Reflections: Optimism peeks through in Mike van Graan’s Home, Hope and Humour Mini Festival of Theatre

The Home, Hope and Humour Mini Festival of Theatre- Mike van Graan showcase
Where: Avalon Theatre at Home Coming Centre (HCC) in District Six
When: August 8-11, 2022
Booking link:   

Last night (August 8), on the eve of Women’s Day South Africa 2022 (August 9), I attended the opening event of Mike van Graan’s The Home, Hope and Humour Mini Festival of Theatre at The Avalon Theatre at the Home Coming Centre (HCC) in District Six. The festival is on until August 11 and is a showcase of three theatre pieces by van Graan and a 24 minute film, Some Mother’s Sons, adapted from a play of the same name by van Graan. On the theatre side, there is a new van Graan play, Country Duty, “celebrating” a whistle blower and her presentation to a group of journalists. This gripping one hander, starring Khutjo Green, with direction by Fiona Ramsay, premiered in Johannesburg at the Liberty Theatre on The Square and was recently on at the Redhill Festival in Joburg. The run at this festival, marks its Cape Town premiere. The other theatre pieces are: He Had it Coming and The New Abnormal. The first is a compilation of van Graan’s satirical one person plays, which were previously performed by Daniel Mpilo Richards: Pay Back The Curry, State Fracture and Land Acts. For the Hope festival, van Graan has added in additional material, written in lockdown and has Richards directing Kim Blanche Adonis. The New Abnormal is also satirical van Graan- new material- written in lockdown – presented in a stand-up comedic style. The performer is the brilliant Marty Kintu and the director is the incomparable Rob van Vuuren who is a maestro of physical comedy. 

The Avalon was formerly The Fugard Theatre Studio. The Fugard was established by South African born theatre and film producer, Eric Abraham and after a decade on the boards, during the pandemic, the curtain came down. Abraham handed over the fully equipped theatre to the HCC.  The City and the arts community has been gifted a magnificent theatre (two theatres – the upstairs Avalon and downstairs Star Theatre). It is exhilarating to walk into the space, now that we have no mask mandate or restriction on seating capacity. It is brilliant to see a Mike van Graan mini fest, staged in a theatre which went dark when lockdown hit and for a while, was mothballed. There is a surge of joy – wow – theatre is happening and here we are with a Mike van Graan festival. One feels hopeful and upbeat, entering the theatre, emotionally recharged to be back to ‘normality’- whatever that means. That is a narrative that feeds us in a time of widespread despair – with violent crime rates on the boil, corruption and breakdown of services – electricity crisis- thankfully no laodshedding last night. Sure, the world is a mess and there is global despair and malaise but this is our country and we are living in it and what now? How do we find ‘hope’ within the ruptures and sheer unravelling of our society? Regarding the title of the festival, van Graan says: “I have called it, as the Festival’s shows collectively speak to our home, South Africa, with its myriad challenges, leaving us to wonder where we may find hope for our future.  (Humour is one of our primary coping mechanisms).”

In this Hope Festival, from my gaze, two pieces hinge on despair – the film- Some Mother’s Sons and the play- Country Duty. Two pieces provide space for laughter and release- He Had it Coming and The New Abnormal. We watched Country Duty in the 6pm slot, yesterday, August 8. It is a shattering piece, birthed out of the reality of what we see around us. A whistleblower, doing the right thing, ends up getting a raw deal for following her moral compass. She goes into debt, loses her house. She muses: “They say that bad things persist when good people do nothing. Not true…I sometimes think that those country was not made for good people.” Mull on that. It is a lot.

After watching the 6pm performance of Country Duty, we attended the opening event, which kicked off with an extract from, He Had it Coming, with the charismatic and sassy and fabulous Kim Blanche Adonis, taking the audience on a magical hysteria tour of Cape Town. This is Mike van Graan inviting us to laugh at our fears and angst, find release and relief. The full film, Some Mother’s Sons was screened. It is bleak story- a human rights lawyer shoots the perpetrators who have raped and murdered his pregnant wife. Despairing of a legal resolution, he goes for the kill. He argues that if he doesn’t take these perps put of the picture, they will get bail and do it again. This harrowing film is one of the best fictional short films that I have ever seen. It has been nominated for Best Short Film Category for the SAFTAs (South African Film and Television Awards) and in my opinion deserves to win. It is not an easy film to watch but if you can, get to a screening. Bravo to Luntu Masiza who initiated the film project (and is producer) and to his co-star, Francois Immelman and to Mbuleo Grootboom for the excellent screenplay adaption.

The opening evening of the Hope Festival wrapped up with The New Abnormal. So, we started upbeat, with laughter and ended upbeat. In between the extracts of the theatre pieces and the screening of the film, Van Graan shared the stage with activist, writer and poet, Mark Heywood. They chatted and dissected through the construct of ‘hope’. They read some of their own poems and kicked around ideas and fielded questions from the audience. A lot was said and I am still processing what was said on stage and amongst those of us who chatted about the plays, film and how we feel about ‘hope’- ideologically, emotionally and practically. The take home for me is that, we carry on, seeking optimism. No matter what, hope keeps pushing through. On Women’s Day 2022, I will say that theatre in South Africa inspires me every day and therein I find hope.  Bravo to van Graan, the artists and funders for making this mini festival a reality.

Hope festival: From left -Rob van Vuuren, Mike van Graan, Daniel Mpilo Richards and Kim Blanche Adonis. Pic:
© TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

Conversations: Mark Heywood (standing) and Mike van Graan, August 8, 2022. They were in conversation, on stage, at the opening of van Graan’s The Home, Hope and Humour Mini Festival of Theatre, at The Avalon Theatre at the Home Coming Centre (HCC) in District Six.
Pic © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

✳Featured image- Khutjo Green in Country Duty, by Mike van Graan, directed by Fiona Ramsay. Pic: Suzy Bernstein. Supplied.