Witness Hilton Arts Festival

KZN’s foremost arts and culture festival – the annual Witness Hilton Arts Festival comes to the Hilton College from 18 to 20 September with a glittering line-up of cutting-edge drama, comedy, music and cabaret, as well as an impressive array of arts and crafts in a bumper programme that features an enticing mix of hot South African performers and artists gleaned from the most prestigious stages around the country including the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July.

The Witness Hilton Arts Festival – hosted in association with East Coast Radio – have invited productions on the Main festival, and there is a huge selection of productions on the Fringe. There are also children’s productions, various concerts and cabarets, physical theatre productions, street theatre and comedy. This year’s flagship production is a triumph for the festival – a collaboration with top KZN theatrical producers, KickstArt. Together they are producing a brand new production of the ultimate backstage farce, Noises Off by Michael Frayn funded by the National Lotteries Board. This hilarious play that tells of the rivalries and misfortunes of a bickering touring theatre company opened at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on 20 August and ran until 6 September before opening the Witness Hilton Festival. The cast comprises top-notch local talent, starring Ben Voss, Lisa Bobbert, Jailoshini Naidoo, Darren King, Michael Gritten, Bryan Hiles, Belinda Henwood, Peter Court and Liesl Coppin. It is directed by Steven Stead and designed by Greg King.

A much anticipated highlight is Greig Coetzee performing his one-man classics: White Men with Weapons; Johnny Boskak is Feeling Funny and The Blue Period of Milton van der Spuy. Brilliant theatre comes from all major cities: Mark Graham directs Dorothy Ann Gould and Michael Maxwell in one of the South Africa’s most enduring dramas, as well as Athol Fugard’s poignant masterpiece Hello and Goodbye. High Diving looks at the most embarrassing situations revolving around dating and introducing your partner to your family! Pictures of You is an enchanting little story produced by From the Hip productions. Pregnant Pause (Just Swell!) explores the joyous highs and challenging lows of pregnancy and parenthood by award-winning director Sylvaine Strike in collaboration with award-winning performers Michael Richard and Charmaine Weir-Smith. Andrew Buckland recently returned form Las Vegas where he had been working with the internationally acclaimed Cirque du Soleil. Inspired by this experience, he directed Stilted immediately on his return. Created, conceived, and performed by Richard Antrobus and featuring newcomer, Chris Fisher, it is an extraordinary piece of physical theatre, highly entertaining, very funny, curious and accessible. Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story is set on a bench in New York’s Central Park. Two strangers start a conversation which will have devastating effects on both their lives.

From further afield: the intriguing story of Karen Blixen is told in Longing for Darkness, conceived and performed by Mia Theil Have and directed by Max Webster. Mia Theil Have is a Danish actress and singer. She has performed at the Royal Theatre, Copenhagen and The Royal Opera House, London. The Fleur de Lis club is under new management and will run as a cabaret venue with the top Durban cabarets including Let’s Misbehave; Girls Behaving Badly; The Bald and the Beautiful and Kicking it Country – Darren King and Shelley McLean doing a new show of Country classics. For those looking for something lighter: comedy offerings include Ben Voss’s Beauty Ramapelepele, and David Newton who brings two shows to Hilton – Laugh and Politically Incorrect. Durban productions which are heading up the hill this year are Shear Madness – one of the world’s most popular comedy-thrillers. Their presence at the festival is sponsored by DACT. It is the world’s second longest running play (after Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap) and probably America’s greatest theatrical success story. It combines comedy, a juicy whodunit murder mystery, opportunities for the audience to give input to help craft the script and the resolution of the murder. Also from Durban is the hugely acclaimed Wit – Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning play supported by the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Wit engages both the heart and the mind. It is at once funny, sad, tragic and life-affirming, complex and simple.

The festival once again will have strong focus on classical music with an eclectic mix of more than a dozen concerts hosted by Christopher Duigan’s Music Revival Concerts featuring a myriad special guests and soloists. This year the dance element will be provided by Rob van Vuuren who, together with his partner Mary Martin, will be doing a highlights package of some of the dances from Strictly Some Dancing, marrying dance with comedy in Strictly Rob and Mary. More elegant song and dance can be found in Gumboots & Glitter. Ian & Rory at their Best, featuring the inimitable music duo Ian von Memerty and Rory Rootenberg, perform highlights from their favourite musicals.

For a glimpse behind the obvious – there will be a series of Thinkfest lectures and discussions on a myriad interesting and diverse subjects presented by leaders in their respective fields. Many artists will be selling their works throughout the festival. Crouse Art Gallery will also be on site again this year selling a selection of astonishing collectable and investment art situated at the Normand Dunn Gallery. There will be a special focus on food and eating this year with various food areas to choose from. Programmes are available in that day’s Witness; at selected Spar stores; on www.artslink.co.za/hilton.