Compelling women’s stories and trailblazing female creatives command the spotlight at the 2016 National Arts Festival, with plays that celebrate and interrogate the role women play in our political, social and cultural discourse, writes Christina Kennedy
This year’s Featured Artist is pioneering theatremaker Lara Foot. She heads up the Baxter Theatre but remains a prolific creator of new South African plays that deliver hard-hitting deliberations on the status quo, steeped in a rich, vivid visual language.
Foot is premiering her new play The Inconvenience of Wings, featuring Andrew Buckland, Mncedisi Shabangu and Jennifer Steyn – a meditation on compulsion, addiction and bipolar disorder. Her award-winning plays Tshepang and Karoo Moose can also be seen at the Festival.
Dynamic director Jade Bowers, the Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre, presents Lebanese-Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched. While dealing with war and loss, it is an intimate family drama featuring Cherae Halley and Jaques de Silva.
The Artscape Theatre Centre debuts OoMaSiSulu, adapted from Elinor Sisulu’s biography of her mother, Albertina – a much-loved titan of the struggle. The play was conceptualised by Thembi Mtshali-Jones (who also stars) and Dr Sindiwe Magona, and is directed by Warona Seane.
Ma Sisulu’s formidable generation led the women’s protest march to the Union Buildings in 1956 and, to coincide with the 60th anniversary, the Sibikwa Arts Centre is staging Phyllis Klotz’s Chapter 2, Section 9, on the National Lottery Fringe.
In a similar vein, Jackie Rens plays intrepid journalist Ruth First, who was assassinated for her anti-apartheid activism, in Fred Abrahamse and Marcel Meyer’s adaptation of her book Ruth First: 117 Days, about her time in solitary confinement.
The play forms part of the Solo Theatre Festival, where local and international productions highlight women’s tenacity as they grapple with personal demons and political landmines. This showcase includes Fiona Ramsay in Blonde Poison, Chanje Kunda in Amsterdam, Jenna Dunster in Immortal, Zethu Dhlomo in Penny, Jemma Kahn in In Bocca al Lupo, Ester Natzijl in Watching, and Gulshan Mia in Unveiled.
On the Arena programme, another struggle icon is profiled in As Ever, Bessie, written and directed by Bobbie Fitchen and featuring Denise Newman as author Bessie Head. Plus, Neil Coppen’s multi-awarded production of George Orwell’s Animal Farm features an all-female cast.