Sunday, July 31, 2011

Customer Service

I have had the worst experience of customer service lately. Most specifically, I had the worst day of customer service on Friday.

It all started when I decided that I wanted to leave work for lunch. Grant wasn't interested, being busy and all, so I asked Andrew if he wanted to come with me. Andrew sits next to me at work and we have become quite close and chatty recently, so he was up for going out to lunch and we shut down our machines at 12:00pm and made our way to Red Cafe. I was quite keen to try out the new weekly menu that they had introduced, and so was Andrew. We even booked to ensure that we got a table - this is how keen I was. In any case, we arrived at Red Cafe just after 12 and got seated at a small table in the corner. It was incredibly busy, so it was a good thing that we booked. We got handed menus and then waited around 10 minutes before the only waitress in the place finally got a chance to get our drink orders. Not her fault, but still a little annoying. We then waited a further 20 minutes to get our drinks, only to find out that they were not serving the new menu during the day - only at night. It was now halfway through our lunch hour, and we knew that there was no way we were going to make it back on time if we ordered food. So we downed our drinks as fast as we could and made our way to Nandos.

Nandos in Grahamstown has a terrible reputation for being incredibly slow. We knew this when we decided to go there, but we figured that since we were running late anyway, we might as well order, pay and have them deliver. We had the vain hope that by paying first, they would be quicker on the uptake and bring us our food within an hour at least. An hour and a half later, our food had still not arrived. After scouring the web for a phone number unsuccessfully, I finally managed to get the number for the Grahamstown branch off a menu that someone had lying around the office. I phoned them and was told that the food was on its way. Phew. Ten minutes later, it arrived. Or some of it did anyway. Out of the three orders that we had placed, only one and a half arrived - one pita meal (out of the two that were ordered) and a vitality meal minus the salad - and they were all cold. We were furious, and Grant and I made our way to the Nandos branch to insist that we get our money back. They gave it back to us very unapologetically, and we made our way to PnP instead and bought some rolls and chicken to make sarmies with. We weren't very happy, but the situation had been resolved and that was that.

Unfortunately, that wasn't quite the end of my day of bad customer service. I wish I could say that it was, but there was yet another terrible experience to come. Andrew, Badger, Kath, Emma and I had decided to go and see Harry Potter on Friday night and we had decided to go to dinner before hand. Since the sushi place was around the corner anyway, we decided to go there and we figured that giving them an hour to make sushi for 5 people should be more than enough. But it really wasn't. Once again, I had to feel for the owner a little - there was one chef, one helper and one woman running around trying to ensure that everyone was happy. It was a difficult situation, and she tried to make up for it by giving us free saki. Unfortunately, that didn't stop us from being 20 minutes late for our movie and missing the beginning of it, and it didn't stop other people from threatening to leave when they saw us being served. They insisted that they had ordered before us (despite us arriving 15 minutes before them) and were incredibly upset that our orders were being seen to first. We didn't stick around to see the end of this argument, as we had a movie to catch, but thankfully I can say that it was the end of my Friday of bad customer service. Only because I didn't go anywhere else after the movie though.

Andrew and I are now convinced that we are cursed. Badger has suggested that he go out to dinner with each of us individually so that he can decipher who exactly the curse is attached to. Since I felt nauseous after my dinner out last night and got the wrong pizza delivered today, I have a sinking suspicion that it is attached to me. Here's hoping I'm wrong!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The end of an era

I was 11 years old and I had a crush on a boy in my class. His name was Martin and he was oh so cute and smart and geeky and awesome. I sat next to him whenever I could and soaked up the knowledge that he had. He was 12 and had already read Lord of the Rings, something that I have not managed to do to this day, not for lack of trying, I might add. One day in class, I asked him to write me a list of the books that I should read. He wrote down some classics like Dune and LOTR, but one of the books he wrote down was one that I had never heard of before. What was this Harry Potter all about? I folded his note and put it in my pocket, and proceeded to not open it again, forgetting what was in it as I forgot about the crush that I'd had.

That year, my family went on our trip to Spain and Mallorca. We were stranded in Johannesburg airport at midnight and I was restless, with nothing to do but wait to get on our flight. Mom decided to take a walk and came back half an hour later with a bag full of magazines and books, one of which was for me. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I picked it up and looked at it, read the back a couple of times, but forced myself not to open it up and start reading. This book was for the plane. As soon as we boarded and I was comfortable in my seat, I opened it up, started reading the first chapter and... was asleep within minutes. When we got stuck in Lisbon for a couple of hours due to bad weather, I picked it up again, but found myself getting bored, so I made friends with the little girl sitting next to me instead. I put the book in my bag and forgot about it for awhile.

About two weeks later, when we were on the plane to Mallorca and I had read everything else I had brought with me, I picked up Harry Potter again and started reading. And this time, I got sucked in. From the moment the plane took off to the moment we landed, I couldn't put the book down, and when I finally did, it was only because I was forced to. Two days later, it was finished and I wanted more. Unfortunately, there were no English book stores, and certainly none that stocked HP at that stage, and so I had to wait. And I did. Very impatiently.

I finally convinced my mother to buy me the second and third books, and made my way through those in a matter of days. I was there for every new book launch, at midnight for some of them, and always tried to convince my parents that I was sick when they came out on school days so that I could stay home and breathe them in. When I got to University and the final book came out, there were no parents to stop me staying in, and my room became my cave - where I stayed until the last words had been read. When I finished the last book, it felt like the end of an era, but that was nothing compared to the feeling that washed over me as the final credits started on the final movie.

Harry Potter has been a big part of my life for the last 12 years. The books have made me laugh and cry, have been the building blocks for friendships and the source of some. I didn't cry in the last movie, not when I saw the bodies of Fred Weasley or Lupin and Nymphadora. But I did get a little teary when I realised that this was the last time that I would be lining up at the cinema to see a Harry Potter movie. There was nothing left to wait for. No books, no movies. It was really, truly, honestly over.

I am sure that I am going to be watching the movie (and probably all of the movies) again. In fact, I most definitely am, since I missed the first few minutes last night due to my woeful customer service issues of the day. However, I just wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you. Thank you Harry, Ron and Hermione for being there for me when I needed you and thank you JK Rowling for bringing these characters to life. You will have my eternal gratitude.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fish and Friends

There is a saying that my Biba (read grandfather) has that, like many of my Biba's sayings, is both humorous and completely true.
Fish and house guests go off after three days.
I think that of my Biba's sayings, this has to be one of my favourites. And I really didn't realise how true it was until I moved to Grahamstown and started having friends come to visit.

I was excited about my first visitor. I had been missing my friends more than anyone should ever miss anything and was feeling particularly lonesome in Grahamstown despite my amazing boyfriend. This is why, when my friend Natasha asked if she could come and stay for 12 days, I was uber excited. I would have a friend around again! Someone to talk to about girly things with. Someone to hang out with. It was going to be like old times, and it was going to be awesome.

And then Natasha arrived, and there was much joy and happiness. For awhile. But things were not like the old days. At all. Instead of lounging around and being filled with happiness, I was now working and had 9 hour stints of customer service ahead of me. When I got home, instead of relaxing as I was used to, there were plays to see and things to do, people to entertain and money to spend. None of this was Natasha's fault, of course, but I soon realised that having a guest stay with me was tiring business. A tiring business that I am still recovering from in some ways.

And then my mother reminded me of my Biba's quote, and I felt myself fill with laughter and relief. I was not alone in the realisation that having guests stay was a lot of work. This made me feel a lot better.

As soon as Natasha left, I missed her. There was a presence that was missing from the house - an indent that she had left in the spare room that could not be removed, kind of like the stain that covers the carpet from where Alexia's medicine was dropped, or the hole in the floor of a house on Gowie street where a house party was once held. And as soon as she left, I knew that I would have more friends come and stay. I already started making the plans, started making promises of future visits in years to come, but always with a time limit of no more than a week in the back of my mind. Because as amazing as it is to have friends stay, having another person relying on you wears you out. Or maybe it's just me.

Either way, there are at least two more visits that I am looking forward to this year - Robyn and Meghan. And ladies, you are warned, one week max ;)


I use Google Reader, and this is something that I am proud of. The fact that I managed to find out about the reader and that I read through the hundred or so posts that I get on a daily basis makes me feel better about not doing as much novel reading as I used to.

As well as subscribing to my friends' blogs and a number of photography blogs, I also subscribe to a number of random feeds that provide me with endless joy and entertainment. One of these is Buzz Feed. Basically, it shows me whatever is big on the Internet right now. A lot of the stuff is utter rubbish and I scroll through it within seconds. But today, I came across something truly beautiful. It is these occasional beautiful posts that keep me coming back to Buzz again and again despite the promise of disappointment with most of their posts.

Today's post is from a competition that was held to create short movies that are exactly three minutes long and have exactly 6 lines of dialogue. While I expected this to be a little boring, I was surprised at how intense, how intriguing and how nerve-wracking the winning entry was. I shouldn't have been. It is the music, the visual images, the knowledge of what is going to happen and the lack of knowledge that keep you on the edge of your seat, and it is something that I appreciated.

In any case, have a look at the winning entry. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Serious Post

There are a number of posts that I have been meaning to write, and most of them are based on blog posts that my friends have been writing. One of them in particular is going to have to wait until the final HP movie arrives in Grahamstown and I get to relive the 11 years of HP love by going to watch it.

In the meantime, however, I thought that I would write a blog that is hopefully not going to be too long or too bitchy. This one is inspired by two posts that I find are pretty connected. The first blog post was mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago by my boyfriend. It was a video posted by Skepchick blogget, Rebecca Watson. The video, which can be found here, mentioned very briefly an encounter that Rebecca had within an elevator. The video is long, the mention is brief (if you want to listen to it, you can jump ahead to 4:30 and it ends at 5:50), but I thought I would summarise the situation for anyone who might be reading this.

Rebecca was a speaker at a conference in Dublin, and she was on a panel where she spoke about sexism in the Atheist community. After the panel was over, she spent a good deal of time with people at the bar and ended up announcing that she was tired and leaving. A man then followed her from the bar to the elevator and, once inside, said that he found her interesting and wanted her to have coffee with him in his room. Rebecca explains that this made her uncomfortable and is not something that men should do. And I completely agree. Even if he had the best intentions at heart, it is just plain creepy. There are better ways to go about asking people to have coffee with you - invite them to have coffee somewhere public the next day, for example. But approaching a single foreign woman at 4am in an elevator where she cannot walk away is not a good plan.

Now, I am not a Skepchick follower, and probably never would have heard about any of this if Grant hadn't told me. See, Grant is an awesome awesome boyfriend and a feminist supporter, and got incredibly upset about the reactions to the video, including a rather sexist approach from Richard Dawkins, someone who Grant greatly admires. In any case, I heard about it, it pissed me off a little, and then I carried on with my everyday life, grateful for the fact that I have an amazing boyfriend who cares about feminist issues.

A couple of days later, Amy posted a blog about the Slut Walk in Seoul, and she posted a picture on the top of her article which I found to be incredibly appropriate and which reminded me a lot of the Rebecca Watson scenario.

I absolutely love this poster. I think that it takes a completely different approach to assault, and I think that it is something that needs to be said. A lot of the comments that Rebecca got from her video were people saying that she shouldn't have been out until 4am, that she was in the wrong somehow, that her behaviour (or previous behaviour) led him to believe that he might have had a chance. It reminds me of the "men" who says that women who wear short skirts are asking to be raped or that a women who stays after having sex and asks for breakfast and taxi money must have had a good time and therefore cannot have been raped. The onus is always put on the woman to be careful, to be demure, to make sure that their integrity is kept in check so that they do not get raped, but what about the men who do the raping? Why aren't they being targeted? Why aren't people telling them how to behave to ensure that they do not rape or assault or harass someone?

Now, as I said earlier, the guy in the elevator could have had completely harmless intentions. He really might have found her opinions interesting and wanted to sit up and chat with her for a bit. And there is nothing wrong with that. But there are ways to approach people, and approaching someone who just from a conference where she discussed sexism and is clearly aware of her sex and how it affects peoples perceptions of her, in an elevator, alone, at 4am and then asking her to come back to your room for coffee is not a good way to do it. Hell, approaching anyone alone in an elevator and asking them to come back to your room for coffee is not a good plan. Especially if you do not know that person and have never spoken to them before. It is creepy as all hell, and whether his intentions were good or not, that doesn't take away from the creepiness!!!

Anyway, that is my ranting done. Hopefully HP will be coming out in Grahamstown this weekend (I am holding my thumbs so hard that they hurt) and I will be able to post my HP love post very very soon. Until then, I will be trying my hardest to stay awake.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hauntingly Lovely

It has been awhile since I wrote a review, so I thought that I would do that today. This time it is about a book that I finished a couple of days back.

I used to be so good at reading books – I used to get sucked into them and would sit, reading, for hours until eventually the book was finished. Nothing could stop me – not school, not work, nothing. I don’t read like that anymore. I tend to read about a chapter a night while I am in the bath, less if I have to have a quick one (and yes, I know that I should shower rather than bath, but after a year of Korean showers, this is a necessary luxury for me). I occasionally read when travelling, but aside from these moments, I tend to watch TV or play computer games over reading. These are terrible excuses, but it is the truth of the matter, and this is why it took my almost a month to read Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones.

You have to understand that the month that it took me to read the book should not be taken as any judgement on the book itself. I absolutely adored it, so much so that I would spend far longer in the bath than was sensible poring over its pages. The water would get cold, my toes would go all pruny, I would (sigh, gasp) have to add extra hot water just to keep me going so that I could carry on reading. My boyfriend would come looking for me thinking that I had drowned. No, baby. I’m okay. I’m just reading.

For those of you who do not know the story of The Lovely Bones, it is about a young girl, Susie Salmon, who is murdered in the 60’s. The story is told from her perspective, looking down from what is essentially purgatory, as she watches how her murder (at first thought to just be a kidnapping) affects her family and her murderer, who happens to be her neighbour. She watches from above as life goes on, and describes the comings and goings of both the real world and the world that she finds herself in.

More than a murder mystery, the mystery of who murdered her, a question that is answered right from the get-go, is replaced with the mystery of what happens after life, after death, after everything that you love is taken away from you.

The Lovely Bones is a gem of a book and is going to be taking a prominent position on my bookshelf as soon as I have lent it to a friend of mine who I know is going to love it. I am sure that if you are reading this, you know just who you are ;)

Bubbles the Hero

The other day I came across a blogpost that was dedicated to heroic dogs (to read some of the stories, click here and here). I read some of the stories and felt a sense of pride rise within me. There are so many amazing animals out there, and I was the proud owner of one of them.

Sure, Bubbles never rescued anyone from a frozen river, never sniffed out bombs in Afghanistan and never bit off someone’s infected toe (yes, this was a real story). But she was heroic in her own way, nonetheless.

Bubbles was our first family pet, and we absolutely adored her. She was also the smarter of our two dogs, and I would like to illustrate this point with one or two stories.

My grandparents lived in a flat in Sea Point. This is where we went for Friday night dinners every single Friday night. The trip was a half hour one, and each Friday Bubbles would wait expectantly by the car. After coming to the same flat for years, Bubbles knew her way around pretty darn well. There was no need to put her on a leash, as she followed us without one. She would run into the elevator ahead of us, and I am pretty sure that if she could press the button for the right floor, she would. One day, she got lost in the commotion of people in the elevator and didn’t make it out on time. As we watched the elevator go up to further floors, our concern grew. What if she ran out and got thoroughly lost. When the elevator returned to our floor without Bubbles in tow, we grew increasingly concerned. That was until we found her a couple of floors up, sitting on the welcome mat of what would have been my grandparent’s flat, but a number of floors below.

It also happened on one occasion that everyone piled into the car and we left my grandparents flat in a rush, not bothering to check whether Bubbles was in the car. We were practically home when we realised that she was missing. We turned back immediately and, half an hour later, found her sitting on the curb exactly where our car had been, waiting for us.

While Bubbles was certainly smart, she was also a little annoying. She had a tendency to bark that drove us around the twist. However, this annoying trait is also what made her our hero in the end. It occurred a long, long time ago – 15 years ago to be precise. I was at school, so I cannot give a first-hand account of the event. All I have is what was witnessed by our char at the time, Margaret. Margaret had worked for us for 8 years at this time, coming in daily to clean and look after me in the afternoons while my parents were at work. She had become a part of the family. We also had two dogs – Bubbles, our little Maltese poodle, and Rocky, our boxer.

Now, if you were considering breaking into a house, which dog would you be more concerned about? A little fluffy Maltese poodle whose sole purpose is to look cute, or a giant boxer who was as big as I was at 8 years old? Well, clearly the guy who broke into our house was concerned about Rocky – he took every measure to avoid the dog who was sleeping in his basket on our patio. He made his way inside the house, into the kitchen where he grabbed a knife from the cupboard and through to the lounge where Margaret was busy cleaning. Margaret didn’t hear a thing, had no idea that someone else was in the house until our little Bubbles started barking and she turned around to see what was happening. As she turned, she saw the man standing on the steps with a knife, ready to attack, and managed to fend him off.

Margaret did not come out of the assault without injury – she was stabbed in the arm – but the wound was superficial. Imagine if Bubbles had not started barking. I am sure that Margaret would have walked away with more than a superficial stab wound if she had walked away at all.

From that day on, Bubbles became our little hero, and though we glared at her whenever she started barking (something that she did at every given opportunity), we also took notice and started looking around to make sure that there wasn’t something that we had missed.

Bubbles went on to live a long and happy life, dying from lung cancer at the age of 12 (human years). While we have had dogs since, none of them have taken Bubble’s place in my heart.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Little RnJ

An image of the cast of Shakespeare's R&J performed at the National Arts Festival this year. The image was sourced from Google.

Romeo and Juliet – it is a classic story that everyone knows. It is a play that just about every teenager dreads and a title that elicits groans as high-schoolers prepare to study it. It is Shakespeare’s most studied work, particularly in high schools, and contains one of the most misunderstood lines of Shakespeare’s works – “Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore art though Romeo?” No, she is not asking where Romeo is. She is asking why he has to be Romeo, a Montague, rather than someone from a family that hers does not hate.

Whether you love or hate it, there is one thing that you cannot deny – Romeo and Juliet, as well as pretty much every other Shakespeare play involving men and women – is incredibly sexually charged. This is something that a group of four borders at an all-boys school discover when they act out the play after lights-out one night in Shakespeare’s R&J.

The boys go on a journey through Shakespeare’s writing, dissecting it, bringing out the humour in it, and the tragedy. The fact that all four of the characters acting out the scenes are boys brings up a number of issues such as homosexuality and the acceptance, or denial, of it. As the boys act out the play in the privacy of their rooms, the fury of the characters at the unacceptable joining becomes the fury of their peers. The fact that the entire play is acted out by four boys also adds an aspect of humour to the play that was not originally there as actors change characters at the drop of a hat using props and accents to distinguish which character they are playing when.

The fact that there are four characters, that they were all teenage boys and that it was a play within a play brought a whole new dimension to Romeo and Juliet, and it was one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Humour, drama, romance – it was all there, and it was all compounded into two and a half hours of wild, hilarious, heart wrenching fun.

If you want to see a new take on an old classic, I highly recommend watching Shakespeare’s R&J.

Folding Paper Cranes

An image of the puppet Sadako Sasaki (and her puppeteer) dressed in a kimono and holding an origami crane. This was the promotional image used in the National Arts Festival programme.

One of the shows that Natasha was very keen to see during fest was Sadako. I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it, but I had heard good things and after watching the brilliant performance of Mouche, I was a little more open to the idea of a puppet show.

The play is based on the true story of Sadako, a little girl who was two years old when Hiroshima was bombed. Though she initially seems unaffected by the blast, ten years later it is discovered that she has leukemia as a result of the radiation that she was exposed to.

The show is an incredibly sad one, delving into the short life of a girl and her struggle against an illness that she can do nothing about. It goes beyond just looking at Sadako’s story to see how her disease affects her family and her friends, their relationships and their beliefs. The one thing that keeps Sadako going is a beautiful legend about origami cranes. The legend goes that if you fold 1000 origami cranes, you will be granted one wish.

Using puppets was a powerful way to portray Sadako’s story – it opened the story up to audiences of all ages. Even if children could not understand what was happening, they could enjoy the brilliant puppetry that the show presented. It also gave the play a very distinctive and very Japanese feel despite the actors being played by South Africans. It introduced bright imagery to a bleak situation, and I thought that it was wonderful.

However, despite the beautiful puppetry and the work that had put into setting the scene for the play, I found it very difficult to sit through. This was for a number of reasons. First of all, I do not believe that the play is suitable for young children. They ended up getting bored, kicking seats, dropping things, making noise and just generally being distracting. Secondly, I found the play to be a bit long. This pertains to the issue of having small children who get quickly bored, but it goes beyond that. I felt that the story was dragged out for too long to try and illicit an emotional response from the audience. I do not think that it was necessary. The story itself is so touching that we do not need to see each and every detail of Sadako’s deterioration played out to be touched. Finally, I found the subject matter hit quite close to home. The same way that I struggle to watch episodes of Greys that involve brain tumours, I found it difficult to watch the way that Sadako’s parents deal with the disease, as I know that my parents were going through the same thing with my sister. Sure, it wasn’t leukemia, and sure it worked out for the best. But it still plucked at my heart strings, and I found it difficult to watch.

Sadako is an incredibly beautiful, powerful, painful story. If you are the kind who cries in plays, expect to. If you have young children that you are considering taking to this play, don’t. Otherwise, I recommend that everyone see the play or at the very least read about Sadako’s story – it can be found online and there is a book dedicated to her entitled “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes”.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Jagged Edges

A promotional image from the play, Edges, performed at the National Arts Festival. The image was found on Google.

I was wary going to another musical performance after the disaster that was What's In A Name. Natasha even more so. And yet, I had heard good things about Edges, so I wanted to give musical theatre another chance.

The fact that there was a queue to get in was a good sign. The fact that it was in a fairly big theatre was another. The fact that it turned out the guy from What's In A Name was in it? Not so much. But it didn't turn out to be half bad.

I think that I can pinpoint where Edges went right and where What's In A Name went wrong. You see, What's In A Name tried so hard to pull together songs purely by the reference to people's names. It was the only connection between the songs, and I felt that the play was trying too hard to be something that it really wasn't. Edges did not make this mistake.

Watching Edges felt like reading a collection of short stories. Each song was a story in itself, and none of them fit into each other. It was not as though the show was trying to make sense as a whole – it was merely looking at clips of people's lives. There was a bit of a theme to the songs, I realised after the show had ended, but the theme was a subtle one – it was relationships. Each song looked at relationships, whether between friends, family members or colleagues. Each song granted you a glimpse of someone else's life, and together they provided a glimpse of different kinds of relationships that people have with each other – the strengths, the benefits and the drawbacks to entering into relationships and what they look like when they work and what they look like when they don't.

Once again, the voices were fantastic. There were only two small problems that I encountered, and that is that one of the guys (the one who performed in What's In A Name funnily enough) had a terrible American accent when the rest were great and that one of the songs that was performed had also been performed during What's In A Name. I do not know if the songs were written specifically for the musical (I certainly didn't recognise any of them aside from the one that I recognised in What's In A Name), but it certainly felt like they had been written just for the actors. Each actor slid into the roles so well, it felt incredibly natural, and this was another aspect of the show that separated it from What's In A Name. The natural flow and order of things rather than the broken discussion with the audience that came between numbers.

Edges will certainly not be up amongst my favourite shows from Fest, but there have certainly been worse plays. It has not entirely reconnected me with my love for musicals, but it has restored a little of the enjoyment that I get from watching them, and was enough to convince me that, should another musical opportunity present itself, I will not hide in my room, but might consider going to see it.

Dream, Brother

A promotional image of Dream, Brother that I found in the National Arts Festival programme.

So, if sold out shows mean amazing performances and empty shows mean shitty ones, what does it mean when a show only has a mediocre attendance? Should I take it that it's only a mediocre show? Should I assume that people were busy on that particular day at that particular time and weren't able to come?

Take Dream, Brother for example. It was being performed in a small venue, the same venue as Paperboy in fact (and I learned my lesson this time and drove around rather than parking at the top of VG) and there was a fair number of people waiting outside to file into the room. Not enough to fill the venue completely, but enough to reassure us that the play wouldn't be an utter disaster.

So how was the play? Was it mediocre? Brilliant, but under-appreciated? Terrible, but well advertised? Apparently that would depend on the person that you spoke to.

I find it amazing how different people have different views on plays. As Natasha and I walked to the car after the play was over, I overheard the woman in front of us complaining to her husband.

“Absolutely awful,” she announced. “There were so many loose ends. What the hell was happening? Just terrible.” I practically glared after her and fumed as I made my way to the car. Once the doors were shut and no one else could hear me, I vented about what I had overheard.

Natasha and I completely agreed – Dream, Brother was certainly not the best play that we had seen at Fest, but it was also far from the worst. It was done on budget and you could tell – from the small venue to the simplistic props. That isn't to say that shows that are done on budget can't be good – look at London Road! But they'd had a number of runs before Fest and at Fest itself over the years, and had grown to the point where they could sell out a big theatre. Dream, Brother was not yet at the point where they could sell out a small one.

The idea behind the play is a complex one. It looks at two relationships – one between a young man and woman that is acted out from their first date to their marriage and beyond; the other explained to the audience by a man, seen on the sidelines of the first relationship and an integral character in himself. As the relationships start coming together in a single story, as the man explaining his story starts popping up in more important roles in the other couple's life, the dynamic of the play changes completely. By the end of the play, the couple and the man's stories have been so delicately interwoven, that it is impossible to separate the two relationships.

I can see how the woman left the play feeling that there were loose ends. However, I appreciated the loose ends that were left – I liked that not everything fit neatly into a little box that could be packed away in the mind. I found that Dream, Brother left me questioning life, questioning relationships and questioning reality. I thought that it was a beautiful representation of madness, and I think that it is one of the plays that I would see again if I could.

But then again... that's just my opinion.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Movement vs Dancing

This image is not of the play that I attended, but merely to promote the theme of this post which is my dislike of Movement theatre. It was scoured from Google, as were most of the photographs from the plays during Fest, as photography was not permitted in most of the venues.

I have never been particularly fond of physical theatre, or Movement as I have come to call it over my years at Rhodes, my vocabulary influenced by the Drama students that I befriended. I find it strange that I am not fond of it, because I love dance. I love going to the ballet, I adore ballroom dancing and a grin spreads across my face whenever I see dancing of almost any form. So why do I not enjoy Movement?

I figured it out tonight. Watching Quarted, I figured out what it is about Movement that I don't like. Movement is to dancing as walking is to running. The process is the same - put one step in front of the other - but the method is completely different. Where dancing is graceful, I find Movement to be clumsy. Where dancing steps are subtle, I find Movement steps to be all too obvious. Where the meaning behind dancing is often obvious and motives are hardly ever hidden, I find the meaning behind Movement to be obscure, hidden from the audience so that they are left in the wake of the show trying to figure out what it was all about. You never wonder, after a ballet, what it is that you just witnessed. You just know.

I watched four pieces of Movement theatre tonight - four separate pieces, brought together by what I found to be a weak storyline. But I suppose I should be grateful - most Movement pieces don't have storylines to them at all. The actors (or should I call them performers) performed well, the moves were well choreographed, but it was still Movement. You could tell by the physical exertion, the way that the characters threw themselves around the stage rather than leaping with grace; the vicious way that they seemed to attack the moves rather than embrace them.

You have to understand that when I write this, I am not saying that Quarted is bad. Not at all. I am writing this to express my dislike of Physical Theatre in general, and Quarted is just a means to an end. If you do enjoy Physical Theatre, and I know many people who do, I would highly recommend watching it. It is well choreographed, as I mentioned earlier, and I am sure that you will appreciate it more than I did.


The masterful Tim Redpath uses puppets to express himself in the confusingly beautiful Mouche. Image found via Google.

The poster read:
A charming story of love, hate and suicidal puppets.
Wait... what? Suicidal puppets? It was intriguing. Intriguing enough to make us want to watch it. The fact that the show had won International awards was a contributing factor, the fact that it was at the Masonic Hall up the road was another, but it was the suicidal puppets that captured our attention. Before we saw the poster, we had never even heard of the show, probably wouldn't have heard of it if it hadn't been for the poster.

As we made our way to the Masonic Hall (we actually drove there despite it being around the corner - it was THAT cold last night), our hopes were high. They were raised even further when we entered the hall to find it completely packed, people being turned away from the door after being informed that the show was sold out. Sold out shows are always a good sign - it means that they have been getting rave reviews in the Cue and good word of mouth. Or perhaps other people saw the posters scattered around town and were as intrigued as we were.

We piled into the small hall, Natasha and I pushing our way to the front to ensure that we got good seats this time around - there is nothing quite so terrible as going to a wonderful show and not being able to see a thing. The lights dimmed, the typical reminders of no cellphones and no photography were made, and a spotlight hit the stage and landed on a box in the centre of it. "Capitaine Coq et sa famile" the box read, and in the corner was a sign indicating that we were supposed to be in Paris. A man entered, a puppet attached to his hand, and the play began.

At first, I was very confused. Who was supposed to be who? One man was portraying at least 8 different characters, at least five of them puppets, and all of these characters were talking to or about Mouche - the title character of the show, whose story is engrained in the audience's mind, but who is never seen. However, using various accents and physical traits, Tim Redpath (the creator and only actor of the show) separates the characters and makes them easy for the audience to recognise - from the French puppeteer Michel, both as a boy and a man, to the hunchbacked assistant Jacques, to the Spanish acrobat who tries to steal Mouche's heart.

Slowly the storyline started emerges as the audience begins to relate to characters and becomes accustomed to the accents. Slowly the audience starts to relate to Michel, the young boy whose family is taken from him and who is caught in the middle of and affected by war and the puppeteer whose personality is divided between the puppets that he controls. Slowly they start to understand the relationship between this broken man and the broken woman, Mouche, whom he rescues from suicide at the beginning of the play. By the end, I was practically in tears.

I would tell you that Mouche is a show that you need to see. I would tell you that it is up there with London Road and Love at First Fight as one of the best shows that I have seen this fest. But I actually don't think that there's much point. I think that this show will be sold out for every single one of its final shows.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fine dining

Masters directing student, Deborah Robertson, directs Taste at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Image found via Google.

What does it take to get a show into Festival? Natasha and I have been wondering that a lot over the last week. Is there a selection process? If there is, how do some of the crappier shows like Paperboy get through it?

I can tell you one thing - for a student doing a masters in directing, getting a play into fest takes a lot of time, a lot of planning and a lot of hard work. I can tell you this, because I have seen my friend, Debbie Robertson, attempting to write and direct her first Festival play over the last few months. What was the outcome of her attempt? Taste.

I was really excited when I arrived at the monument and made my way down a staircase, around a corner, down more staircases and around more corners and eventually found the Rehearsal room. For those who have never been there, I can understand why - it is completely hidden and the back and in the basement, and I wouldn't have even known where I was going if it wasn't for all the other people making their way to the same place. By the time we got to the door, the room was packed and we were some of the last people to find seats together. The seats that we found were not particularly good ones either, I had to squiggle and squirm to see the stage, which meant that the entire play was spent in discomfort. But it was totally worth it to see Debbie's debut.

Taste is about a weekend retreat that a handful of friends go on to the middle of nowhere. Upon arrival, everyone needs to hand over their keys, cellphones and laptops so that no contact with the outside world can be made - it is a weekend for friends, after all. A chance to get away from reality for a little bit. But when one of the characters goes missing things start to descend into chaos and what is supposed to be a weekend of fun and fine dining turns into a murder mystery.

Artsy, humorous, mysterious and fun, Taste goes to show what Debbie can do when she puts her mind to it. The actors and actresses gave some great performances as well, but Debbie was the real star of the show. Perhaps I only see it this way because I know what went into the making of it, but considering how many people were supporting her and cheering her on, I don't think I am alone in that opinion.


A promotional image for Love at First Fight found via Google.

I fight with Grant. Rather a lot. Over the stupidest things too - who's going to do the laundry; who's going to do the cooking; who comes home at 2am on weeknights, etc. It doesn't mean that we don't love each other, we just bicker quite a bit about the normal boy/girl relationship things. Which is probably why I appreciated Love at First Fight as much as I did.

Love at First Fight is a comedy about two people in a relationship and one particularly important night that leads to fights from the past being dredged up. Through a collection of catchy beats and amazing dance moves, you get a glimpse of a real relationship - what goes wrong and what goes right and how these two people deal with their differences.

The duo that do Love at First Fight are not new to fest, and are not new to relationships. They are a married couple who have won awards for their previous fest productions. The show itself is not new either - it was introduced to festival in 2009 as Relationshit, however a show in Cape Town emerged with the same name which was, well, shit, and the name change was initiated so that they would stop being confused with the rubbishing namesake.

Because they are in a relationship themselves, the show is filled with chemistry as well as hilarity, and it is almost as though they are speaking from experience and taking from every single relationship that has ever been and mashing it together to create this hit of a show. Everyone will find something to relate to in the characters and their actions, and will recognise something of themselves.

I would highly highly recommend seeing this show. I classify this and London Road as the two best shows that I have seen this fest (thus far). It is a small theatre, however, so make sure that you book tickets - pitching up at the door is unlikely to get you in.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sitting and Standing

An image from Dale Amler's comedy show, You Sit I'll Stand, scoured off Google.

I had to go to Dale Amler's show. I wasn't really given much choice in the matter. From the moment that my friend Kari heard that I was going to be in Grahamstown over the festival (nevermind the fact that I live here), I was doomed. Not only did I have to go to the show, I had to try and convince all of my friends to go, and that is never an easy feat, particularly when you know little about the show itself.

The programme didn't provide much information and neither did Dale's website. The subject matter for the show was always a little vague, but I pushed it anyway, trying to convince my friends that it would be a show worth seeing. Putting myself on the line a little bit, because if it was bad, you know they were all going to be blaming me for wasting their money and time. Thankfully, this wasn't really something that I had to worry about.

From Jewish jokes to humorous travel wisdom - Dale takes his experiences of the world and lays them bare. He is incredibly open about his past, his failures and his life experiences, and has a great way of seeing the comedy in every situation.

Considering that You Sit, I'll Stand is Dale's first one-man comedy show and that the Grahamstown festival is the first time that he is performing it, you would expect there to be kinks. You would expect there to be timing errors and jokes that not everyone appreciates. But the fact is that there is something in there for anyone. There are jokes that you just can't help laughing at, and I can guarantee that you will walk away from the show smiling, which is more than I can say for Live and Kicking. While Dale does take awhile to warm to his audience, as soon as he has gauged them he interacts well with them, throwing out comments and one-liners at the drop of a hat when the occasion calls for it.

The show isn't perfect. It could do with some polishing, but that doesn't mean that it should be overlooked. Give it a try - you won't regret it.

Name Shame

Waiting for the show to begin, I snapped this shot of the stage and the props of What's In A Name.

I like cabaret. I like singing and dancing and having a good time and I like watching cabaret shows. They tend to lift my spirit. I decided I couldn't go through fest without seeing at least one cabaret show, which is why I chose to go to What's In A Name?

I didn't know anyone performing in any of the cabaret shows, so it's not like I had that to factor into my choice. Basically, I closed my eyes and picked one that seemed to be at an appropriate time, and this was it. So Natasha and I made our way to the Bowling Club on Sunday afternoon, Natasha being more than a little skeptical about the show. We sat down in a fairly empty room, but we weren't too concerned about the audience - cabaret isn't everyone's thing after all, and it was a Sunday afternoon - people were at the fest grounds, at the fair or just relaxing after a rowdy Saturday. It was excusable. We settled into our seats and prepared ourselves for the show ahead, Natasha and I looking at the props lined up on stage and trying to guess what songs they were going to sing.

And then the show started. The man and woman walked out and stage and introduced themselves, and the singing started almost instantly. With the name song. You know the one - the one that all the little kids do:

"Lara, Lara, Bo-bara
Banana-fana fo-fara
Fee-fi mo-mara

And they tried to get the audience involved. Something that isn't such a good plan when there are only around 25 people in the audience. It certainly wasn't a good start, and it didn't get much better.

There is no denying that the two stars had good voices. Really good voices, actually. But the songs that they chose for the show left me cringing almost as much as their faux American accents did. Of all the songs that they chose to sing, I only knew four or five, and there was little connection between any of them aside from the fact that they all included someone's name in them. Not a particularly binding link is it?

Overall, I was completely disappointed in the show. Even more so when I found out that there really were quite a number of good cabaret shows out there this fest, including Absolucy, which I didn't get to see because I work during the week and am exhausted at nights.

So.... What's in a Name? Not much apparently. Certainly not anything that you want to pay to find out.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Roads Filled with Friendship

Actresses Robyn Scott and Ntombi Makhutshi star in this incredibly moving Fringe production of London Road. Image found here.

“Shouldn’t we be leaving?”
If there was one thing I had learned about fest, it was that you really didn’t have to be at places half an hour before the starting time. All it led to was standing outside in the cold and waiting for the doors to open. So I figured that we could rock up at London Road ten minutes before the time and we’d be fine. Goes to show what I know!

The line weaved down St Andrew’s paved lane as people shivered in the cold, trying to peek over others’ shoulders to see the start of the queue. As we slowly started filing into the room, I suddenly realised just how popular the play was and how unlikely it was that we’d get good seats. I was right this time around. We ended up squeezing into two seats right on the edge and a good couple of rows back. There were tall people in front of me, and I kept having to adjust myself to see the stage. I knew that as I did, I was obscuring the view of the people behind me, but that was just too bad. I wanted to see what was going on!

The lights dimmed, the play began and two women stepped onto the stage – one middle-aged and black, the other old and white. One wanting her privacy, the other a nosy parker. What on earth could these two women from such different backgrounds have in common? Well, not too much aside from drinking. But that doesn’t stop their friendship from blossoming.

London Road tells a story of an unlikely friendship between two people who are on their own with no one to rely on. With amazing performances by the two actresses and a polished script, I was utterly surprised that this show was still on Fringe. It goes to show how little I know about Fest, apparently. Some of the best shows are on Fringe, and just because something is on Fringe doesn’t mean that it isn’t good or that it can be ignored.

I have learned my lesson. No longer will I try to arrive at shows as the doors are opening. No longer will I scan over the Fringe performances without taking any detail in. From now on, I am keeping my eyes wide open, and you should too.

Also, you should try to see London Road. If it isn’t sold out yet. I laughed and was on the verge of tears. It’s brilliant. Go and book.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Dead and Kicking

The only performer that I actually enjoyed from the night of Live and Kicking that I attended. This is the promotional poster for Bad Medicine, Mark Palmer's comedy show at the festival. The picture was found through Google.

I am a big fan of comedy. I love a good laugh and would never say no to a good comedy show. As long as it's good. If someone asked me to go to Saturday night's session of Live and Kicking again, I would definitely say no. I would say it in a loud, resounding voice that would echo from my home at the top of African street, to the Bowling Club a block down the road and beyond.

We chose to go to Live and Kicking because it was happening at the Bowling Club. It was close, we thought to ourselves, so we could walk there. It was also a late show, which meant that we weren't giving up on something better to go and watch it. If the show was rubbish, we wouldn't have wasted any of our precious time. Or so we figured, anyway. Personally, I would rather have spent my time sleeping.

We arrived at the Bowling Club about ten minutes early, having learned from the earlier shows that arriving half an hour early was just not necessary and usually led to you waiting in the cold while the performers were getting ready. We figured that ten minutes would give us enough time to find a decent seat, get comfy and get warm. Twenty minutes later, we were still waiting for the show to start. The event was well attended, and while it wasn't a full house, Natasha and I had certainly seen emptier ones (Paperboy for example). As the comedians for Live and Kicking change on a nightly basis, we weren't quite sure what we were in for.

Ten minutes late, the MC arrived on stage and the show kicked off. When I think of a Master of Ceremonies, I think of someone who says a joke or two, introduces the next act and then makes his way back stage. This was definitely not the case with Martin Evans, who took over the stage and spent a good deal of time with his own comedy rather than allowing the other comedians to shine. The first half hour of the show was dedicated to him, his motorbike and his mocking of a high school boy sitting in the front row.

High school students actually made up a fairly large percentage of the audience, and a lot of the humour was either for their benefit or at their expense. What this meant was that, for a large portion of the show, jokes were being made about students in the front row that only people in the first two rows could understand and appreciate. What it also meant was that a lot of sexual humour was directed at them and the fact that they were still virginal. It wasn't the kind of humour that I was particularly interested in, and it was clear that I wasn't the only one.

Once Martin Evans finally relinquished the throne, he handed it over to Jem Atkins, who didn't hold the position particularly well or for particularly long. With a handful of jokes about divorce, a handful about parenting and a handful of accents that he could pull off rather well, to be fair, his repertoire fell a little flat with me and the rest of the crowd. Of course, throughout these acts, there were people laughing. But they tended to be the same people, and they certainly weren't the majority.

After Jem Atkins stalked off the stage, Martin Evans returned and spent another ten minutes bragging about himself, his bike and his own show before passing the mike on to someone else. To be completely honest, I don't remember the second guy's name, or the show that he starred in. All I remember is that he was from Durban and that he played a guitar. He reminded me a bit of a wannabe Tim Minchin, and he didn't quite live up to the standard. With a song or two here, a ginger joke there, he was off the stage and forgotten.

Once again, it was time for Martin Evans to take the stage and revel in his limelight for a little while longer before introducing the final comedian. I must admit, Mark Palmer's part of the show I actually did enjoy. His was the only comedy that I actually truly laughed at, though I had given out a couple of chuckles throughout the night more from embarrassment than anything else. Mark Palmer, on the other hand, was actually funny, and I regret not having the time to see his show, Best Medicine. If the entire session had revolved around him, I am sure that it would have been far more enjoyable, and it was only because of him that I ended up sticking around despite the show going over its time by half an hour.

Live and Kicking is a potluck. The comedians change every night, so I wouldn't take my disgust at the show too far, since these comedians will not be returning. Instead, I would take my review with a pinch of salt - if you enjoy comedy, go to Live and Kicking. But please do remember that any good review of the show might not be repeated the next night and that the comedians may not be on their best game. Good luck is all I can say!


The promotional poster for Stuart Lightbody's show, Stuperstition.

Stuart Lightbody is no stranger to Grahamstown. He has been doing shows at the National Arts Festival for years, and Grant has been at every one. Ever since Stuart dazzled Grant with his street magic at the Rat on one of his nights out, Grant has been hooked, and it is the only show that he pre=booked for this year's festival.

When Grant found out that Natasha not only knows Stuart, but that he has lived with two of her brothers, the first thought that popped into his mind was of one of Natasha's brothers waking up, making himself some breakfast, looking down at his plate as he sat down to eat and then looking at Stuart with a knowing glare.
"What's in your pocket?" Stuart asks with a grin on his face.
Natasha's brother looks down at his shirt pocket to find his fluffy, soggy scrambled eggs squashed in there.
Needless to say, I found this scenario both entirely humorous and entirely unlikely. But nevertheless, Stuart's show was one that we had to go to, even more so because Natasha knew him personally.

As we entered the small room that housed Stuperstitious, Stuart welcomed us one at a time, shaking our hands, greeting us with a smile. It was a personal touch, and the first I had seen at Fest. Once everyone was seated, the show began with Stuart's own death-defying stunt. I won't explain what it involved, not wanting to ruin the fun for anyone who would see the show, but let's just say that it was on par with other death-defying stunts like the bullet catch.

From card tricks to slights of hand, Stuart entertained the crowd while explaining his stance on superstitions. Unlike many of the magicians that perform magic shows, Stuart does not pretend to have supernatural powers, and everyone in the audience knows that there is something going on behind the scenes. There is no denying it. Instead of trying to deny it, Stuart tries to explain some of it - how magicians (and psychics and mentalists) manage to fool people into believing that what they do is real magic. However, this does not make his tricks any less interesting, fun or exciting and his showmanship is what makes the show.

The tricks are impressive, the magician hilarious and overall, Stuperstitious is a show that everyone should see. Fun, funny and family friendly, I can't think of a single person who might dislike the show. Except John Edwards perhaps. But who cares about him!


An image of two of the main cast members of Last Pro of Yeoville found via Google.

There are quite a couple of dodgy shows at fest this year. Just look at the poster for Moneymakers and you will see what I mean. Which is why I was more than a little hesitant about attending a show entitled Last Pro of Yeoville. We all knew that it was going to be about a prostitute, and I wasn't sure that I wanted to spend my afternoon watching a semi-pornographic drama. But Natasha wanted to see it, a fact that surprised me in itself as Natasha is as innocent as it comes and tends to want to avoid crass humour, nevermind full-blown porn on stage. So we went, because it was what Natasha wanted and I figured that, at the very least, I would get to be amused by her discomfort.

Little did I know what I was in for. Last Pro of Yeoville is about a prostitute, that much is true, but it is certainly not pornography. There is a little nudity, quite a bit of gesturing, a lot of adult humour and more than a little violence, but it is far from pornography. It is beautiful, soulful, funny, dramatic and fantastic. The actors were amazing, the dialogue brilliant and well timed, the stage intricate and the storyline intriguing. It blew me out of the water!

To give you just a little detail, as always, the story follows two men who live in an apartment together - one an older struggling artist, the other a young struggling musician. They don't get along particularly well, but the one thing that they share is the enjoyment of sitting on their balcony and watching the goings on of one of the main streets of Johannesburg. There they first lay eyes on the white prostitute who will become an intricate part of both of their lives.

This is another show that I would highly highly recommend people attend. Brilliant, captivating and well worth the money if you can manage to book a ticket - I would try early, since it was almost completely sold out when we went.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tables and Paperboys

The cast of The Table seated for a typical Friday night dinner in a Jewish household. Image found on Google.

"You're sure that you know where you're going?"
"How sure?"
"Stop worrying, Natasha," I practically scream, my nerves on edge after a day of dealing with client complaint after client complaint. I feel guilty immediately, but we are both reassured when we see a sign pointing us in the right direction, the direction that I knew we were supposed to be going in.

"What are you watching tonight," Grant had asked earlier.
My response, as always, had been: "Ask Natasha." She was the one who had read the program, had chosen the shows. I was merely coming along for the entertainment value, happy to tag along without the effort of finding shows that sounded interesting. Let someone else do the work. That way if it isn't good, I have someone to blame. Not that I would ever blame K if she chose a bad show - it's just good to know that there is someone to fall back on if I need to. I preferred not knowing, being surprised. All that I knew about these two were their names - The Table and Paperboy - and their genres - drama and comedy. We had chosen these two for a very specific reason - they were in the same place. Well, just about. One was in Victoria Theatre, and the other at Vicky's. Having looked them up on the map and seeing that they had the same venue number, we shrugged our shoulders and booked our tickets.

We arrived at Victoria Girls in good time, half an hour before the play was supposed to start. I parked the car near the entrance to the school and we didn't have to walk more than 100m to the entrance of Victoria Theatre. Perfect. We made our way into the theatre itself and found some good seats - about six rows back, right in the middle. The seats, we were pleased to find, were a lot more comfortable than the Graeme College alternatives, and we settled down nicely before the play began.

The lights dimmed and a woman walked out on stage, tottering slightly in her high heels, walking slowly and with each step shouting a word that sounded distinctly Hebrew.
Oh God, I thought to myself. It's going to be Jewish.
And I wasn't wrong. The play is about a Jewish family enjoying a Friday night dinner together for the first time in a year and joined by the maid that has been with the family since the youngest was born and her daughter. It starts with the typical greetings after a year spent apart, and descends into the family drama that, as any Jewish person knows, comes with Friday night dinner. The show jumps between hilarity and misery, and the audience jumps between laughing and crying as the characters act, dance, sing and, of course, eat. Not wanting to give too much away, I won't go into very much detail about what happens, but I will say that this show is absolutely a must see! The actors were incredible, the dialogue is awesome, the dancing and singing in between is far from cheesy and the whole show left me wanting to come back for more.

After thoroughly enjoying The Table, it was time to make our way to Paperboy. We had half an hour to meander over to Vicky's, and even though I didn't quite know where it was, I had faith in the signs that tended to point us in the right direction. And they worked.
Up to a point.
And then they stopped working. Suddenly we found ourselves at the Gymnasium without any idea of where to go from there. We walked back to the Theatre and found someone to ask, and, after being pointed in the right direction and walking around the building to find an entrance, we arrived at Vicky's just before the doors even opened. Phew. No problems there.

The Paperboy preparing to deliver the papers to the doorsteps of his neighbours. Image found through Google.

As we sat down for Paperboy, a suspicion swept over me that this was not going to be a success. We had just come from an amazing show, and were now being seated in a tiny room with us and only five other people making up the audience. The lights dimmed, and I tried to put my skepticism aside as the actor came onto the stage.

Paperboy is a one-man play about, well, a paperboy. Bobby Jones lives with his crippled father and his life ambition is being a master paperboy. Only he isn't very good at it and tends to get himself into trouble a lot of the time. Take, for example, the morning that the play starts off with - he delivers some papers, breaks some windows, chats to some neighbours and knocks the urn of a recently deceased neighbour off of a shelf. Wracked with guilt, Bobby plots to break into the house while the owner is away so that he can gather up the ashes and fix the mistake.

Please note that I have no hesitation telling you what this play is about. And there is good reason for that. Most of the time when I decide not to tell people what happens, it is because I want them to be pleasantly surprised. In this case, the play was too bad to recommend to anyone. Suddenly I understood why there were only 7 people in the audience. While the actor tries his hardest and does nothing particularly wrong, the play is supposed to be a comedy. I didn't find it funny in the slightest. It is supposed to be a mystery. I suspected what was going to happen from the start. It is a one-man show, and the singular actor attempts to play a number of characters and play into a number of stereotypes that I found just didn't work well. Overall, Natasha and I agreed that it was a waste of our money and our time.

We left Paperboy feeling extremely disappointed. We made our way around the building, getting a little lost, up the steps and around to the car. Only to find the gate to VG closed, with our car on the other side. Oops. We walked back to Vicky's in the pitch black, with me freaking out more than a little on the way, and managed to find an exit onto a street that I didn't recognise. Thankfully, I quickly realised where we were and we managed to walk back to the car constantly checking behind us to make sure that no one was following. My nerves were also higher than normal because this was the street where, four years earlier, I had come close to being mugged in broad daylight. The fact that Natasha was walking with me didn't make me feel particularly safe either - two women are just as easy to attack as one.

Either way, we ended up getting back to the car safe and sound. No harm, no foul. Plus I got a little adventure to tell in the process. So what is the moral of this story? See The Table; don't see Paperboy and never park your car outside VG before the 10pm show apparently.

Purging the Soul

Dawid Minnaar and Terry Norton play the man and woman in Ariel Dorfman's Purgatorio, being performed at Graeme College throughout the National Arts Festival. Image acquired from here.

I wasn’t quite as excited as I should have been, I can tell you that much to start off with. I had come from a long day of work and the only thing I wanted to do was run a bath so hot that it would practically make my skin melt, pick up The Lovely Bones and have a nice long soak.

Instead I had to whip up a quick dinner with the few ingredients lying around the house (since there was no way I was going to head to the disaster area that had become Peppergrove Mall to get groceries), take a few minutes to enjoy eating it and then head back into the icy night to go and watch a play. Usually the prospect of a play, particularly the first major play of fest, would bring a smile to my face, but I just wasn’t in the mood. But I bucked up, pasted a smile on my face and was on my way to Purgatorio.

As we arrived at Graeme College, the excitement started to dawn on me a little bit, particularly when we got inside the building and out of the cold wind, and I became a little more chatty and chirpy. We bought drinks, sweets and sat on a bench chatting away until we were called into the auditorium. Where we sat in some of the most uncomfortable seats imaginable for a good 20 minutes before the play actually started. I know that you are supposed to arrive at plays 30 minutes early so that people can get seated and there won’t be any interruptions caused by late comers. But if you ask people to come half an hour early, at least make sure that the play starts on time.

While I waited, rather impatiently, for the play to start, I absentmindedly glanced over the pamphlet about the play that had been placed on every seat. It included a note from the director and an account of the Greek myth that the play was based upon – that of Jason and Medea. I will not go into detail about this myth and I will explain why later.

By the time the play did actually start, I was cold again despite the respite from the wind and the jacket that I had thought would be warm enough. I ended up writhing around a lot of the time to try and keep my hands warm, and I imagine that the people behind me must have been getting very annoyed and frustrated with my constant movement.

The entire play, as the title suggests, takes place in purgatory. Only purgatory in this case is not like the purgatory that Susie Salmon experiences in The Lovely Bones. It is not a beautiful place filled with joys and everything that your heart desires. Instead it resembles a prison cell or a room in a mental asylum. Each soul is assigned a healer to try and help them through the process of forgiving themselves and those that did them wrong, of moving on, and once that is done they are promised that they will return to earth.

The play revolves around two characters: a man and a woman – one the healer, the other the patient – who try to help each other through their purgatories by reliving the events that brought them to this place, the horrors of their pasts.

Now for the reason why I refuse to go into too much detail about the play itself and the myth that it is based upon. I read all the detail that was given about the play. I read the myth that was provided, and I felt that I would have enjoyed the play far more if I hadn’t know the myth, if it had been a surprise to me. I would have found it a lot more interesting if I hadn’t know what was coming.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the play over all. I did. The acting was incredible; the music haunting, the premise of the play brilliant. I just think that part of the brilliance of the play is the shock, the surprise, the unexpectedness. The play is not of the confusing sort that, should they leave details hidden in the previews and explanations, the attendants would get lost. It would be easy enough to follow along and understand what is happening, and I think that I would have gotten a far better feeling of accomplishment from following the play that way than I felt from watching, already knowing.

In any case, I really do suggest that if you are in Grahamstown for the festival, or if you are in Cape Town when the play is shown at the Baxter, you watch it. I highly recommend it. But I also highly recommend not looking too much into it. Trust me, the surprise will be worth it.