Fringe festivals – the playground of the independent, original artist – continue to be a vital force in global arts, as evidenced by the massive crowds drawn annually to international fringe festivals in Edinburgh, Adelaide, New York and Brighton.

In South Africa, the well-established National Arts Festival’s Fringe is a unique open access platform, giving all artists the opportunity to perform, network, collaborate, share and learn. As the only African members of the World Fringe Alliance, the National Arts Festival and its sister event in Cape Town continue to stimulate the local ecosystem of audience, opportunities, and exposure to talent hunters from around the world.

Unsolicited and uncurated, the 2018 National Arts Festival Fringe (28 June – 8 July) is yet again a vivid gathering of fierce, fearless, funny, charming, daring, warm and imaginative works. With shows costing from as little as R20 to around R100 a ticket, it’s quite possible for Festival-goers to see more than one show a day.

Snapshot of the Theatre programme

New shows will accompany returning successes. Mike van Graan’s LAND ACTS, starring Daniel Mpilo Richards, takes a satirical look at SA’s hottest topic. Van Graan’s play GREEN MAN FLASHING, a fast-paced political thriller will also be on the bill along with WHEN SWALLOWS CRY, directed by Lesedi Job.

Billy Langa in TSWALO

Billy Langa in TSWALO

Cape Town Fringe Fresh Award winner, TSWALO will be coming to Grahamstown. A mesmerising piece directed by Mahlatsi Mokgonyana and performed by Billy Langa, it’s not to be missed.

The Artscape Theatre Centre brings family drama IMBEWU to the Festival, as well as NIGHT AND DAY, which will be directed by Khayalethu Anthony. Chris Weare will direct the South African classic THE ISLAND, a play written and conceived by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona about two prisoners on Robben Island as the one faces extended jail time and the other his imminent release.

2017 Standard Bank Ovation Award winner THE DEVIL AND BILLY MARKHAM returns in 2018 with the Faustian tale masterfully delivered by James Cairns, who stars in three other productions presented by Contagious Theatre. EL BLANCO will do its final year at the Festival and Cairns will also appear in his comedy show JAMES CAIRNS AGAINST HUMANITY and together with a cast for a stage production of Hemingway’s THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA.

The Edge presents SELWYN AND GABRIEL by Richard Kaplan (who also wrote The Finklesteins are Coming To Dinner). Starring Kai Luke Brummer and Mbulelo Grootboom, directed by Tara Notcutt, it’s a magical modern mystery about two strangers with secrets. Also on the Edge is J. BOBS LIVE – OFF THE RECORD – a game show theatre experience hosted by the inimitable Jefferson Bobs TshabalalaJ Bobs can also be found on the Arena programme, with J.Bobs Live – Location Lekeyshini Lokasie.

Ameera Patel in BLACK

Ameera Patel in BLACK

Former Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre (2016) Jade Bowers presents BLACK, a family story about identity and race, starring Ameera Patel. Bower’s new work JUNGFRAU debuts on the Main Programme this year.

The issues of South African society are reflected back both personally and broadly through a number of works that put societal hotspots under the microscope. In SHATTERED DREAMS, the Abangani Theatre Group turns the spotlight on women and child abuse in a play directed by Jullian Seleke-Mokoto.

SKINNED, directed by Siphesihle Ndaba, debuted at Rhodes Drama Department’s Rising Artists Programme in 2017. It looks at black female joy in a marginalised South African context.

Having earned multiple awards, including a Standard Bank Ovation Award in 2016, YOU SUCK AND OTHER INESCAPABLE TRUTHS, Klara van Wyk’s cleverly humorous commentary on teenage social anxiety and bullying,will return to the Festival for the final time this year.

For some wry social commentary, award-winning playwright Juliet Jenkins brings WOOLWORTHS to this year’s Fringe. Described as a dark, mesmerising and hilarious satire on middle-class South Africa, it charges through Trellidors, security estates, rhino charities, gold mines, shopping malls, rugby stadiums, game farms and bank queues!

Dip into the Dance programme

Down to the Marrow

Flatfoot Dance Company’s DOWN TO THE MARROW

The Fringe Dance programme reflects a tenacious and passionate dance sector showcasing works like Flatfoot Dance Company’s DOWN TO THE MARROW, the National School of the Arts’ production DANCE SPECTRUM, and the return of Festival favourites, the Cape Academy of Performing Art (CAPA) in ELLIPSIS.

Traditional dance, costumes, jewellery and indigenous music is highlighted by the Mvada Traditional Dancers in THE BEAUTY OF AFRICA, the Tonlongozi Traditional Dance Company in UMXHENTSO WAMAMFENGU and the Chris Hani District Youth Ensemble.

RHYTHM OF MAKHANDA is Via Kasi Movers Theatre Company’s loose adaptation of the book The Return to Makhanda which tells the story of the Battle of Grahamstown between the amaXhosa and British soldiers in 1819, the piece features artists local to the area.

A deep reflection on the Syrian war and its stories of horrific suffering and violence sees director/performer Kristi-Leigh Grasse’s SULLIED take a look at rape culture and a world immune to violence asking what we can do about this body politic. The cast includes Lebogang Muludi and Okuhle Danti.

Quick peek at Comedy

Always a big feature of the Fringe, the comedy line-up for 2018 doesn’t disappoint.

Tats Nkonzo

Tata Nkonzo in PRIVILEGED

Trevor Noah’s special correspondent in SA, Loyiso Madinga, will be doing a solo show, Tats Nkonzo brings back Standard Bank Ovation winner (2017) PRIVILEGED and Aaron McIlroy is in a new show ADHD. Followspot brings a crop of entertaining works such as ALCHEMY OF ROCK and CALIENTE as well as the final instalment of the BIG BOYS series.

Lazolo Gola, brother of Loyiso, has appeared on Comedy Central and SABC 2’s The Bantu Hour and will be doing LAZOLA GOLA LIVE. SA Comics Choice award winner, the deadpan Phil de Lange, will perform THE PHIL SPECTRUM and laser sharp comedian Angel Campey is in DEVIL’S ADVOCATE. Both are directed by Tara Notcutt. Nik Rabinovitz is also coming to Grahamstown with DRY WHITE.

Siv Ngesi presents a host of comedians at the Drill Hall including Stuart Taylor’s THE LAST LAUGH and Rob van Vuuren’s new comedic work, AGAIN! directed by Alan Committee. Schalk Bezuidenhout will be in JERSEY BOY and teams up with Loyiso Madinga for BROKEN ENGLISH. Greg Homan’s adaptation of Aida AIDA ABRIDGED is bound to bring down the house with just two cast members taking on all the roles.

Stephanie Jenkins’ HUDSON AND WATSON AND THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE DIAMOND sees Sherlock Holmes’s housekeeper, Mrs Hudson, join up with Mary Watson to catch a killer.

Trip into Performance Art and Physical Theatre

21 Wandah

21 WANDAH!

KID CASINO starring Roberto Pombo and Joni Barnard returns to the Fringe for another dazzling round of performances of this glitter and bling play with a dark story about gambling addiction and child neglect.

DIKAPA by Generation of Stars was a Standard Bank Ovation Award winner in 2017 and also featured at the Market Theatre’s Zwakala Festival.

In LEBITSO, a young man, suffocated by his societal norms and expectations, breaks out against the system and sets off on a journey to discover the meaning of his name. LEBITSO is the result of a collaboration between AFDA Johannesburg and Østfold University College / Norwegian Theater Academy.

Market Theatre Laboratory’s second year students’ production 21 WANDAH! asks what life will be like when you reach 21 or whether you’ve lived your best since turning 21. The play takes the form of a game show with 21 lucky contestants.

Boundary-breaking performance artist Gavin Krastin will present YET TO BE DETERMINED, a meditation on irrevocable change.

SCHATTENBOXER ‘shadow boxer’ is a provocative story of a young black South African who relocates to Europe. In a foreign land populated by a white majority, he starts questioning his very existence and heritage featuring Skhumbuzo Dlamini, Mandla Zondi, Thobani Ndlovu and Gcina Mdluli.

Illusion abounds

The magician masters are coming to town. Brendan Peel, Greg Gelb, Stuart Lightbody and Andrew Klazinga will all have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Music on the menu

The eclectic music programme on the Fringe means there really is something for everyone. From Grahamstown’s own Celtic folk outfit SCOTTY AND THE TERRIERS to ST PAUL’S GOSPEL CHOIR, a top sepostola (clap and tap) choir from Khayelitsha in Cape Town.

Mmusi Morekhure - TENOR IN CONCERT

Mmusi Morekhure – TENOR IN CONCERT

Also from Cape Town comes HATCHETMAN, a folksy, blues band that always gets the crowd rocking. The ever popular, energetic musical game show LIVE JUKEBOX will be plenty of fun for the adults – and its counterpart JUKEBOX JUNIOR debuts in 2018 on the Children’s Programme

BAM BAM BROWN aka Kieron Brown returns from his travels to bring his zany mix of sounds and characters to Grahamstown audiences and MBUSO KHOZA and the KZN HERITAGE ENSEMBLE showcase amahumbo; the 18th and 19th Century music of the Nguni people.

The Albany Club will play host to PITCH AND PLAY, where musicians are invited to promote or jam on the open mic sessions while the audience enjoys a relaxed atmosphere and pub food.

Mmusi Morekhure returns from performing everywhere from Monaco to Brazil with TENOR IN CONCERT. His repertoire includes everything from classical pieces to Jacques Brel.  Siki Jo-An fuses African soul with operatic jazz in OPERA MEETS JAZZ and Nick Wilcox sings a range of popular classics and contemporary pieces in ONE TALL TENOR MAKING MUSIC

Smile Music presents the tribute piece DEAR OLIVER TAMBO, a musical story about a young girl obsessed with knowing everything about Oliver Tambo and how he used his charisma for change. With songs in tribute to Tambo, Albertina Sisulu and Nelson Mandela among others. In LETTERS WITH MA’SISULU, 18 year-old violinist and 2016 Standard Bank Ovation Award winner Neo Motsatse, returns to NAF with a music production that commemorates Albertina Sisulu on the centenary of her birth.

Children’s theatre to delight young audiences

The Children Theatre programme on the Fringe is packed with favourites like the National Arts Festival’s very own production of THE GRUFFALO. Escape into the world of Roald Dahl as a young boy with TAKING FLIGHT and enjoy Rob van Vuuren and Dani Bischoff’s new children’s show FLORENCE AND WATSON AND THE GREAT PANGOLIN MYSTERY.

THE CLOUD CATCHER is the story of a girl who thinks differently written and directed by Richard Antrobus, while TALES MY CAT TOLD ME will keep even the very young spellbound.

GALELA

GALELA

Well Worn Theatre’s GALELA tells the story of three young children who try and solve the town’s drinking water problems only to discover something more murky under the surface. Directed by Thembela Madliki the play is a study of the bravery and imagination of children.

Families can also catch a free storytime reading at NELM (National English Literature Museum) at 11:30am daily from 29 June – 6 July. The stories will be read by artists from the National Arts Festival.

Standard Bank Ovation Awards

Throughout the Fringe Festival, members of the Standard Bank Ovation Awards panel anonymously review shows for award nominations. These nominations are announced throughout the Festival. The winners are announced at the end of the Festival in an award ceremony. Standard Bank Ovation Award winners are considered for the Arena programme for future National Arts Festivals and are also noted by theatres across the country.

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  • 4 June: This article has been updated to reflect the correction to Mbulelo Grootboom’s name