Originally published in Cue.
The annual Student Theatre Festival kicked off yesterday with the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) production Fire:Burn. The programme is sponsored by the South African Post Office and forms part of the main Festival programme.
The two-man show began life as an untitled spoken word poetry performance in the Wits Orientation Week at the beginning of the year with a much larger cast. Director and co-lead Zewande Bk. Bhengu then refined the piece into the curious mixture of slam poetry, dance and traditional theatre that is Fire:Burn with the help of his co-star Lebogang Shikwambane.
Bhengu’s background in physical theatre is palpable as he aggressively dominates the space on stage. Shikwambane holds her own, neatly side-stepping and flowing around him. The dichotomy between the two is never clearer than when they step up to the microphones at the front of the stage and deliver the tightly packaged and written poetry that forms the dialogue of the piece.
Bhengu’s voice booms as if he is invoking the gods while Shikwambe’s spills out of her as if she has been holding it back too long. The destructive nature of their characters’ relationship is highlighted with the parody of emergency procedure instructions that opens and closes the play, ending in the phrase: “In the event of fire: burn.”
The rest of the Student Theatre programme promises to be just as good as the Wits offering. Rhodes University, the University of the Free State and the University of Johannesburg have all brought interesting interpretations of Shakespearean plays.
Festival newcomers the Waterfront Theatre School will be presenting The Yellow Wood. Based off the famous Robert Frost poem,The Road Not Taken, this piece sounds ready to take on the established regulars.
The University of Kwa-Zulu Natal is unique in that it has two plays as part of the programme: One Lonely Night and the sports-themed The Off Side Rule. Stellenbosch University’s Bitter will be particularly intriguing for fans of the infamous Afrikaans comic series Bitterkomix, which turns 21 this year.
With 16 individual plays on the programme, this year’s Student Theatre Festival promises to deliver an exciting and varied line-up.