The theme for this year’s 18th Woordfees is “Wys!” which when translated from Afrikaans can mean anything from ‘wisdom’ to ‘showing’ someone something. Very smart wordplay, and open to your unique festival experience interpretation. As a festival that strives to provide a platform for the arts, in a most excellent way, it invites you to open yourself up to new experiences and enjoy great theatre with abandon, even if it may challenge you or ruffle some feathers at times.
Now that got my attention! After all, the primary purpose of theatre is to challenge our perspectives and to make us think and feel. In very wisely celebrating this aspect of the power of theatre, Woordfees will showcase an inclusive, multilingual, and welcoming programme in Stellenbosch from 3 to 12 March 2017.
For the kidlets, Peter Pan will be flying in to amaze and delight with his adventures alongside Wendy, Tinkerbelle and Captain Hook in this Afrikaans production. It will have young and old walk out entertained and with a childlike twinkle in the eye, mesmerised by the make-believe world magically brought to stage through music, song and dance. Plus don't forget to book tickets to go meet up with Lollos too! Follow that up with Klikkerland's fun stories and lively music, and your youngsters will be laughing and dancing for days.
Now what would entice the adults to go make a turn at Woordfees? At last year’s KKNK, the contemporary adaptation of Le Casa de Bernarda Alba, in the Afrikaans version Die Huis van Bernarda Alba, wowed audiences. Now it is set to do the same at the Woordfees 2017 with impressive performances by Antionette Kellerman, Dawid Minnaar and Cintaine Schutte in this tale of a mourning widow that is hellbent on keeping her daughters locked away from the world… not an easy task when ‘love’ comes calling.
Another stand-out show on this year's festival programme, in fact the stand-out show for me personally, is Pa, the Afrikaans adaptation of French playwright Florian Zellar’s ‘The Father’ that debuted at the KKNK too. I have been carrying the memory of that performance around in my heart ever since. It is a theatre experience that lingers and enriches you art-loving soul every time you let your mind wonder back to it. Chris van Niekerk is exceptional in his portrayal of the proud yet very charming André (the 'Pa'), a man struggling to comprehend whether his perceived reality is in fact real. This is simply a must see production to make your festival experience complete. In fact it is a must must see show!
Kooperasie-stories by PG du Plessis, that first aired on television in 1983, is revived by Alexa Strachan in a stage adaptation that reintroduces a new as well as a nostalgic generation to the well-meaning yet always gossiping Mietie (Marion Holm), Veldsman (Chris van Niekerk), Genis (Carel Nel) and their neighbours (Margit Meyer-Rodenbeck en De Klerk Oelofse) under direction of the phenomenal Sandra Prinsloo.
Sandra Prinsloo herself also graces the Woordfees stage in Pa, maak vir my ‘n vlieer, Pa (a story of blame, resentment, love and acceptance as a son has to care for his ailing mother, while being surprised by a bit of a mysterious visitor), and So Ry Miss Daisy (a staging of the much loved movie ‘Driving Miss Daisy’). What makes the latter production extra special? It sees Sandra Prinsloo join forces with another theatre giant, the remarkable John Kani. With that said, no further explanation is needed as to why this one should clearly already be penned into your festival diary.
This year the Woordfees also showcases the work and legacy of Pieter-Dirk Uys through the mediums of theatre and film. I can highly recommend his very honest and moving memoire type one-man show Echo of a Noise, which is perfectly complimented with the screening of his life story in Nobody’s Died Laughing. Add into this mix a bit of Tannie Evita and her take on a State of the Nation address in #EvitaWon’tFall. But just to make sure that you get the full PDU theatre package right here at the festival, there is even the treat of his Afrikaans debut of Weerklank van 'n Wanklank to celebrate his heritage in his unique style.
Other plays at the Woordfees, which I am excited to include as part of my festival schedule, are Die Fliek (where three lonely souls connect over their mutual love of movies in the Afrikaans adaptation of Annie Baker's 2014 Pulitzer prize winning drama, The Flick), Weg (described as a requiem for a loved one and musings about life brought to stage), In Wag Van (where a woman who mourns the loss of a son ‘swallowed’ by the moon), Mamre (the story of a community forgotten and left behind in the dust of the rat race of life), Martelsang (the Afrikaans adaptation of 'Death and the Maiden' by Ariel Dorfman), Immortal (a train crossing, an accident and a survivor, a story of timeless spirits and ancient conflicts), and Wild (introducing us to a women raised by dogs and the police officer who finds her and tries to teach her about ‘humanity’).
Wessel Pretorius, is also brilliant in his latest play Die ontelbare 48. At first sight, it may appear to be just a story about a community getting ready to watch 'The Sound of Music' in their church hall, but it is the reveal of the ‘silences’ or rather hidden/lost voices in between that make for an expected yet utterly surprising twist in the end of it all. It is a ‘beautiful’ contradiction balanced with laughter and tears. I recommend it with the very clear theatre conscience to anyone who appreciates not only great acting but exquisite and colourful writing when it comes to the text itself.
If you didn’t catch the much raved about and absolutely mind-blowing The Fall at the Baxter Theatre last year, you also simply can’t afford to miss out on this theatre experience at the festival. Insightful and perspective shifting in a very honest and moving way, this play epitomises the power of the theatre. I have yet to speak to one person who saw it that didn't walk out completely amazed at the maturity of the young cast that invites you into their world to show you their reality.
Dop, a production that already debuted up North, makes a Winelands turn, featuring actors Andre Odendaal en Wilhelm van der Walt. Kinders van die Wind after entertaining audiences at the 2016 Fringe Festival also forms part of the Woordfees programme, while Amper, Vrystaat, that played to sold out Woordfees audiences in 2016 is making a return too. Back by popular demand actually says all you need to know about 'Amper, Vrystaat' to add it to your list of tickets to buy. When expanding on that list, also consider Die Vrou Uit Die See (a mesmerising yet humorous love story that was very well received by audiences at the 2016 Innibos en Aardklop festivals) and Drif (one of award-winning playwright Reza de Wet's darkest scripts, a classical drama that lures audiences with a mysterious stormy tale).
For the musical lovers, there is Heidi and her adventures with Peter, Klara and Miss Rottenmeier, which is a great theatre treat for the whole family. Need more than one musical inspired show option? Then you can also check out Onder Dieselfde Dak, which promises to makes you laugh and cry as Marthie and Leatitia puts a musical twist to Afrikaaps poetry for your entertainment.
Another stand-out highlight of this year will be the tribute to the icon Adam Small in Ko Lat Ons Sing, where singers and actors (including Zenobia Kloppers, June van Merch, Koos Kombuis, Wessel Pretorius and HemelBesem) join forces in celebration of his inspirational written-word influence, through his work as set to music.
In the mood for some stand-up comedy? There is definitely no shortage of comedic delights on the festival menu this year. With the opportunity to see top class SA comedy acts ranging from Rob van Vuuren, Shimmy Isaacs and Schalk Bezuidenhout to Nik Rabinowitz, Barry Hilton and Stuart Taylor, there is a giggle and a laugh to suit everyone’s comedy preference. Personally, I would book for Laugh Changes Everything as it brings Schalk Bezuidenhout, Nik Rabinowitz and Kagiso Ledige together in one show that promises to be absolutely hilarious. Pair that with a good dose of everyone’s favourite Dowwe Dolla in #DowweDolla, and your funny bone will get properly tickled.
For the movie fanatics, there is the Sterkinekor screening of the stage to screen adaptation of the well-known Die Rebellie van Lafras Verwey, starring Tobie Cronjé, supported by a stellar cast including Chantell Phillipus, Neels van Jaarsveld, Cobus Visser, Lionel Newton, and Albert Pretorius. Then there is also Black Lives Matter. It takes a look at the community tension in Mokopane (Limpopo) following the seizure of control over the mineral wealth of the area by a small elite, and promises to be a very insightful movie option, asking questions that will definitely leave the audience thinking. The acclaimed Noem My Skollie and the delightful Dis Koue Kos, Skat, both following very successful Silverskerm 2016 screenings, will also be on offer for your viewing pleasure.
After all that, if you are still looking for something extra unique for your theatre festival experience, how about a walk between realities? That is exactly what Nagwanderlaars offer, as they blur the lines between the here and the hereafter with a site specific production that is sure to give you a spine chilling experience. This productions draws its inspiration from the ghost stories penned by CJ Langenhoven. I saw a version of it at the KKNK last year and I am not shy to say I squealed and shrieked more than once. So go get your scare on!
These are just the productions that stood out at first glance when I perused the very diverse, vibrant, thought-provoking but above all entertaining 2017 Woordfees programme. Take a squiz at the full brochure here: https://goo.gl/eN2rVi. See if any other shows jump out at you as must sees and tweet your #Woordfees2017 #Wys thoughts and top choices to @TheatreSceneCpt. See you at the festival!