Thursday, July 30, 2009

Albert College at the Grahamstown Festival

- Joshua & Caleb Swanepoel, Abigail Modra and Matthew van Heerden -

On the 2nd of July the Albert College senior pupils left for the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. The trip was eight hours long and when four students plus teacher try and fit into a small car everyone can get a bit rattled. A lunch break helped and we arrived to find comfortable accommodation at “Die Kerkhuis” where our host was Schalk van Niekerk.

Our first show, First Light Movies, was a presentation of several short films made by British teenagers. The show started half an hour late and was appallingly disorganised, so we were a bit disappointed, but some of the films were very good. Abigail’s favourite was Molly Moplegs, a story about a girl who refused to help her mother clean the house. In the end her legs turned into mops.
From then on the Festival improved, we rested at night and did a tremendous amount during the days.

Thursday morning saw us on our way to NELM (National English Literature Museum) where we were privileged to have a personal tour with Lynne Grant, one of the librarians. Their collection includes material by more than 8000 Southern African authors who have written in English. Their large collection of books published before 1910, which are kept under lock and key, includes a copy of The Great Boer War by Arthur Conan Doyle and London to Ladysmith via Pretoria by Winston Churchill. The Museum has a map of the world in the tea-room into which pins are stuck to show where people have come from to do research. Most came from Europe and the first South American researchers visited earlier this year.

The absolute highlight of the Festival for all of us was The Strange Case of Hester Cilliers, a two and a half hour long dinner theatre murder mystery at the Monument Restaurant. The cast consisted of only two people, who played four characters each. Our group was able to follow the clues and work out who the murderer had been and why she did the dastardly deed. It was terrific!

That evening we went to Vumelani Dance, where three traditional African dance groups from the Eastern Cape performed a programme they have prepared for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. The rhythm, energy and intensity were incredible. The youngest dancer was around eight years old and the oldest were a group of Bhaca women who believe their young people will be empowered if they stay close to their tribal traditions and values.

Saturday was our busiest day. We went on the Saints, Sinners and Students walking tour, where our guide was dressed in Victorian clothes and was very knowledgeable about the history of Grahamstown. We dashed from there to Previously Owned, a comedy which was unnecessarily vulgar, however the set, lighting and sound were good. We grabbed a quick street lunch and went to A Teacher in the Bushveld, a one man show. David Butler was Herman Charles Bosman talking about his years as a teacher in the Groot Marico. With only a few props and a table and chairs he wove some magical tales.

Later we made tracks for PJ Olivier School where we watched Stilted, directed by Andrew Buckland, which gave us insight into exploring the boundaries of theatre. Josh found this his best show: “Two guys lit up the stage with humour and different kinds of acrobatics in a sold-out production. One, the “performer” was on stilts and the other the “actor” wasn’t. The “performer” did a one-man comedy show, entertaining the crowd, and eventually inspiring and encouraging the “actor” to take part and express himself. They used a trampoline, a very high bed and other equipment. It was great!”

To end the day Abigail, Josh and Matthew went to hear the “very noisy” Awesome Big Band, made up of famous jazz artistes from all over the world, a once in a lifetime experience. Ailsa accompanied Caleb to his favourite show, a side-splitting performance by stand-up comic David Newton.

Sunday morning and the crew headed into the bowels of the Settler’s Monument to the Rehearsal Room for a student workshop production: Suitcase Stories. Wonderful music from a young guitarist, but a very confusing production. We left for the village green where we saw Osadia, a group from Barcelona who picked members of the audience to transform them with wild hairstyles and make-up, all to quirky, classical music.

As Matthew noted: “After watching a lady being turned into a Picasso and a young man converted into a mobile shrubbery with an army camouflage department lurking within, we left, partially through fear of being selected, partially because we were hungry and partially because we did not want to look like idiots at the Gala Concert.”

The Gala Concert featured the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra and Standard Bank Young Artist Prize-winner Jacques Imbrailo a baritone with a golden voice. After a standing ovation they played Land of Hope and Glory, much to Ailsa’s delight. We headed back to “Die Kerkhuis” for tea and scones with Schalk, who trained as a butler. He served tea in his Royal Albert egg shell tea cups. Luckily there were no breakages as each tea cup and saucer was worth a fortune!

The last show was Sleight of Mind. Two men performed various unbelievable sleight of hand and mind tricks. We still have no idea how they did them.

We managed to fit in a visit to the Johan Carinus Art Centre before leaving on Monday morning. Sally Scott’s Red Shoe exhibition fascinated everyone. As Caleb said: “It’s amazing what people can do with their hands.” Then it was into the car and a seven hour journey home, how wonderful it is to be back in our quiet little town.

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