Theatre review: Faith Kinniar punches back at tropes with Antie Wi’oekal, NAF 2021

Antie Wi’oekal – online – at The National Arts Festival 2021

Recording: VOD – video-on-demand of the live stream performance–July 22-31, 2021 Tickets: R40 Direct booking link:   Writer and performer: Faith Kinniar Director: Jeremeo Le Cordeur Production and lighting design: Alfred Rietmann Choreography: Rae Classen Producer: Faith Kinniar  

Faith Kinniar’s Antie Wi’oekal is gatvol [fed-up]. Antie has had enough of her old dressing gown (can relate- lockdown has hammered our gowns); her Cat, the neighbours, their cockroaches and tardiness in not cleaning their homes. Antie Wi’oekal [translated loosely into English as Auntie Whomever] has had it with the perceptions, attitudes and the perplexing landscape of absurdity that she finds herself trying to navigate. She tempers her frustration to a degree, towards her Cat but rants and lashes out at everyone else. Antie Wi’oekal is a complex, layered and powerful piece of theatre which is conveyed vividly on screen and will again challenge people who reckon that theatre cannot be successfully presented online. The striking lighting design by Alfred Rietmann works in tandem with Antie Wi’oekal, who is jumping through bands of light which are unfathomable; unknowable.

It is an obstacle course, peppered by flashes of messages (such as news clips with Uncle Cyril and his iPad) hooting cars and Cat’s constant meowing. Antie tries to “relax” his fur with hair straightening products.  I loved that- the grooming of Cat and the focus and intensity of Antie on the task. Kinniar says: “I use the cat as an object to project anti-black attitudes that would usually be towards black people as a whole or towards ourselves as so-called coloured people.”

It is an absurd world and at the moment, in this time of the pandemic and lockdown, the absurdity and lunacy is heightened. In line with the absurdist setting, Alfred Rietmann, has plotted out an obstacle course which is intangible and yet physical. He says: “The lighting design and set design for Antie Wi’Oekal is inspired by The Theatre of Cruelty and Brecht Alienation concepts but bringing both of these genres into the 21st century. I wanted to create an obstacle course for the actor to navigate her way along broken lines and very specific lighting specials including a colour palette – triggering beams yet inviting- green, purple, red and yellow. Only the Cat is in natural light. It’s the reverse of the insanity in her head as she reacts to the cat with empathy while shouting her frustration at the rest of her world. I had to keep in mind the projections so technically. I had to mainly light from the sides and from the top.”

Antie Wi’oekal was inspired by the Theatre of Cruelty and Kinniar is rallying against the “tired trope” appropriated by many men who play women- for laughs and for fun.  In this piece, she is “attempting to deconstruct the stereotype of the shrewd so-called coloured woman as it is presented in South African theatre and consciousness” and is also putting the spotlight on  “the misogynistic, anti-poor, anti-black rhetoric that it relies so heavily on for its comedic value.” Within the rage of Antie, there are moments where she is bitterly funny. The award winning Faith Kinniar has an innate grasp of comedic-burn – if I may call it that – and she brings this to auntie every-person.

The piece is dialogue driven with physical performance and was meant to be staged in front of an audience. I had in mind that one would need to view this in a theatre. However, the online presentation ‘works’ superbly as a stand-alone production. I loved the energy of the piece as Kinniar slithers through the obstacle course – constructed by light. It is not a material thing and as Antie punches through space, everything is constantly shifting. She can never pin anything down and watching, I was holding my breath, listening to her rant and watching as she tries to figure out this obstacle course of absurd dimensions.

In reviewing work at the NAF, I seem to be using the word ‘thrilling’ a great deal. Well, yes, it is thrilling to sit down and expect to see a staged film recording; giving an idea of a production but ultimately coming across as “flat”. Instead, I am going –“wow” and this was my response to Antie Wi’oekal. Bravo to the team for taking solo performance and imaging it vividly through the medium of ‘online live theatre’. That sounds absurd – ‘online live theatre’ but that is what the NAF and creatives are doing- conveying the immediacy of live theatre – online. With Antie Wi’oekal, the lighting and sound design, visual footage and nuanced filming has been orchestrated to create a thrilling piece of theatre.

Housekeeping alert: Antie Wi’oekal premiered on July 17, 2021 at The National Arts Festival.  The one-person play was staged in Makhanda and then streamed live. A recording is going out as VOD – video-on-demand on the NAF website, from July 22-31, 2021. The ticket price for the live stream was R50. The VOD ticket price is R40. Note – the booking link has changed – from live stream to VOD.

Antie Wi’Oekal -notes from the director and choreographer    

Jeremeo Le Cordeur (director)   

I never thought I’d find myself directing an absurdist theatre/film-hybrid piece like Antie Wi’oekal. Faith Kinniar’s text challenged me to embrace the absurd and explore the work of Artaud. It was crucial to grasp and support the intent of the material, to ensure that the gestures and nuances come across on stage and camera. This motivated the inclusion of audio visuals and the implementation of Faith recording the soundscape for the choreography herself, utilising her voice and words.   It was an exciting and challenging collaborative process to orchestrate the creative contributions of all the artists involved. Especially since we only had three weeks during a global pandemic where we spent most of our rehearsals online via Zoom. We were going to have a controlled audience with Covid-19 restrictions in place. But after President Ramaphosa moved us into National Lockdown Adjusted Level 4, we had to adjust for a virtual audience.    At the festival, I found myself needing to direct theatre and film simultaneously, keeping an eye on multiple cameras to ensure different angles and compositions for specific scenes. My knowledge of photography and experience in film and television came in handy in managing the multi-cam setup.  A huge thank you to Barry Strydom and his team for their patience and support in the streaming and recording process.    In this current landscape, where there is so much uncertainty around the future of live theatre; different avenues, such as live streaming, need to be explored.    

Rae Classen (choreographer)  

Antie Wi’Oekal was really an opportunity to play with and embrace the awkward, uncomfortable and most importantly the unravelling moments of the character.  With the explanation of Theatre of Cruelty and the perspective in which the show was being narrated it was really about -how does one embody this kind of internal dialogue with movement. Instead of choreographing movement sequences for the character, it made sense to use the way Faith was already embodying her character with her natural gestures- turning these into bigger, more frantic physical nuances within the play- to really depict the un-comfortability and the internal unravelling of Antie Wi’Oekal’s character.        
Faith Kinniar with Cat in Antie Wi’oekal, which premiered as a live stream at The National Arts Festival, on July 17, 2021. The recording is available as video-on-demand from July 21-31, 2020. Pic by Jeremeo Le Cordeur.
Faith Kinniar in Antie Wi’oekal, navigating an obstacle course, created by lighting designer, Alfred Ritemann. Screenshot by © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

❇ Featured image of Faith Kinniar by Jeremeo Le Cordeur. Related coverage of Antie Wi’oekal: