The National Arts Festival transforms Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) into a multi-stage, multi-genre arts experience. The Festival runs from 27 June-7 July this year. This year’s Fringe programme has been announced ahead of the box office opening on 7 May.
The Fringe at the National Arts Festival is that part of the programme populated entirely by works from artists who are bringing their shows to the Festival at their own financial risk to showcase it to the receptive audiences of NAF. The open-access model of accepting any work by brave and passionate creatives is one that is modelled on the massive 70-year-old Edinburgh Fringe, which started because artists, who weren’t selected for the main stages, broke away and staged their work on the ‘fringes’ of the Festival.
Fringe shows vary greatly in genre, style and content: some are highly produced and designed, while others keep it simple with bare stages and minimal props. No matter the look and feel, audiences know good work when they see it. News of overnight successes spreads like wildfire through the Festival and shows up at the box office with sell out performances.
Fringe shows are brave – they are like the little kid in the schoolyard who dares to be different at the risk of being bullied, scorned, or (even worse) ignored completely. Festival-goers thrive on finding the hidden gems that are to be found throughout the programme.
Comic Relief on Every Corner
The comedy programme is rich with solo and group shows by some of the country’s finest and is bound to keep the late night venues (and even early morning stages) rocking. SA’s correspondent to Trevor Noah’s Daily Show, Loyiso Madinga returns to NAF, as do Tats Nkonzo, Robby Collins, Mo Mothebe, Khanyisa Bunu, Mojak Lehoko and many more – holding a clutch of local and international accolades between them.
Staying on the funny side is Aaron McIlroy with his hit show ADHD. He also teams up with Lisa Bobbert for BLOOPERS while Tyson Ngubeni directs Tats Nkonzo, Kate Pinchuck, Robby Collins, Schalk Bezuidenhout and Gilli Apter in LAMBS TO THE LAUGHTER. In THE THUNDERBIRDS Claudine Ullman stars alongside Nina Hastie and Gilli Apter in an hilarious ride.
Consistently among the Festival’s top-selling shows are Followspot’s much loved capers – and this year the line-up includes BIJOU, BIG BOYS DON’T DANCE and YOU SHOULD BE DANCING. Expect fun, escapism and sheer entertainment – it’s a good idea to book your tickets before they’re gone!
Quarter of a Century for Rob van Vuuren
This Festival’s performer-of-honour has to be Rob van Vuuren who celebrates 25 years of performing at the National Arts Festival with his brilliantly crafted AGAIN!, directed by Alan Committie. Rob hasn’t left much time to reflect on his achievements as he also brings a number of other shows to the Festival and though not all are comedy – all are worth seeing. Catch ELECTRIC JUJU, the Standard Bank Ovation Award winning DANGLED and FLORENCE AND WATSON AND THE GREAT PANGOLIN MYSTERY based on the book he co-created with Lauren Fowler and Dani Bischoff. The original production based on the book series will also be staged but in isiXhosa for the first time as uFLORENCE noWATSON KUNYE NEMPUKU YOMOBA.The National Arts Festival’s own production The Gruffalo will also be staged in isiXhosa this year as iGRUFFALO.
The 2019 Fringe programme has a special focus on disability and allowed for concessions for works that met this theme. BOPHA’s producer and some of the cast members live with disabilities while C-4-CANCER is a play communicated through sign language. GIRL WITH THE MAGIC PAINTBRUSH and SOUND WORD, A WOMAN IN PRAYER are two of the works that look at blindness, in addition the South African Library for the Blind is celebrating its centenary year and have put together a show and exhibition called THE BLIND DATE and THE EYE CATCHING respectively. JR NKOSI DUO are a mother and son who have produced a work about autism.
Theatre has the power to transform and heal so it follows that many shows on the Fringe programme explore social issues plaguing everyday South Africans. Through grass roots and community theatre productions we explore solutions and ideas for these every day and extreme social problems; a communal catharsis for the many challenges we currently face.
Great Storytelling Ahead
Fresh from the Glastonbury and Edinburgh Festivals comes THE ADVENTURES OF ROBERT MOFFAT, a fascinating look at the encounter between the Scottish missionary of the same name and Mzilikazi who founded Matabeleland (now Zimbabwe) told through dance.
Outdoor Festival LA called it the ‘kind of theatre we need’ as five-time Hollywood Fringe award-winner STILL comes to the Festival from the international circuit. Gaëtan Schmid makes a comeback with ZOMBIE ATTACK in which he mimes an ‘odyssey of fear to a soundtrack of 101 movies’. An unmissable return to the Festival is Tony Miyambo’s KAFKA’S APE a metaphorical view on South African society highlighting the complexities of identity in post-apartheid South Africa and in society in general through the story of an ape. Former Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre (2017) Jade Bowers brings back BLACK, her play about truth and identity.
Beyond the Illusion
As always the Fringe is home to mystery, magic and illusion with the talents of Brendon Peel, Stuart Lightbody, Greg Gelb, Li Lau, Andrew Klazinga, Roy Swann, Dr Stef and more.
Make a Stop at The Edge
The Edge creates a cosy and consistent home for excellent theatre productions – many of which have earned their stripes with Standard Bank Ovation and other awards. Housed in one venue, the Edge presents the brilliantly performed THE BLUE PERIOD OF MILTON VAN DER SPUY, WINGING IT, ARTIFICE WITH STUART LIGHTBODY, A PLACE OF KNOWING, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JAN COETZEE, A FAINT PATCH OF LIGHT and a remarkable performance from Billy Langa in TSWALO.
Among the shows at The Edge are also Contagious Theatre’s critically acclaimed JAMES CAIRNS AGAINST HUMANITY and runaway Festival favourite SILKWORM. Contagious also brings THE BOY WHO CRIED NINJA and THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA to the Festival.
Spoilt for Musical Choice
An entire Festival could be spent on the Fringe’s music programme alone. Fringe insiders are looking forward to 047 BAND a trio from Mthatha who are proud of their isiXhosa roots and incorporate them into their set. Liverpool-born musician saxophonist, Andrew Young, performs with his band; lead singer of Clique Claq, Thoko, presents a mix of neo-soul, afro-pop and RnB compositions; and Jo’burg band, JUST 6 will raise the goosebumps with their a capella set. Nomabotwe, who won a Standing Ovation Award at the 2018 Festival returns to wow the crowds with her knock-out voice.
Visual Art and Spiritual Journeys
Visual artists will take visitors on contemplative journeys in a series of group and deeply personal solo exhibitions, craft shows, studies of landscapes and narratives of the Eastern Cape and greater South Africa. Workshops and walkabouts are also on offer
The SpiritFest programme again focuses on the intersection of the arts and faith, with an eclectic programme of meditation, talks, music, visual art and, of course, prayer. All denominations welcome.
National Arts Festival Fringe Manager Zikhona Monaheng has this advice for Festival goers wanting to book their tickets; “It’s always a good idea to book a few tickets for the shows that you like or the ones that you know are going to sell out but leave some space in your planning for those Festival hits that you don’t know are coming and so you can go and see something that you might not ordinarily see. The Fringe is always full of surprises!”