Festival of celebrated Afrikaans theatre at the Baxter

Festival of celebrated Afrikaans theatre at the Baxter

The Baxter Theatre Centre is kicking off 2015 with an Afrikaans season featuring some of the heavyweights of the theatre and performance worlds. The season showcases two celebrated dramas and a comedy.
Jaco Bouwer’s award-winning ‘Samsa-masjien’, which won the ATKV-Woorveertjie for Drama, will take to the Baxter’s Flipside stage from January 16 to 31 at 8.15pm nightly. From January 20 to February 7, in the Baxter’s Golden Arrow Studio, television favourites Vinette Ebrahim and Chris van Niekerk will star in the comedy ‘Die Ongelooflike Reis van Max en Lola’ at 8.15pm nightly. Marthinus Basson’s epic ‘macbeth.slapeloos’, which is performed in Afrikaans with English surtitles, will run in the Baxter Theatre from February 4 to 21 at 7.30pm.

PETER TROMP chatted to a few of the key creatives behind this exciting theatrical event.

JACO BOUWER (Director ‘Samsa-masjien’)
Tell us about ‘Samsa-masjien’ and what audiences can look forward to with the production.
The other day someone asked me what genre ‘Samsa-masjien’ was performed in and I actually had difficulty describing it. Simply put I would say somewhere between a drama, black comedy, art installation and partly performance. Arts critic Diane De Beer probably said it best: “As radical, trail-blazing theatre, it begs to be seen. This extravagant and extraordinary production is an onslaught on the senses as it invades and expands the mind”

You have garnered a reputation in recent years for being one of our most innovative theatrical formalists. Do you set out to push theatrical boundaries with every production you do, or is it an organic process that manifests itself as a project gains momentum?
I think it is just a process and what the particular works demands. I guess it’s also the kind of work that seeks me out, or rather the other way around. I really like working with writers. Writing and traditional narrative is not my strong point, so my approach hinges more on concept, creating a visual landscape for the performers that scratches on the subconscious.
It’s been a while since we had a season of theatre dedicated solely to Afrikaans works at the Baxter. The last one happened under the Vleis, Reis En Aartappels staple, in 2008, if memory serves. What do you hope this season of works do for Afrikaans theatre in the city?
I’m not necessarily an advocate for Afrikaans theatre. For me it’s firstly about the work itself and not language. For me it is really important that this particular piece is seen outside of festivals and in a proper functioning theatre. I think it’s an important piece to experience, with some of the best writing in theatre by Willem Anker and unbelievably brave performances by Gerben Kamper and Antoinette Kellermann.

Who/what do you count among your primary inspirations and influences?
I start each new project in absolute horror and insecurity and then try and make sense of the work in a very organic way. I try to stay present as much as I can while I am being consumed by the process. I make theatre that I myself would like to see.

VINETTE EBRAHIM, (Writer & actress, ‘Die Ongelooflike Reis Van Max & Lola’)
Tell us about ‘Die Ongelooflike Reis van Max en Lola’. What can audiences look forward to with the production?
It’s about a lifetime of friendship under near impossible circumstances. It’s a dark comedy about ageing, the process of dying, but mostly about love. Max and Lola met in the 1960s, at a time when South Africa was experiencing its darkest days. Their hilarious escapades and riotous relationship brings them to today, Max’s 80th birthday. One after the other the guests fall away for various reasons, until it is only the two of them left and tats when things get really interesting.

You conceived and wrote the story along with Hugo Taljaard. What inspired you to create the work in the first place?
I’m getting old! Seriously, a very good friend of mine died two years ago and it made me take a long, hard look at my own mortality. So this is in effect homage to Jan. On the other hand my other good friend Henry Mylne and I are obsessed about the process of growing old. It’s hard! It’s not for sissies. So I decided to write a play, but it had to be a comedy, because I got tired of playing the tragic characters – Poppie Nongena, Lena in ‘Boesman & Lena’, Miss Africa South and Ellen Pakkies. With all due respect to each one of these characters – whom I cared about deeply – I’m back on antidepressant medication. I came up with the story and Hugo Taljard helped to flesh it out. Hugo was amazing to work with. As a novice writer I learnt so much from him.

You’ve become well known for your work on television, yet we regularly see you on stage as well. What continues to bring you back to the boards?
Stage will always be my first love. It’s what energises me. I am very happy to have work on ‘7de Laan’, make no mistake, but the stage, the stage, the stage… And no; it’s not about instant gratification. It’s about connecting with an audience. What a bonus to be working with Chris van Niekerk. Our heartbeats have become synchronised.

How do you feel about the company you’re keeping in this all-Afrikaans works season at the Baxter?
I think it’s wonderful that the Baxter is having an Afrikaans season. We’re in excellent company. ‘Samsa-masjien’ and ‘macbeth.slapeloos’ – both are award winning plays. I hope we do them proud.

MARTHINUS BASSON, (Director ‘macbeth.slapeloos’)
Tell us about ‘macbeth.slapeloos’. What can audiences look forward to with the production?
This is the third time I have tussled with this magnificent text. As a matter of fact, I consider it my favourite Shakespeare: terse, moving, furious, complex and an epic contemplation on the nature of power.
‘macbeth.slapeloos’ is a meditation on the two lead characters and their motivations in their extraordinary and all too human journey to “become”; to “fulfill”; to “be”. I am extremely fortunate in having actors of the calibre of Dawid Minnaar and Anna-Mart van der Merwe, who are fearlessly prepared to plumb the depths and scale the heights of human experience in the process of recreating these all too recognizable people. I have used the device of people caught in a loop, of endlessly repeating their actions until the cycle of blood can be broken. As someone keenly interested in history I know that mankind never learns, but we can hope, can’t we?

What personally drew you to Shakespeare’s story?
I firmly believe that theatre, apart from its entertainment value, should illuminate, inform, challenge and question. ‘Macbeth’ provides all the right material for this kind of theatrical experience. The story of the Macbeths is recreated daily in the real world in homes, boardrooms, schools, parliaments and corridors of power. What truly makes Macbeth such a compelling character is his growing insight into himself. He develops a poet’s soul in his struggle with the realities of his choices and actions.

You’ve assembled an amazing cast, but I have to ask about the triumvirate of Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Jana Cilliers and Antoinette Kellermann. What was it like collaborating with three such legendary actresses on one production?
I have worked so often with Jana and Antoinette that I consider them as family. Anna-Mart is like discovering a long lost sister. What unbridled joy to have such wonderful talents to use and abuse, to employ and deploy. They create mountains. I will climb the Himalaya’s with those three.

You’ve been one of our busiest theatre makers for decades now, yet inspiration does not seem to be a problem for you. What is it that keeps the creative juices flowing?
I am not interested in theatre at all. I am interested in everything else. But I believe that theatre is a wonderful way to talk to people about your experience of the world. Luckily I am still allowed to communicate through this medium. Thank god we as theatre-makers can wage wars, kill and maim, mourn and celebrate without doing damage the way so many other belief-systems demand of believers…

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