I did a triple feature of plays last night, to kick-start the Out The Box festival which began yesterday. So, really what I did was hang out at UCT’s Hiddingh (drama school) campus, which is the perfect place to have this kind of festival. Jaqueline Dommisse has done a fine job of putting this huge baby together, and I have to say that it feels very cohesive, even though two of the main venues are being used for un-festival stuff.

First up was Jonathan Khumbulani Nkala’s The Bicycle Thief, directed by Bo Petersen. Jonathan is a tall, skinny, smiley, affable Zimbabwean chap with a lovely voice. His show The Crossing (also directed by Bo) tells of his harrowing journey to South Africa from Zimbabwe. The Bicycle Thief is a fragment of Zimbabwean village life and growing up, with a strange South African beginning, and an even weirder (and quite abrupt) ending. Jonathan is engaging in a funny, awkward kind of way, Bo has done some brilliant things with costumes and props, making it visually interesting and exciting, but the story itself is unresolved and the whole thing is far too short, at just twenty minutes.

n272810571703_4098 Next up was Man Turn Life Up and Down, a visual theatre piece based on Nigerian popular writing. Sanjin Muftic directs poet/actress Primrose “Everywoman” Mrwebi, singer/actress Nobuhle “I am an Artist” Ketelo and actress Pumeza “Fleur du Cap Nominee” Rashe (I stole these classic definitions from the facebroek page), with animation and art stuff by Jon Keevy (Yawazzi). I was very excited by the idea of this production, and mostly it delivers. Three young, hot black African chicks, in a play about what it’s like to be a black chick; where old and new values collide, get mixed up, confused and are confusing. The styling is amazing and the three of them look fabulous and give great (if a little inconsistent) performances. The show is an exciting confusion of styles, music, naturalism, stylisation, comedy, physical theatre, superb visual animation and graphic drawing. Some of the scenes (like the quizz) are too long, drawn out and directionless, and others could be slightly developed and tightened up. My favourites were the bus story and the blues song. The show is going to G’town, and could do really well there if it is given a bit of a short back and sides. For a first, test run, I thought it was really fresh, original and pretty cool.

sindi After a delicious felafel and a glass of wine I went back to the Playroom to watch Nkosazana, a one-woman piece with Cindy Mkaza and directed by Leila Anderson. Of the three pieces I saw last night, this one is the most resolved, and therefore satisfying. Although I found the beginning and ending a little convoluted and over wrought, I really enjoyed everything else. Cindy is amazing. She is beautiful, funny, sensitive, cute, powerful and riveting. She has a lovely voice and superb physicality. I loved watching her. Leila’s costumes are absolutely phenomenal, magical, provocative and theatrical. Her simple set is beautiful too (although I wished the bed, the focal point of the stage, had been used more). I think this offering shouldn’t be missed.

So, as I left the campus last night I realised that although the three shows I’d seen were all quite different, they were unbelievably similar too. They all dealt with identity, culture, tradition and relationships. In a particularly black, African context. How refreshing. They all had moved past traditional theatre and storytelling (some more successfully than others) and were finding a new performance vocabulary. And they all gave a nod to the past and a glimpse into the future. Now that’s pretty cool.

The only thing I hated in all three productions was the playing of children. Ok, it is a pet hate of mine, but really, please, please, please! No more! I beg! No more cutesy high pitched voices and weird sideways arms.

The Out The Box festival runs this week at The Little Theatre Complex in Gardens and at The Baxter Theatre. It is a feast of visual theatre, films, puppetry, kid’s stuff, lectures and workshops, and all things visual/theatrical. I am delighted to be going to some of the stuff.