Arts and Culture 2007-2015


2007 Cape Town Book Fair part three: Multilingualism and translation

First appeared
Saturday, 30 June 2007

The challenges facing multilingual South Africa are not unique, but the ways in which our various languages are associated with race, ethnicity and class have moved some observers to bemoan ‘the curse of Babel’ manifested in this country. Other commentators are more sanguine, noting that linguistic variety is part of the cultural diversity so often touted as a national asset. Small wonder that it was a hot topic of conversation at this year’s Cape Town Book Fair.


Hirson returns to SA - in writing

First appeared
Friday, 15 June 2007


Having read Denis Hirson’s White Scars: On Reading and Rites of Passage, I almost feel that I don’t need to interview him. After all, the book (which has been nominated for the Alan Paton Non-Fiction Award) is heavily autobiographical, and in it the author constantly reflects on his own writing process. Nevertheless, when I phone him at his Paris home a few days before he flies out to South Africa – he will be in Cape Town for the awards ceremony at the Book Fair this weekend, but returns on Sunday – I discover a different voice to those I have encountered in White Scars.


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are alive and well

First appeared
Saturday, 16 June 2007


Alan Committie and Rob van Vuuren are two very busy men. Van Vuuren is appearing nightly at Cape Town’s Kalk Bay Theatre in Brother Number, a new two-hander written and performed with James Cairns, while on weekend mornings he teams up with The Most Amazing Show partner Louw Venter for “Corne and Twakkie’s Breakfast Bonanza”; as performers, directors or co-producers, he and Venter are involved in no fewer than six shows at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July. Committie manages to visit his Cape Town home once in a while, but these days he is mostly in Johannesburg, where his take on Rob Becker’s Defending the Caveman and his own one-man show Stressed to Kill have been sell-out successes; in between all this he is bringing out a DVD of the antics of Johan van der Walt, the bumbling security officer who most people would recognise from his cameos on TV show Laugh Out Loud.


Book Review - Moods of Future Joys

First appeared
Saturday, 09 June 2007


Moods of Future Joys - Round the World Part One: Riding into Africa

Alastair Humphreys

The chief problem with this book is hinted at in the figures provided on the back cover - its author completed a round-the-world journey of 46,000 miles over four years, cycling across five continents. Quite simply, it seems that no feat of literature could ever do justice to the magnitude of his achievement in almost circumnavigating the globe by bicycle.


Doubt (John Patrick Shanley)

First appeared
Saturday, 05 May 2007

Doubt is important, even necessary, to all artists. The creative process is stimulated by the challenge of holding multiple – possibly contradictory – ways of seeing the world in balance. This anticipates the various ways in which a work of art is ultimately viewed: ambiguity is, after all, prerequisite to interpretation. Writers hold doubt especially dear: Robert Graves’ poem “In Broken Images” celebrates the achievement of “a new understanding of my confusion” rather than the false (and dangerous) assurance of unshakeable opinions. Samuel Beckett avowed neither religious belief nor agnostic disbelief, thinking instead that “it is better to live, and to admit to living, in uncertainty: better because more honest”. South Africa’s Lionel Abrahams, after the 9/11 terrorist strikes, bemoaned the “divergent certainties” that led to and were aggravated by those attacks, noting that those who cling to “passionate convictions” cannot abide “the insult of questioning, the chill treachery of doubt”.


Goodman Gallery Cape

First appeared
Thursday, 01 March 2007
{mosimage}Over the last forty years, Johannesburg’s Goodman Gallery has become an important site for many South African artists. Ten years ago the gallery moved to new premises in Melville and marked the event with an exhibition entitled “Lift Off”, showcasing the work of some of the best-known artists in the country.


Victory (Athol Fugard)

First appeared
Saturday, 21 April 2007

It was with some trepidation that I sat down to prepare a series of questions for Athol Fugard. After all, it’s not every day that you have the chance to correspond with a man described by TIME Magazine as “the greatest active playwright in the English-speaking world”. Most South African theatre patrons and practitioners hold that opinion already, irrespective of (or, perhaps, despite) any honours bestowed by an American publication. Nevertheless, the USA has at least one advantage over us when it comes to Fugard: currently based in San Diego, he is not in the country while his new play, Victory, is showing at the Baxter theatre in Cape Town.


Everybody Else ... (Karen Jeynes)

First appeared
Saturday, 17 February 2007
Everybody else (is f**king perfect)
Directed by Lara Bye
Sanlam Studio, Baxter Theatre

Opening nights are tricky to review. Most productions improve during the course of a long run, becoming more nuanced as actors develop a rapport with each other and with their characters – a dynamic that can only be established over repeated live performances. Opening nights also have unusual audiences: friends and acquaintances of the cast and crew sit alongside theatre critics. This produces an imbalanced response, especially with comedy. Events onstage send half the audience into enthusiastic fits of laughter, while the other half is left making polite grins.


Romeo and Juliet (Maynardville 2007)

First appeared
Saturday, 27 January 2007

(NOTE: A longer version of this review will be appearing in the journal Shakespeare in Southern Africa later this year.)

In his Director’s Note for this year’s outdoor Shakespeare at Maynardville, Fred Abrahamse affirms that Romeo and Juliet is pertinent to a twenty-first century “beleaguered by civil unrest and violence” and “wracked with disease and famine”. The programme maps out the play’s complex patterns of murder and inter-familial strife with a CSI-style storyboard of mugshots and criminal convictions.


1956-2006: Fifty Years at Maynardville

First appeared
Friday, 01 December 2006
Twelfth Night
Directed by Geoffery Hyland.
Maynardville Open-Air Theatre, 50th Anniversary Production.

Shakespeare at Maynardville.
Helen Robinson
(Wynberg: Houghton House, 2005)

For various reasons my journey to see this production of Twelfth Night was made by train to Wynberg station, and on foot from there – via the litter and hubbub of Main Road on a Friday night – to Maynardville. I disclose this piece of personal information because it struck me, as I surveyed the pre-show picnics spread across the lawns of the park, that such an arrival would be considered distasteful by most of the patrons at this venerable institution on the Cape Town summer calendar. Consequently I found myself losing confidence in the face of over-familiar but unrelenting questions: is Shakespeare-in-the-park merely a bourgeois indulgence, in light of the manifest evidence of socio-economic problems in our country? Does Shakespeare put our politico-cultural dilemmas into perspective, or is the reverse true? If it falls to the (largely white) upper-middle class – although in the case of Cape Town, with its astronomical property prices, one is tempted to refer to the landed gentry – to preserve this particular version of Shakespeare in South Africa, is this a cause for embarrassment or simply a local variation on the universal theme of high art, elitism and patronage?


National Gallery's pleas for funds fall on deaf ears

First appeared
Saturday, 07 April 2007

Over the next few weeks and months, visitors to the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town will see both less and more than they might expect.


Lovely Beyond Any Singing (Helen Moffet)

First appeared
Saturday, 24 February 2007

{mosimage}During last year’s inaugural Cape Town Book Fair, I attended a panel discussion chaired by Helen Moffett. With characteristic verve, she welcomed us and requested that we put our cellphones off, before apologising and informing us that she would be keeping hers on, as she was awaiting news from her publisher about a forthcoming book. I remember grumbling: it had better be worth it. Well, her phone didn’t ring, but the book has since appeared, and it certainly was worth the risk – Lovely Beyond Any Singing: Landscapes in South African Writing (Double Storey) is a timely anthology that makes a valuable contribution to local literature. A compilation of extracts from the works of seventy-odd writers, the book contains texts covering a range of genres (novels, short fiction, poetry, history, drama, autobiography, journalism) and periods (1881 to the present day). Given this scope, it’s hardly surprising that the anthology evokes questions debated at length by South Africa’s writers and critics. I tracked Moffett down in Atlanta, USA – where she is currently pursuing postdoctoral research at Emory University – to ask her some of these.

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