National Arts Festival 2017 Theatre Programme Excavates, Navigates And Redefines | #NAF17

The National Arts Festival’s theatre programme is “a laboratory of work that re-imagines history, exhumes ghosts and questions our future in a way that unsettles and inspires”, according to Executive Producer, Ashraf Johaardien.

Spearheading this vision is 2017 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre, Monageng ‘Vice’ Motshabi, whose work ANKOBIA unfolds in the future land of Pelodikgadile. In that land it is forbidden to remember a time before the new state, and the ‘joy machine’ keeps people grinning with pleasure and utterly obedient. Co-written by Motshabi and Omphile Molusi, the play touches on unresolved issues and the silencing of protest – the machine that is state and the traps that we fall into when power is unchecked. Motshabi says all his work “draws on the essence of the continent”. The play, which derives its name from Ghanaian word ankobia (meaning ‘go back and get it’), features Momo Matsunyane, Katlego Letsholonyana and Billy Langa. ANKOBIA will be performed in Grahamstown on 7, 8 and 9 July.

Nadia Davids digs up history in her play WHAT REMAINS – a fusion of text, dance and movement about the unexpected uncovering of a slave burial ground in Cape Town. Based on an actual event, the archaeological dig leads to a reckoning of untold histories for the citizens, archaeologists and property developers involved. And so the layers of history and memory emerge. Davids’ work has previously explored forced removal and memory and this one is no different. Of Cape Town David’s says, “Its an uncanny place, the past and the present are always entangled, the landscape seems to move constantly between the invitation to remember and the demand to forget and that remembering and forgetting has always been racially coded.” She says, “It’s the sort of place that invites multiple tellings precisely because its inhabitants experience the city so differently.” Jay Pather directs, choreographs and sets the sceneography of the piece with performers Denise Newman, Faniswa Yisa and Shaun Oelf bringing the story to life on 29 and 30 June and 1 July.

After a seventeen year break from working together, performer Rehane Abrahams and Mothertongue co-founder and director, Sara Matchett are bringing their individual work into unison for a study on the body politic in WOMB OF FIRE. The piece uses a mythical, non-Western framework to examine the performing female body as a site of disruption. An all-woman theatre collective, the Mothertongue Project has drawn on their experience of helping countless women tell their stories and become empowered within their bodies and communities. Audiences can catch this production on 4, 5 and 6 July.

In a time where women’s safety and identity remain squarely on the South African agenda, another piece that interrogates the representation of women in contemporary society is Zimkitha Kumbaca’s CONFESSIONS OF A BLACKLISTED WOMAN: SHE BELLOWS. First written by her in 2011, Kumbaca now directs the piece at this year’s National Arts Festival, close to her original home of King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape. A departure from her best-known role as Nontle Sanqu, in the drama series Matatiele, this work has been presented to critical acclaim at the South African State Theatre, Pop Art Theatre, the Windybrow Theatre, the Joburg Theatre and, most recently, at the Soweto Theatre. Festival audiences can see it on 4, 5 and 6 July.

The deeply personal and complex relationships women have with their families and their selves are excavated in Jennie Reznek’s (Magnet Theatre) one-woman show, I TURNED AWAY AND SHE WAS GONE. Directed by Mark Fleishman, the show poetically explores the passage and cycles of life of three generations of women – mother, daughter, grandmother – and the relationship we all have with our past, present and future selves. Nominated for four Fleur du Cap and two Naledi awards, the show will be performed on 7 and 8 July.

Love and family cross boundaries and challenge gender stereoytpes in the acclaimed multi-lingual NewFoundLand (BUITE LAND) by Neil Coppen. An exploration of the deepest threads that invisibly exist between religion and science, medicine and faith, memory and forgetting, Kopano Maroga’s performance at the recent KKNK won him a Best Supporting Actor Kanna Award and the play took home the Best Debut Production award. The cast includes Jacques Bessenger, Kopano Maroga, Elize Cawood and Ntombi Gasa among others, who will perform the piece on 7, 8 and 9 July

Family themes continue through Lara Bye’s formidable treatment of the early nineties book The Smell of Apples by Mark Behr. DIE REUK VAN APPELS retells the riveting tale of a boy’s end of innocence – both personally and in the context of country. Gideon Lombard’s Kanna Awardwinning performance (Best Actor 2017) is not to be missed in this production by The South African State Theatre and Theatrerocket. Catch it on 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8 July

Bringing international issues into line with our own, THE CROWS PLUCKED AT YOUR SINEWS is a one woman show from the UK with Aisha Mohammed, featuring live music from Abdulkader Saadoun.  Directed by Hassan Mahamadille, the story unfolds through the unearthing of real events in history, both recent and long gone, in a piece that explores integration and tolerance through an evocative narrative. The production will show in Grahamstown from 5-8 July.

The National Arts Festival and Drama for Life will present four new South African works at the Festival. INSTA-GRAMMAR! is a heart-wrenching story about speaking and keeping love in the whirlwind Instagram and SnapChat era. KASI STORIES: STORIES NOT OFTEN TOLD examines the failure of the father figure in South Africa through the tensions of a friendship across economic divides.

MAIMANE! a coming of age story, set against the backdrop of a contemporary South Africa, brings together a diverse group of young people who summon the courage to face extraordinary hardships against all odds. SPACE ROCKS, written by Tamara Schulz and directed by Craig Morris is aimed at young audiences (4-8 years old). All the Drama for Life shows run between 3 and 8 July.


A real treat for theatre lovers will be a live link up to the National Theatre in the UK for the staging of AMADEUS and TWELFTH NIGHT. National Theatre Live launched in June 2009 with a broadcast of the National Theatre production of Phèdre with Helen Mirren. They have since broadcast more than forty other productions live, from both the National Theatre and other theatres in the UK. This global viewing experience will take place on 5 July at 15:00 (TWELFTH NIGHT) and 19:00 (AMADEUS).


A long-standing partner of the National Art’s Festival, the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) will again bring French-inspired works to the programme. The ‘enfant terrible’ of French poetry, Arthur Rimbaud, will be brought to life in THE ALCHEMY OF WORDS. The play focuses on Rimbaud’s short-lived poetry career and the profound impact it had on the poetry of the 1800’s, going on to inspire artists such as André Breton, Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and Jim Morrison. See it 1,2 and 3 July).

Also made possible with the support of the French Institute South Africa (IFAS) and Alliance Française Southern Africa, is The Fortune Cookie Company’s TARTUFFE. Directed by former Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner (2006), Sylvaine Strike, the cast heaves with theatre heavyweights and fresh talent from Neil McCarthy and Craig Morris to Khutjo Green and Camilla Waldman.

The piece tells the story of destructive influence and power through Moliere’s traditional satire but with Strike’s fresh vision and a pre-war epoch, 1930s treatment. Having toured in Cape Town and Johannesburg, festival-goers will be treated to TARTUFFE’s Eastern Cape premier on 29, 30 June and 1 July.


Says National Arts Festival Executive Producer, Ashraf Johaardien, “Theatre addicts know that the National Arts Festival’s Arena is a fast-fix of edgy new work from some of the artists who are shaping a new generation of theatre.” The Arena is composed of productions that have won either a Standard Bank Ovations Award on the National Arts Festival Fringe or an international award at one of the National Arts Festival’s partner festivals.  With support from Business and Arts South Africa, this year’s Arena is a collection of spellbinding, thought-provoking pieces.

The fast-paced, decisive REPARATION is written, directed and designed by Ameera Conrad and presented by Hungry Minds Productions. “An all local-content theatre production for the new age theatre goer” it’s a dark comedy that explores the ‘final reparation’ in South African politics on 30 June, 1 and 2 July.

Awarded the Dioraphte ‘Best of Amsterdam Fringe 2016’ award, MACHO MACHO is an ironic exploration of masculinity through a physical ‘dance’ between two men who are questioning the objectified world they are being subjected to….what is behind those Calvin Klein sixpacks? Brought to the Festival by the World Fringe Alliance, audiences can see it on 3, 4, 6 and 7 July

Robaby Productions’ KID CASINO sees the irrepressible Roberto Pombo pair up with Joni Barnard in a play about the underbelly of casino addiction as two young children caper through the casino whilst their Mother stays glued to the slot machines. Showing on 6, 7, 8 and 9 July.

The much-anticipated new work of 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre 2016 and recent Naledi Award winner, Jade Bowers’  BLACK features Ameera Patel in Penny Youngleson’s adaptation of CA Davids’ Blacks of Cape Town. The narrative, in split chapter form, shifts between past and present – from New Jersey where lead character Zara Black finds herself alone and displaced, to South Africa of the past and present- as she grapples with constructing a history for herself and her family from fragmented recollections and family lore. Performances take place on 29 and 30 June, 1 and 2 July.

Greg Homann, a member of the artistic committee’s theatre sub-committee (along with Lara Bye, Mwenya Kabwe and Warona Seane) says “South Africa’s longstanding theatre tradition of creating new work that disrupts, challenges, and questions is alive and well.” Evident in the subject matter, the ideas and the experimentation that comes with the 2017 Festival programme, artists are not just responding to the turmoil of a world facing any number of possible futures and slippery slopes, they are rewiring imaginations and outcomes in bold remixes that search and sweat for answers.

The National Arts Festival’s programme is online and available for booking on the site


The National Arts Festival is grateful to: the Department of Arts and Culture, Eastern Cape Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture and the Office of the Premier, and Standard Bank of South Africa. Media partners include MNET and City Press.


Now in its 43rd year, the National Arts Festival is the largest and longest-running celebration of the arts on the African content. It is held annually in the small university city of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, 130km from Port Elizabeth.

The programme comprises drama, dance, physical theatre, comedy, opera, music, jazz, visual art exhibitions, film, student theatre, street theatre, lectures, craft fair, workshops, as well as a children’s arts festival.


The Artistic Committee, comprising experts in various disciplines, selects the content of the Main programme. Work from both within and outside South Africa is considered, with the following criteria in mind: the artistic merits of any submission; the creation of a varied and balanced programme; and the costs involved.


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