Feast of funny and thought-provoking theatre at Wits 969 Festival

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The Crucifixion of Amagqwirha.

Enjoy diverse theatre for everyone at Wits Theatre’s 969 Festival, which runs from July 14 to 30 and features some of the best of Grahamstown for the ultimate mid-winter event.

The drama line-up includes works which have featured on both the Main and fringe stages at the 2017 National Arts Festival.

Says Gita Pather, director of Wits Theatre: “We are delighted to be showcasing so many Standard Bank Young Artist winners. They bring diversity and fresh talent to the theatre scene.”

Award-winning playwright Mike van Graan teams up with award-winning actress Gina Shmukler and director Lesedi Job to present his new play Helen of Troyeville, a poetic work reflecting on the complexities of contemporary South Africa from the eyes of a privileged grandmother who only wants to do good for society but ultimately ends up in a life-threatening situation.

helen of troyeville

Gina Shmukler in Mike van Graan’s ‘Helen of Troyeville’.

Naledi Award-winners, Jade Bowers and Ameera Patel, team up in a new show titled BlackThe play begins with a potentially explosive missive from the South African government to Zara, played by Ameera Patel.

She learns that once-sealed documents implicating her father in an act committed against the anti-apartheid movement decades earlier will soon be released to the public. The letter begins the journey into Zara’s past.

Another acclaimed production at 969 is Yellowman, a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama, which tells the poignant story of Alma and Eugene, two African Americans trying to navigate their way through life, love, family and identity politics.

Yellowman refers to lighter skinned persons among African Americans. In this case, dark-skinned Alma and light-skinned Eugene kindle a friendship from a young age. They seem destined to love one another but prejudice and life get in the way. The play was written by Dael Orlandersmith and is directed by Tshego Khutsoane.

Another must-see is The Crucifixion of Amagqwirha, and edge-of-the-seat absurdist drama directed by Jovan Muthray and Mlindeli Zondi, which deals with the trauma of a missing child, an all too common phenomenon in this day-and-age.

The story unravels in a courtroom where no one seems to know anything yet everybody has a thirst for answers in a community that never runs out of questions. The piece uses myth and ritual turning the courtroom into  a metaphorical fireplace.

The festival is also staging the return of the sold-out 2016 Standard Bank Ovation Award-winner Burn which explores the fraught relationship between Earth and Man as they hold each other ransom. This stunning duet is all at once powerful, stirring and explosive. It is a fierce dance-drama directed by well-known choreographer Bailey Snyman.

As a university, student theatre is central to the 969 Festival as it highlights a new generation of emerging creative talent. Thought-provoking Mmu is one example of the solid theatre coming out of the Wits drama scene. It is a character-driven performance which questions the relationship between people and the land, our interlinked identities.

Mmu is a Wits Theatre/WSOA-Theatre & Performance Division production, directed by Sinenhlanhla Zwane and Luke Reid, and written by Quinton Manning.


Pop iCherry.

Two other original student plays are The Market Theatre Laboratory’s Hani which has just received a Standard Bank Ovation award and Pop iCherry.

Hani is based on the story of Chris Hani’s life and told through the contemporary song forms of hip-hop, rap and ballad. The exciting piece is directed by Leila Henriques. Pop iCherry, meanwhile, does not hold back when dealing with the themes surrounding one of society’s most loaded subjects, virginity. The play is co-directed by Sinenhlanhla Mgeyi and Tumeka Matintela and co-written by Ncumisa Ndimeni and Nosipho Buthelezi.

Comedy plays a vital part at 969 this year with four diverse plays, some laugh-out-loud funny and others presenting a thought-provoking, satirical, darker side of life.

“Given the constant political turbulence of SA, we get mired in the insanity of daily life,” says Pather. “Comedy helps us relax and laugh and remember that tomorrow is another day and funnily enough, comedy does extremely well at festivals precisely because audiences are looking for something to lift their spirits.”

Actor, vocalist and professional k*k talker, Mortimer Williams, sets out to discovers the unchartered territory which fascinates us all, the mind of the South African male, in stand-up comedy-cum-cabaret The Full Morty.

Alternatively, find out what happens on a girls’ night out in Six Inches, written and directed by Kirsty Suttner. Topics under scrutiny include love, lust and everything between the sheets


Jittery Citizens.

Jittery Citizens, directed by Claudine Ullman, brings sharp-as-a-tack, improvisational comedy to the festival. The play’s hilarious and off-the-cuff style is guaranteed to invoke spontaneous laughter from even the most serious Jozi audience.

And KidCasino, directed by satirist Toni Morkel, is an absurd dark comedy which follows two kids as they run free in Sun Star Casino’s Arcade. While on their wild escapade the audience gets to explore the underbelly of Casino Culture.

The 969 Festival programme has been specifically structured for theatregoers to enjoy several shows in one day or evening with time for a meal or a drink at the theatre bar in a warm and cosy environment.

The youth programme includes Space Rocks, Jitterbugs, Rat Race, Mainane and Insta-Grammar, all specifically created for young audiences, from pre-primary through to high school.

Ticket prices are as follows:       

Full price online – R75.

Full price at Box office – R 80.

Pensioner, Wits Staff and Student Discount online – R 60 on presentation of ID document or valid student card

Pensioner, Wits Staff and Student Discount Box office – R 65 (on presentation of ID document or valid student card


Online staff and public – R 50.

Box Office staff and public – R 60.

Online Students – R 40.

Box Office students and block bookings – R 50. on presentation of ID document or valid student card. No WSOA passes accepted

Tickets are available at www.webtickets.co.za or you can book online or through any Pick n Pay store. Tickets can also be purchased at Wits Theatre’s Box Office. Contact Yuhl on yuhl.headman@wits.ac.za or Bridget bridget.vanoerle@wits.ac.za  for block bookings.

Wits Theatre Box office – 011 717 1381.


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