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The Middle, Where It Gets Messy

The Middle, Where It Gets Messy

by Libby Allen, images by Liam Lynch / 06.07.2010

We eat tubes of Corenza and inhale red wine. Late nights, early starts; shows on stages, shows in galleries; shows on streets, in the garage shop. Little food. Who knows the day? When are we, now? It is after Slipstream – I know that – because people are talking about Veranda Panda’s set, where he played in the stance of a crazed gargoyle and the party got so heavy they thought the balcony would collapse.

Somewhere, someone performs to an audience of three. Somewhere, a show sells out. Even Stef the hypnotist has open seats. Under Drostdy Arch, Juliet Jenkin and Frances Slabolepszy, writers and performers of the “afro-gothic fantasy”, Deep Freezing, (directed by Alex Halligey) are posed in their freezer, ridiculous and creepy and outside time and space. I’m remembering why we do this festival; why we even bother. In an industry of cattle calls and tribute shows, this is our blood. That isn’t just sentiment; even when it seems it only adds up to ten minutes of debate about style, tumbleweed posters and a lone forgotten donkey, we exist for this. To share the work otherwise dwarfed by the ways in which we have to give in, sell out, whatever, to pay the bills.

Director Rob Murray and company From the Hip: Khulumakahle present an excellent trio of pieces this year, the stand-out for me being Quack, where Murray pushes his style unashamedly, to the extreme. No spoonfeed – if you won’t surrender to the experience, you’re on your own. …Miskien, directed by Tara-Louise Notcutt, performed by Albert Pretorius and Gideon Lombard, is transcendent. A vulnerable story, susceptible to becoming schmaltz if it is dealt in any way that falls short of perfect, is conceived and played so beautifully that it moves audiences who are too quickly bored and too easily scathing, show after show.

I’m drinking my however-many cup of coffee while watching the actresses from the festival hit, London Road walk to their theatre in character and costume, with focus and conviction as outstanding as the piece itself. Guy Buttery queues for beetroot juice, and with the bewildered expression of someone smacked front and centre with a large weapon, he speaks of gigs here, and in Paris just now; working out what is to come, not believing himself. Gary Thomas launches his beautiful album Contraption Distortia. A performance artist sits in a tree. Louw Venter and Rob Van Vuuren make people laugh; make others a little sad. Artists are turning grey. Everyone queues for beetroot juice. Vusi Mahlasela makes time stand still.

The technicians work harder, longer, than anyone and disappear into the wings. At The Long Table, there is gossip; people sit hunched, barter ideas. Tom Waits plays until what seems to be dawn and it all begins again.

Festival blues is a tangible thing. I’m trying to work it out. Even though we’re inspired and we laugh, it’s all becoming too much. We idealise the quiet of home, bouncing between the Cathedral and the Monument on the hill.

This year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Drama, Janni Younge, opens her piece Ouroboros with scribbles of cryptic text. “Imagine an egg, the letter A… This is your first night with her, your first night without her… The beginning…The middle, where it gets messy. Really…” I still don’t know what day we’re in. It all becomes one thing. We exist for this.

*All images © Liam Lynch.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Like. You are so cool. Hey.

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  2. aha says:

    Beautifully written – thanks.

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  3. brandon edmonds says:

    ‘To share the work otherwise dwarfed by the ways in which we have to give in, sell out, whatever, to pay the bills’ – yes, yes this is really strong writing. Fantastic.

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  4. Margaret Logan says:

    Thanks for guiding me to this piece via Facebook. A beautifully expressed wrap-up of the festival and how it leaves those most involved feeling. Great stuff.

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  5. Matt says:

    I find this overly pretentious, and for someone who was not there, it does not present any concrete idea of what was going on. Your “mind map” writing technique may make you very popular amongst the arty set who’ll read into it what they want to see, but for the rest of us it’s drivel.

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  6. golightly says:

    This is hilarious!!! Thank you all! wowowowowow!!! Still laughing. Everyone is so important! Eh oh! biz x

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  7. aha says:

    Matt – try exercising yr imagination for a change.

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  8. lois says:

    this exactly it, the feeling, i was there, I suffered through this. perfect. thank you.

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  9. klan says:

    nice picks Liam.

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  10. jools says:

    beautiful. (i wasn’t there either.)

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  11. Porl says:

    I dont know what this article is about.

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  12. Stumpy says:


    and you never will.

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  13. scout says:

    Liam, you hit the nail on the head with a very heavy hammer.

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  14. stef juncker says:

    congrats to all mahala writers and photographers. Excellent work.

    Some fests are great, some too long, some quiet, but grahamstown is never boring!

    regards to all who attended and wrote in

    stef juncker, hypnotist

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  15. Tazz says:

    I was there. Working on a show. A drama student whose been going to fest for years. And you’ve described it better than i could. Thank you for putting the experience into words. @Matt: Libby’s given you the key to a door entitled “How Living Grahamstown FEELS”….

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