Toil and trouble English Guide to Woordfees 2023
by Tracey Saunders
Photos: Nardus Engelbrecht, Mark Wessels, Mark Cloete and supplied
To borrow from Shakespeare and in the spirit of the 2023 theme there really is “Double, double toil and trouble: Fire burn and cauldron bubble” in Stellenbosch in the days ahead. The toil and trouble to build a programme as dense and diverse as that on offer from 7-15 October is immense and fires of creativity and cauldrons of ingenuity are bound to be stoked and boil over.
A – Afrikaans
First, the elephant in the room: “Isn’t Woordfees an Afrikaans festival?” I am often asked. Well, yes, primarily it is an Afrikaans festival, but because art is a universal language there are numerous offerings that are not language dependent and in recent years there is a programme of work presented in English. If you haven’t yet ventured to Stellenbosch in the spring, you really are in for a treat. And if you are a regular just looking for pointers, step this way, here’s you’re A-Z to Woordfees 2023.
B – Bicycles & Boschendal
Not a standard item on an arts programme, but you have two opportunities to hop on either a bicycle or an electric bike and travel through some of the most scenic routes in the Cape. The e-bike tour to Boschendal on the Idas Valley Cycle Path network and through the Banhoek Conservation Area or a tour to Stark-Condé and Lanzerac which includes a chocolate and wine pairing.
C – Classical music, choirs and clarinets
The classical music programme includes a celebration of organ music in the magnificent Moederkerk. Zorada Temmingh, the facilitator of Organ Week since 2015 will premiere a new work Allegro imposante!. Works by the composers Andriessen, Arne, Bélier, Grison, Guilmant, Mailly, Pachelbel, Petrali, Mikael Tariverdiev, Matthew van Wyk and Vierne will be performed by Arnu Oelofse, Gavin Julius, Isabelle van Rensburg and Winand Grundling. The Cape Reeds Clarinet Quintet, founded in 2022, will perform an extensive variety of music on 14 October in their programme Soundscapes: Clarinet Sounds from Across the World. There’s also the opportunity to hear the globally acclaimed and well-travelled Stellenbosch University Choir. Listening to this remarkable group of voices who have held top position on the international Interkultur ranking for more than a decade is a life-affirming experience.
D – Delela (astrant)
Tiisetso Mashifane wa Noni is a theatre maker extraordinaire. Her sharp writing cuts right to the heart of social commentary on South Africa and in Delela (astrant) she turns her attention to philanthropy, charity-washing and the hypocrisy of so-called “good work”. All is not quite what it seems at the Strauss-Smith foundation and the sibling rivalry is matched by the thinly veiled racism and patronising faux liberal compassion on display.
Delela 9 October 09:30 | 12 October 20:30 | 14 October 18:00
E – Embody You
The Figure of 8 Dance Collective once again shows the humanity within us. Grant van Ster, Jay-Dee America, Keenun Wales, Lubabalo Pupu and Shaun Oelf use the language of dance to go beyond the body to illustrate how our responses to the world around us, are what makes meaning of the world for each of us.
Embody You 10 October 9:30 | 11 October 20:30 | 13 October 20:30
F – Femme is fatale
It’s a rare treat to see Elzabé Zietsman on stage in Cape Town and her critically acclaimed cabaret has been sorely missed. Marna, Lian and Khanyi are three women facing the odds in a country where violence against women is the 13th official language. Zietsman, accompanied by Tony Bentel on piano, shares their hopes and dreams and the cruel truth of their lives in a production that doesn’t shy away from reality.
Femme is fatale 11 October 11:00 | 12 October 20:00
G – Greg Mills: Rich State, Poor State
The conundrum of why some states prosper, grow economies and raise people up, while others with similar challenges sink into low growth, social malfunction and failure lies at the heart of Mills’ most recent book. Together with Peter Bruce he analyses the reason behind the successes and failures of states and where South Africa lies on the continuum.
Greg Mills: Rich State, Poor State 10 October 13:00
H – Hold Still
The bed-rock of this multi-award winning production is the script by Nadia Davids. Her words create a world and characters with a depth and personal history that are replete when they utter their first words on stage. Set in a single night in a North London home, Rosa (Mwenya Kabwe) and Ben Feigel (Andrew Buckland), are forced to confront the truth of their own personal beliefs and values. As topical as today’s headlines, the play grapples with notions of belonging and just how far empathy expands when put to the test.
Hold Still 10 October 12:00 | 11 October 17:30 | 12 October 16:30 | 13 October 16:00
i want to write you a submarine
Andi Colombo was recently announced as one of two recipients of the Theatre Arts Emerging Directors Bursary for 2023 and this tender piece of prose and storytelling highlights why her talents have been recognised. The introspective musings of a young woman navigating love and loss with a wry sense of humour and a keen eye for the allegorical is presented with a charm and quiet sense of certainty accompanied by a ukulele.
i want to write you a submarine 13 October 15:30 | 14 October 15:00 | 15 October 17:30
J – Jol & Jive — WOW celebrates 20 years!
Tribal Echo, Early B, Mango Groove, Dr Victor & The Rasta Rebels are just a few of those celebrating this remarkable achievement. WOW is one of the core pillars of the festival and over two decades, Words Open Worlds, has created readers and writers and celebrated words for children, students, teachers and aspiring authors. Without a doubt, a cause for celebration.
Jol & Jive 14 October 16:00
K – Karatara
This dance drama is presented in four languages – Afrikaans, English, dance and grief. More than one will resonate with you deeply. Shaun Oelf and Wilken Calitz have given voice to the residents of Karatara who lost everything in the fires in the Knysna district in 2018. For those who lost their lives this is a living eulogy, a perpetual memorial to their personal and communal histories. Gideon Lombard’s deft direction and achingly tender soundscape ensure that this experience will accompany you in the small hours of the morning for a long time.
Karatara 11 October 12:30 | 12 October 18:00 | 13 October 10:00 | 14 October 20:30 | 15 October 12:30
L – Love Factually
A master at finding the meaning in the mundane, Alan Committie proposes that the answer to all questions about love may just be Hugh Grant. Phoebe Waller-Bridge may beg to differ, but Committee as the astute comedian he is, posits that relationships in the post-modern age are by their very nature sites of contestation. In his unique style he constructs, destructs and instructs how love, life and the universe itself may (or may not) just be a gargantuan joke being played on us all.
Love Factually 9 October 20:00 | 10 October 20:00
M – Master Class
One runs out of superlatives when trying to describe any performance by Sandra Prinsloo and you will be forgiven for taking a moment or two to even recognise her in this production. Her transformation into opera diva Maria Callas is beyond the external and she embodies the very essence of the acclaimed opera singer. Accompanied on stage by José Dias, Siphamandla Moyake, Alida Scheepers, Tylor Lamani and Elisabeth Manduell, this is another extraordinary role by Prinsloo in the Terence McNally play.
Master Class 7 October 16:30 & 20:00 | 8 October 13:30 | 9 October 16:30 & 20:00 | 10 October 10:00
N – No Complaints, New Dawn, New Day
This absurdist delight written and directed by Carlo Daniels is a must-see. A response to Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, the exploration of Wendy and Wanda’s marriage asks as many questions as it answers. It is a delicious vignette of life with the contradictory sanguine melancholy reminiscent of Beckett himself. Confined by an exquisite design, we are faced with the incarceration of body and mind which is not the exclusive domain of clowns trapped in existential angst.
No Complaints, New Dawn, New Day 12 October 12:30 | 14 October 10:00 | 15 October 20:30
O – OZblu® blueberries – Taste the difference.
If sweet sustenance of a material kind is something that you require to power you through the festival, blueberries are an option. Apparently contrary to Shakespeare’s adage that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” blueberries, fall into a different category. Sceptical? Step into the khaya and find out.
P – Pieces of Her
This multilingual production presented by recent graduates of US portrays the multi-faceted experiences of various South Africa women. As with a puzzle its only when all pieces are revealed that the true picture can be observed.
Pieces of Her 7 October 15:00 | 8 October 20:00 | 9 October 22:00
Q – Quartets
Not quite a four some of quartets, but almost as three ensembles are on the programme. The Amici String Quartet founded in 2006 brings together the talents of Karin Gaertner, Peter Martens, Philip Martens and Suzanne Martens who have previously performed at Cape Town Concert Series, the Grahamstown National Arts Festival and the Bulawayo International Festival. The Juliet String Quartet will debut their latest album, Maike, comprised exclusively of works by local composers. All alumni of SU, Annien Shaw, Babette Roosenschoon, Matthew Stead and Petrus Coetzee will also perform Dvořák’s American Quartet. The Dante Quartet from the UK showcase a programme of work by composers including Beethoven, Walker, Haydn and Shaw. Carol Ella, Ian Watson, Richard Jenkinson and Zoe Beyers add South Africa to their global itinerary which includes several cities in Europe and Japan.
Beethoven String Quartets: The beginning and the end 15 October 19:00
The Dante String Quartet: Points of Origin 14 October 20:00
R – Round Of Applause – South Africa Still Standing with Marianne Thamm
More than just a round of applause, Mariane Thamm deserves a standing ovation and a resounding cheer. The veteran investigative journalist, incomparable raconteur and consummate wit delivers a concise history of a post democratic South Africa in headlines and anecdotes. You will feel like the luckiest guest at the dinner party as she regales you with her astute political insights and psychological ruminations on the rogues, rascals and renegades that populate the political class of South Africa. Both a cautionary tale and an election guide to 2024, this evening with Thamm is memorable and magical.
Round of Applause 12 October 20:00 | 14 October 20:00 | 15 October 17:30
S – Studio Visits
The vast visual arts programme is always a feast, and this year is no exception. Individual studio visits to artists including Keith Dietrich, Heléne van Aswegen, Lunga Kama, Marianne Burger, Marie Stander, Maritza Breitenbach, Marlene von Dürckheim, Paddy Bouma, Paul van Coller-Louw, Rose Namubiru Kirumira and Strijdom van der Merwe are essential items on any art lover’s schedule. The addition of studio routes this year offers an added element of serendipity to the tours as you gain rare insights into the creative process of some of South Africa’s most prolific and esteemed artists.
T – To Survive Auschwitz
At 102, Ella Blumenthal has more than a few stories to share. In I am Ella she relates her life as a survivor of the Holocaust. Her biography published earlier this year was possible “only once my wounds, my scars, had dried up” she told Daily Maverick’s Carmen Clegg. She tells her story of surviving the Warsaw Ghetto and the gas chambers of the Nazi concentration camps. Her journey from Poland to Paris and eventually to Cape Town is as remarkable as she is.
Book Club: To Survive Auschwitz 10 October 18:15
The Darkroom Contemporary Dance Theatre Company under the guidance of choreographer and director Louise Coetzer makes visible the tensions of our times as they test the limits of co-existence of extreme positionalities. Tensions between extreme and moderate are explored as bodies and feelings collide.
Ultra – 7 October 20:30 | 8 October 18:00 | 10 October 15:00
V – Vincent: His quest to love and be loved
Recently returned from performing at the Edinburgh Art Festival, Daniel Anderson is set to win over even more hearts as he brings Vincent back to local stages. This incredibly talented performer brings Vincent van Gogh to the stage accompanied by Germainne Gamiet on piano. The autobiographical journey through Van Gogh’s troubled life is an emotional exploration of love and how the desperate search for it can be the undoing of the most remarkable of men.
Vincent: His quest to love and be loved 11 October 15:00 | 13 October 17:30 | 14 October 12:00
W – Worldplay
Is it a game? Is it a show? Is it a play? Yes, yes and yes again. Poets and musicians collaborate spontaneously in front of a live audience in this gameshow-esque performance poets include Xabiso Vili, Toast Coetzer, Flex of He & I, Yamoria, Jerome Rex, Jaco van der Merwe, Modise Sekgothe. Louwrens Ferreira, Winterwelpie – Ronald Davey, Modise Sekgothe, and Bronwen Clacherty are in the musicians’ hot seat. This is real time, improvised performance bound to be fresh, new and exciting.
Worldplay 11 October 21:00 | 13 October 20:00
X – eXceptional
Because conventions are made to be broken and some things defy classification, Die Moeder is the Afrikaans language production you should watch no matter what language you speak. (see also Z – Zeller)
This is the winner of the Short Film Jury Award for the Animation category at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014. In just six minutes director Bernardo Britto tells the tale of a man hired to write the definitive history of human existence before the planet is hit by an alien missile in 17 years.
Yearbook 15th October 13:30
Z – Zeller, Florian
Christiaan Olwagen has translated The Mother, written by French novelist and playwright Florian Zeller and created a production that is flawless. The direction and staging alone are breathtaking. With the addition of the cast of Sandra Prinsloo, Dawid Minnaar, Ludwig Binge and Ashley de Lange, Charl Fölscher’s cinematography, Wolf Britz’s lighting design and Loki Rothman’s soundscape, the experience is sublime. For Prinsloo, this role exemplifies every aspect of her formidable talent, and she has deservedly won a kykNET Fiësta for the role. Olwagen was awarded for his direction and the production itself as best festival production. The text is in Afrikaans with English subtitles. It may be last on this list, but it should be the very first item you book for. You will have to hurry to beat all those watching it for a second, third and fourth time.
Walking the streets of Stellenbosch during Woordfees, chatting with strangers in queues, over shared coffee tables or bar stools will renew your sense of hope in South Africa. Woordfees is one of my personal annual highlights. I hope it will become yours too.