Review: Mamma Mia!

First appeared
Thursday, 21 October 2010

“Human kind cannot bear very much reality,” wrote T.S. Eliot some eighty years ago. In the twenty-first century, it seems that quite the opposite is true. Television programming, cyberspace social networking and print publishing trends all suggest that Eliot’s dictum has been inverted: human kind cannot get enough reality. Yet, quite frankly, our insistently meta-real and hyper-real global popular culture leaves this reviewer feeling a little jaded. For example, I found it difficult to get enthusiastic about live footage of the liberated Chilean miners after hearing reports that lawyers had negotiated book and movie deals on behalf of the trapped men long before the escape route was completed.

India in/and South Africa

First appeared
Friday, 01 October 2010


Ask most people who they think of when you say “South Africa” and “peacemaker” and the answer is most likely to be “Nelson Mandela”. Perhaps “Desmond Tutu”. Some people might even recall South Africa’s two other Nobel Peace Prize laureates, F.W. De Klerk and Albert Luthuli. But few will come up with the name of Mahatma Gandhi.

That’s because the most famous peacemaker never to win a Nobel (although he was nominated four times) is remembered internationally for his political protest and statesmanship in India, the land of his birth and death. All too often it is forgotten that he spent 20 years in South Africa: mutually formative years during which he developed his philosophy of satyagraha (non-violent resistance) in response to the racial oppression he encountered here, and during which his presence in the country shaped a tradition of opposition to racism that Madiba himself would later adopt.

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