Theatre to interrogate, challenge and inspire

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The Hilton Arts Festival plays look at LGBTQ+, gender issues, abuse, bullying and toxic masculinity from 13 to 15 September.

Jaques de Silva as Erik Ponti in EVIL (Photo ©Carl Ballot 2019)
Jaques de Silva as Erik Ponti in EVIL (Photo ©Carl Ballot 2019)

Social media and dinner party conversations are awash with fear, anger, anxiety and rebellion as our country faces myriad crises around gender violence, fear of the “other” and misplaced violence and hatred. The sense of imminent anarchy and destruction permeates our narrative with big questions being asked about solutions, restorative justice and the need for calm.

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While leaders and experts grapple for answers, life continues. Against the backdrop of these complexities, the Hilton Arts Festival is about to open.

Perhaps one can do worse than look to the writers, story-tellers, art-makers and creatives for some ideas, some insight – and (dare we say) for some hope midst the chaos. The Hilton Festival drama programme as always offers thought-provoking works. This year we find productions which help to unpack some of the issues which confront us as a broken nation.

Gertrude Stein and a Companion

If you are looking for productions around some of the topical issues such as LGBTQ+, gender violence, abuse, bullying, confronting the “other” and toxic masculinity, consider:

Gertrude Stein and a Companion

The mystique of the ‘lost generation’ in Paris: way ahead of their time, Gertrude and Alice abandoned the conservative values of middle-class America in the early 1900’s and found refuge in avant-garde Paris… and in each other. Stein’s renowned salon attracted the artistic glitterati and literati of the day, including Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Hemingway and other luminaries residing in the bohemian French capital. They regularly gathered at what became known as the ‘Mecca for the modern-minded’ where they inspired each other to create art, drank often, fought often, fell in and out of love … and occasionally indulged in Alice’s hash brownies.

Featuring Shirley Johnston and Lynita Crofford under the direction of Chris Weare.


Evil, is the chilling real-life account of the teenage years of Erik Ponti. A victim of an abusive step-father and drawn to petty crime, he is sent to an elite boarding school where institutionalised bullying is the currency of a violent student council. Here Erik befriends the gentle, non-violent Pierre and musters the strength and determination to confront the bullies. Voted one of the top plays of the Imaginate Youth Festival in Edinburgh in 2016, bullying remains a heartbreakingly prevalent problem in our schools.

Adapted from Jan Guillou’s semi-autobiographical novel “Ondskan” and produced by the National School of the Arts with direction by Laine Butler and Mike da Silva, Evil features the award-winning Jaques de Silva in a riveting solo performance.


Brutal Legacy
Brutal Legacy

Brutal Legacy

Daphne Kuhn and Lesedi Job present a rare theatrical opportunity, based on Tracy Going’s recently published story of survival and triumph over abuse and adversity. When South Africa’s golden girl of broadcasting, Tracy Going’s battered face was splashed across the media back in the late 1990s, the nation was shocked. Sensational headlines of a whirlwind love relationship turned horrendously violent, threw the “perfect” life of the household star into disarray. What had started off as a fairy-tale romance with her Prince Charming quickly descended into a violent, abusive relationship. The rosy love-cloud burst after only five months when she staggered into the local police station, abused and bruised. A short relationship became a two-and-a-half-year legal ordeal played out in the public eye.

Directed by Lesedi Job, starring Natasha Sutherland with Charlie Bougenon and Jessie Wolhuter.


Tim Redpath in Breasts
Tim Redpath in Breasts

Breasts – A Play about Men

First presented at The National Arts Festival in July 2000, Breasts – A Play about Men was performed by award winning writer, Greig Coetzee. Twenty years later, the content remains relevant, not only in terms of its insight into gender relationships and masculinity, but also in highlighting attitudes to race, class and culture that continue to permeate our society. Redpath takes on the challenge of presenting nine white male characters who talk about the women in their lives. Under a magnifying glass, exposed and in the spotlight, these characters give us tremendous insight into the attitudes of white, patriarchal SA. In the face of the #MeToo movement, and the startling statistics around gender-based violence, our ultimate goal in presenting this piece is to open a discourse about sexism, toxic masculinity, and the gender divide.

Written by Greig Coetzee, featuring Tim Redpath, directed by Lynn Chemaly


Little Red Riding Hood & The Big Bad Metaphors / Photo: Mark Wessels
Little Red Riding Hood & The Big Bad Metaphors / Photo: Mark Wessels

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Metaphors

Written by SA’s own Mike van Graan, this is a fairy tale for the future. Imagine the end of poverty. A world with no hunger. Climate change will be reversed. Violence against women eradicated. Utopia? Perhaps. But hope is made of dreams. Join the energetic cast as they both entertain and educate through this romp beyond the bad wolves who threaten to eat our future.

It is designed by Wilhelm Disbergen and directed by Khutjo Green. Presented by the University of Pretoria.


Many of the country’s top theatre-makers and artists will be heading to the Midlands for the annual Hilton Arts Festival from 13 – 15 September which offers an artistic smorgasbord from serious music to family shows and everything in between.

Bookings for the festival itself are open online – www.hiltonfestival.co.za – where you can also download the full programme and a list of where hard copy programmes are available. You can also book at the Box Office at Hilton College should you not wish to book online. Payments online are either by credit card or EFT – all instructions are on the site which is secure. All queries on 033 383 0126 / theatre@hiltoncollege.com.

The Festival is presented by Hilton College and tiso blackstar in association with Grindrod, Black Coffee, Extreme Events, DWR, Absa, Bidvest Car Rental, FNB, KZN Dept of Art & Culture, BASA, Southern Sun PMB, Stella Artois, Redlands Hotel, Martizburg Sun, Caxton, SA Artist, Loud Crowd Media, Sappi.

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