– Culture in Sandton, Johannesburg

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Reviews of Books, Plays, Theatre, Films, Movies and other Cultural Events in Sandton and Johannesburg, South Africa.

If you're looking for an enjoyable way to enjoy a day or night out in Greater Johannesburg, you might like to consider our opinions: Reviews by Sharmini Brookes except where indicated.  Editing by Rick Raubenheimer.  Reviews are listed in reverse date order (newest at the top).  On this page we review cultural events of all sorts but not restaurants, for which please see  Restaurant reviews for Rivonia and Sunninghill, Restaurant reviews for Morningside. and Restaurant Reviews for the rest of Sandton.  These reviews start in January 2013.  For earlier ones, Please go to 2012 Reviews.

Newsletter: Megaplex's monthly e-newsletter brings you, the discerning Sandton resident, a monthly review of a restaurant or event, plus the latest shopping and civic news in Sandton.  We aim to bring you the best plays, the most interesting restaurants, the trendiest shops.  If it's not good, we'll also warn you about it.  Subscribe here.  See newsletters here: All Newsletters 2009-date, 2024 January, February.

Reviews on This Page:
Book: Lifespan by David Sinclair
Film: The Great Gatsby
Audience with Pieter Dirk Eish!
Book: The Housemaid’s Daughter
Film: Hitchcock
Film: Seven Psychopaths
Play: Curl Up and Dye
The Silver Linings Playbook
Strictly Come Dancing for Fun
Theatre: Fully Committed
Joburg Red Bus Tour
Rodriguez Live
Film: Argo - A Great Escape
Film: Lincoln
Film: Les Miserables
Santa's Story
Searching for Sugarman
The Hobbit – Unexpected Journey
Jodi Picoult at Novel Books
Film: The Life of Pi
About Sharmini Brooks

Links to Other Pages:
Home Page – Overview of Shops, Facilities, and Accommodation in Rivonia, Morningside, Morningside Manor, Gallo Manor and surroundings.

2012 Reviews of Books, Plays / Theatre, Films / Movies

Restaurant Pages:
Restaurant reviews for Rivonia
Rreviews for Morningside
Reviews for the rest of Sandton
Older Restaurant reviews (Rivonia and Morningside)
Restaurants in Rivonia
Restaurants in Morningside

Shopping Centres in the Morningside area:
The Wedge, Morningside
90° on Rivonia
Morning Glen, Kelvin Drive
Morning View, South Road

Shopping Centres in Rivonia:
Rivonia Junction
Mutual Mews
Early Dawn Mall
Rivonia Central

Shopping Centres in Woodmead:
Woodmead Retail Park
Woodmead Value Mart
Woodmead Super Value Centre

Culture: Books, Theatre, Movies

Accommodation & Restaurants:
Accommodation in Rivonia,
Restaurants in Rivonia,
Restaurant reviews for Rivonia
Morningside Restaurant reviews

Other Places of Interest:
Sandspruit Hiking Trail,
Ernest Ullmann Park Recreation Centre,
Rivonia Village Veterinary Clinic,
Montrose Nursery Garden Centre and Gia's Coffee Shop,
Manor Medical Centre,
Morningside Country Club

The Reviews

Furnished Morningside Room to Let 1 April 2024

Self-catering double bedroom with shared bathroom in Morningside Manor.  WiFi.  Newly carpeted, fully furnished and serviced including laundry. Close to shops and bus routes.  R4500/month.  Call 082 389 3482, e-mail us, or click here.

Book Review: "Lifespan" by David Sinclair, PhD
(Reviewed by Rick Raubenheimer. February 2022)

Here's a best-seller about science that reads like a thriller.  A detective story about a world-leading medical scientist chasing down one of the oldest and deepest mysteries of life: Why do we become aged and die?

Dr Sinclair proposes that, instead of treating individually the many diseases that afflict the aged –which he calls "whack-a-mole medicine"–.we should treat ageing itself as a disease, the root cause of the others.

What if that disease is curable?

A genetics expert with over 30 years' experience and laboratories at Harvard Medical School and the University of New South Wales, Sydney, he proposes the "Information Theory of Ageing".  The genome, made up of DNA, is digital, and preserves its information across generations.  Then what differentiates cells?  What makes a liver cell different from a brain cell or a bone cell, while they have identical DNA?  That is done by the epigenome, chemical structures that control what parts of the genome are expressed.  Unlike DNA, the epigenome is not digital but analogue. Like AM radio, it is subject to "noise".  Over time and with stress, it degenerates and is less able to control and repair the DNA.  Like scratches on a DVD, errors accumulate, giving rise to diseases.

The author says that we can "wake up" the natural cell repair mechanism –"polish" the DVD–  by putting our cells through non-lethal crises.  He suggests intermittent fasting, cutting back on sugar and meat, periodic high-intensity exercise, and exposure to heat and cold.

I see a parallel in the teachings of the ancient Stoic philosophers:  Don't be too comfortable all the time, they said; deliberately experience hardship.  You may not live longer, but it will feel like it!

Now there are also drugs that evoke this repair mechanism: Rapamycin, Metformin, Resveratrol, and NMN (Nicotinamide Mononucleotide).  In the next few years, Dr Sinclair expects other therapies. These include the ability to reset the epigenome, effectively cutting 10 to 20 years off our biological age, repeatedly.  If you're alive today, you could live well to 150.  Your children, to 200.  We will grow older in years, but continue to be healthy for almost as long as we want.  This will have profound effects on society and the world.

The book is "Lifespan – why we age, and why we don't have to" by David Sinclair, PhD.  Read it.

*** The Great Gatsby - Consuming Passions (20 May 2013)

Finding meaning in the heady mix of twenties America proves elusive for a self-made millionaire with a questionable past.

Baz Luhrmann’s sumptuous set filled with beautiful people and beautiful things captures the frenetic, all-night party atmosphere of the roaring twenties before the hangover of the 1929 Wall Street Crash. It reminded me a little of the ‘loads of money’ eighties spirit. The racy modernity that Scott Fitzgerald portrays with the use of twenties slang and the new sound of Jazz is captured surprisingly well by Luhrmann’s use of a modern soundtrack with artists like the rapper Jay Z, Lana Del Rey and Florence and the Machines.

There seems to have been some criticism of Luhrmann’s emphasis on design and material sumptuousness as opposed to a focus on Scott’s critique of the superficiality of America’s wealthy elite but I felt the strength of the two main characters, the narrator Nick Carraway and Gatsby himself held the centre well and provided a level of intensity that certainly kept me absorbed.

Leo DiCaprio is perfectly cast as the aloof millionaire Jay Gatsby – never quite fitting in with the people drawn towards his ostentatious wealth like moths to a bright light. Toby MaGuire, of Spiderman fame, plays the restless returning war veteran and ex-Yale graduate who finds himself attracted to the extravagant display of wealth of the aloof Gatsby, sensing the same restless search for something more to life.

The Great Gatsby is currently on in 3D at most cinemas across Gauteng.

Eish! Was that it? (9 May 2013)

An Audience with Pieter Dirk Eish! was neither laugh-out-loud funny nor gasp-out-loud shocking so I was a tad disappointed.

It was the first time I had seen the popular actor/entertainer/satirist perform. I had heard so much about him as well as having read his alter-ego Evita Bezuidenhout’s incisive comments on the government and politics of the day that my expectations were quite high. In the lobby before the first night preview, an American friend of his on holiday from Massachusetts enthused warmly about the show and said she loved the interactive aspect with the audience.

The stage set was an open shelving unit stacked with fifteen assorted and numbered packages that a randomly selected audience member chose so that Mr Uys could don the costume and props contained inside and play the character.

Pieter Dirk Uys is a wonderfully affable host who is at home on the stage. Chatty banter with his audience is interspersed with a sharp wit as when he lamented the ongoing Gauteng bus strike as a group of black latecomers took their seats. The magic of the theatre, he tells us, is that a performance is never the same every time you see it. As an usher he watched King Lear every night and noticed how it changed every time depending on the actors, their relationship to one another and to the audience. Now nearing his 60’s and a veteran of the stage he fondly remembers Mrs Nel, the teacher who first took him to see Shakespeare’s King Lear and inspired his theatrical career by telling him he could be anything he wanted to be. If only there were more teachers like that today.

The show that followed was in some ways a nostalgic look at the characters that influenced his life rather than the new characters that command the present South African scene. Nevertheless his step by step transformation into the perfectly coiffured Jewish kugel whose liberal pro-ANC values clashes with the Madam and Eve scenario she has with her maid is a tour de force, as is his prop-less and stony-faced Mandela who is definitely not up and about during visiting hours at the hospital. I was slightly less impressed with the characterisation of Mandela’s Afrikaner guard as a die-hard racist posing as a lover of black democracy or the elderly white woman still living in her Hillbrow flat lamenting the loss of her previously mixed-European neighbourhood with its pavement café culture while negotiating the present-day global village street. In between there was the story of his many gay escapades in Cape Town where he enjoyed or perhaps suffered the frisson of interracial coupling under the prohibitive Immorality Act and which may have been shocking once but is less so in today’s pro gay-loving establishments.

There were slight references to current topical debates but I expected more and with more bite. The preview audience loved it and bearing in mind his initial comment about the magic of theatre and how every night is a different show, it is definitely worth checking out for yourself. After all we need a laugh even if it’s a titter.

An Audience with Pieter-Dirk Eish is on at Sandton Theatre on the Square from 6 – 25 May.

The Housemaid’s Daughter by Barbara Mutch, 26 February 2013

This novel is the first by South African born Barbara Mutch who left her country of birth in 1987 to live in the UK. She spoke at Novel Books in the Hobart Grove Shopping Centre on 26 February about what inspired her to write this book. She felt an urge to write about South Africa once she had left it – a kind of homesickness for the wide skies and open veld – and needed the vantage point from outside to write about it. The seed was sown by her Irish grandmother (the inspiration for the character of Kathleen) who was from Belfast and had taught her to play the piano and told her about how as a young man and fiancée her grandfather had been offered a job to open a branch of Cuthbert’s in Craddock. He left for South Africa and after a separation of five years her grandmother took the Union Castle liner to Cape Town to get married to him. They spent their honeymoon in Craddock and the Karoo made her yearn for the green hills of Ireland. The character of Ada, the black housemaid’s daughter, drew on her own years of growing up with her grandmother sharing friendship and a love of music. In the book Kathleen teaches Ada to play the piano and thus provides her with an escape from poverty and the desperate life within the black township.

The book is set in 1919 and takes us back to Apartheid South Africa and forwards through the tumultuous period of unrest and popular protests to the release of Mandela. It exposes the moral dilemmas such a society posed for those who felt they had more in common with their fellow humans on the other side of the enforced racial divide, how they coped with the ostracism of their communities and their criminalization by the state but the context is personal rather than overtly political and there is no message being rammed down the reader’s throat.

The book has since been translated into thirteen languages including Dutch and Icelandic and is available as an e-book and audio book. She chose a British actress to read the audio book and remembers with amusement how she taught her to pronounce strange-looking South African words and names: blah-de-blah for ha-de-da and lung-arse-hem.

It’s a book with a thoughtful and quiet tone, not saying anything new and perhaps a little repetitious in places but an easy read with a hopeful spirit not unlike ‘The Help’ which became a worldwide cinematic hit. In fact it was felicitous that it came out at the same time as that film because after six years of research and twelve years of writing and working hard to sell 1500 copies self-publishing through Troubadour, an agent she met at a Winchester conference picked up a copy and felt that this could be the South African ‘The Help’.

**Hitchcock lacks suspense (20/04/2013)

Sadly for a director like Hitchcock who was the master of suspense, this biographical tribute lacks any. Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are excellent actors and there are one or two good lines but the narrative – the relation between Hitch and his lesser-known partner in crime, his wife Alma Reville, is really not as interesting as Hitchcock’s films or even his relations with his female stars. I would rather have seen more about the making of his films. This film concentrates his blockbuster hit ‘Psycho’ and Scarlett Johanssen is superb as Janet Leigh and the shooting of the shower scene is certainly one of the better moments in the film but if I were you, I would wait for it to hit the small screen.

I saw this at Cedar Square on Wednesday and it is also showing at Rosebank Mall.

****Seven Psychopaths – strangely funny (19/04/2013)

Martin McDonagh’s ‘Seven Psychopaths’ is a dark comedy that is also a clever send-up of the action movie/thriller genre. Colin Farrell (who looks like a rougher version of Brad Pitt but I don’t think as good an actor) stars as Marty, a struggling screenwriter and alcoholic whose vague idea for a film about seven psychopaths looks like it may be stillborn until his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) comes up with a few brilliant ideas in the hope he will be credited as a co-writer. In the meantime his other best friend (Christopher Walken) together with Billy have kidnapped a dog (a Shih-tzu – obviously chosen for its comic effect) from violent gangland boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson) who is prepared to go to any lengths to get his dog back. The fictitious screenplay overlaps with reality and the audience is left to work it out. Surprisingly I found myself enjoying this movie even though I’m not an action movie kind of fan. Christopher Walken, who looks like a psycho even when he’s not, is superb; as is Woody Harrelson. There is violence but it’s undercut by the dark humour and I think more bearable than a Coen Brothers movie. It certainly kept me entertained and one of the better options in the dearth of good movies at present.

I saw this at Cinema Nouveau in Rosebank Mall but it’s also showing at Cedar Square.

Curl Up and Dye – Crying with Laughter? 03/28/2013

Reassessing the past from the vantage point of today is a useful project - amusing and painful in equal measure it holds a mirror to current obsessions.

Sue Pam-Grant revisits the 1989 production of Curl up and Dye in which she acted but this time as director. First performed at the Black Sun in Orange Grove in 1989, it won national and international acclaim for its portrayal of South African politics in popular culture reaching a wider audience than straight political plays.

The set is a hairdressing salon in a fragile inner city as Joubert Park slowly emerges from its Apartheid shell to face up to the dawn of a new South Africa in 1989. The area is still designated as ‘White’ under the infamous Group Areas Act of 1950 but the disintegrating authorities are no longer able to uphold this legislation and Black, Indian and Coloured residents move in from the outlying townships. Under Apartheid, a kind of uneasy camaraderie existed between the various racial groups in inner city enclaves like Joubert Park, Hillbrow and Fietas where races worked and played together and went their separate ways home afterwards; now tensions abound as previously separated racial groups are thrown together while those who can afford to have long since moved out to the suburbs to escape the increasing levels of violent crime, prostitution and drug taking.

In the mix are the small and suspiciously tolerated group of those who have managed to ‘pass off as white’ in order to benefit from the privileged position of a White South African.

Rolene (Quanita Adams), the salon’s manager is one such person - of mixed Portuguese heritage and suffering domestic violence - she valiantly maintains the façade against the gossipy sarcasm of Mrs Du Bois (Robert Colman magnificent without a wig), the White manager of an apartment block who makes a point of noticing Rolene’s straightened hair – straight hair being a test of racial grouping under the old laws. Miriam (Hlengiwe Lushaba-Madlala) is the long-suffering and put-upon maid of all trades who shuffles about on endless errands with a born-again-Christian smile. Charmaine (Cindy Swanepoel) plays a very believable prostitute on drugs who swerves in and out of the salon swearing in a mixture of foul-mouthed Afrikaans and English slang of the time. Ms Dudu Dlamini (Lesedi Job-Smith) is the unwelcome client and outsider representing the rising educated and professional black middle class of the new South Africa – a nurse and social worker who has moved up from the townships to live in the ‘White’ Joubert Park. She dismisses the over-dosing Charmaine and the racial prejudices of old Mrs Du Bois but It is her intrusive do-gooding and patronising attitude towards Rolene as the victim of domestic violence and Miriam as the victim of wage exploitation that upsets the cosy but already fracturing relationships between the other occupants of the salon. Are the messy and troubled relationships forged by the shared experiences between Rolene, Mrs Du Bois, Charmaine and Miriam more treasured and supportive than the detached hand of state aid?

We laughed at the political un-correctness of the times but conversations about the wrong kind of people moving in, about the lack of service provision and maintenance, about rising costs and crime are still around and more prevalent in the burgeoning suburbs.

I missed some of the jokes in Afrikaans and Zulu or Xhosa but it didn’t undermine the gist of the play and there was plenty to keep me entertained.

The first half of the play – setting up the different relationships - could be edited and made a bit shorter. However, this is a well acted show that is definitely worth seeing even if you saw it in 1989.

Curl up and Dye is on at the Theatre on the Square from 20 March 2013 – 20 April 2013.

Looking for that Silver Lining (12 March 2013).

The Silver Linings Playbook is a great little film that deserves more viewers despite its weird title and iffy promotional clips.

I finally got to see this movie last weekend and only because it was on at the cinema nearby and the films I wanted to see were not on show there. I was also curious to check out whether Jennifer Lawrence deserved the Oscar for Best Actress. Like many of my friends, I found the title a little off-putting and the promotional clips didn’t really grab me. But I am glad I did see it because it was very well acted in an understated way and the subject was thought provoking without being preachy.

Bradley Cooper, more popularly known for his screwball comedy in films like The Hangover, takes on a more serious persona here as the mentally disturbed Pat recently released from an institution and trying to get his life and his estranged wife back together again. Yet the film is not without its comic moments which are hilarious and laugh out loud especially in the relationship between Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) and Pat. The young Lawrence is deserving of the Oscar in the more mature role of a widow who has been around the block a bit and wacky enough to make Pat believe she is crazier than he is. But is she and is Pat still delusional about his own well-being?

This film questions the divide between normal and crazy and is also about love in all its diverse forms – the unquestioning yet demanding love of family, the easy-going warmth of friendship, and the more complicated negotiation of emotions in relation to spouses and partners. There is a hint of darkness underlying the light playful overtones but not so much as to depress the spirits; rather one leaves the cinema feeling uplifted but with lots of niggling thoughts swirling around. There is a happy ending but not in a fairy tale way. The life ahead does not look a smooth ride but finding that silver lining depends on continuing to working hard at it and trying to do good to others.

If you haven’t yet seen this, it is still showing at Fourways Mall until 21 March.

Strictly Come Dancing for Fun (12 March 2013).

I’m an avid fan of the UK’s Strictly Come Dancing. The current series (well we’re always a bit behind here) is on Channel 120 on Sunday evenings. I’m always amazed at how people who have never danced before end up doing all those complicated steps and even more amazed at how the weight seems to drip off them so that by the end of week two they are beginning to look almost sylph-like.

Perhaps it was the thought of downsizing from a baby elephant to a gazelle that attracted me to Dancing Divas or it may have been the fact that I’ve never learnt to dance properly and always fancied being able to dance in hold with someone rather than gyrating alone with eyes closed under the illusion that one is looking stunningly sexy. Whatever, I was persuaded by my sister to have a go because it’s just so much fun and anything else is a bonus.

After 10 weeks of classes and about to sign up for another 10 weeks, I can heartily recommend them to anyone out there who has always wanted to wiggle their hips to La Bamba, do a cheeky Charleston, rise and fall to a graceful Waltz or get down and dirty with the Sophia Town Shuffle to get their butts down to The Active Zone on the corner of St Audley and Bryanston Drive and give it a whirl.

It’s for women only so you can wear t-shirts and takkies and wipe the sweat off without any self-consciousness.

Check out the website for times and other classes in other venues.

Fully Committed - you have to be to work here!

An out-of-work actor mans the reservations line at the No.1 Cape restaurant fielding off a clutch of luvvies who all want Table 31. Laugh out loud.

Megan Furniss directs this reworked off-Broadway play with a South African twist allowing Pieter Bosch Botha to showcase his panoply of local accents amongst numerous others.

Pieter Bosch Botha plays 36 characters with only a phone as a prop. Restaurant staff, theatrical agents and customers from hell emerge with a simple gesture, a change in expression and a new voice. This is theatre – where only good acting and the imagination of the audience work together to bring to life the behind-the-scenes drama in a top-end restaurant.

Sam Cooper is the put upon reservations clerk whose manager and work colleague are absent without leave while a celebrity chef from hell (Gordon Ramsay?) demands an immediate ‘Yes Chef!’ to every whimsical query and I-always-get-what-I want A list stars to rich no-one-says-no-to-me benefactors to foreign I-no-understand-what-you-mean tourists keep the phone and his beleaguered ear-drum ringing.

At the same time he is desperately waiting for the call from his agent about his most recent audition. Some of the characters who stick in my mind are the droll theatrical agent who sounds a little like a take-off of Rupert Everett, Naomi Campbell’s secretary with her persistent American optimism and the angry African lover of the restaurant’s maître d’ who he never wants to see again.

An accomplished performance that makes for a good evening’s entertainment leaving you with plenty of time to go for a drink and a bite afterwards – if one can get a reservation of course.

Fully Committed is the celebrity chef’s euphemism for fully booked and is on at the Theatre on the Square, Sandton until 9 March.

Joburg Red Bus Tour (18 Feb 2013)

Joburg’s first Hop-on Hop-off City Sightseeing Tour bus is a welcome addition for local and international tourists but there is some way to go before it becomes the must-see tour that it could be.

One can catch the bus at any stop but we are advised that secure parking is only available at Park Station and Gold Reef City. However on looking up individual attraction websites after the tour, I discover that some attractions do offer their own secure parking, so choose to start at the most convenient for you.

We parked at the secure parking at the Apartheid Museum and climbed up to the roofed section on the top deck of the distinctive and largely empty red double-decker bus. There is an open-topped section available but, it being 29°C outside, we gave that a miss and were glad of the cool air conditioning on the bus. One can buy tickets online or from the bus driver and one is advised to hang onto the ticket to be allowed to hop on and off along the route and to be eligible for the 10% discount on the next City Sightseeing Tour anywhere in the world.

A woman welcomes us on board but we aren’t sure what her role is. She provides headsets for the audiophone recording points located at the side of each seat. Recordings are available in a number of languages.

A flat fare of R150 for both adults and children takes the fare in a loop from Gautrain Park Station via 11 stops around the city starting from 09:00 – 17:00 with buses leaving continuously every 40 minutes from each stop.

The stops in order are: • Santarama Miniland • James Hall Transport Museum • Gold Reef City Tour Office • Apartheid Museum • Mining District Walk • Newtown • Origins Centre at Wits • Braamfontein • Constitution Hill

The last complete circuit without hopping off leaves at 16:30 from Stop 1 and at 15:35 from Stop 6. The last departure from Stop 6 back to Stop 1 leaves at 17:35.

Compare this to the London Tour which offers 27 stops over a 24 hour period and a two tier price - £26 for adults and £13 for children. However, London is safer to travel around in after dark and there are many more sights.

On top of the ticket price one needs to factor in the cost for entrance fees at each of the 6 paying attractions – about an extra R400. The leaflets for the various attractions provided on board the bus don’t advertise the cost which is irritating so one needs to look this up beforehand on the website and even then the price is sometimes only available if you ring up the information office.

As a recent homecomer who had spent my childhood in Durban, I have only a passing acquaintance with Joburg. My companion is a South African resident but only remembers Joburg twenty years ago when her husband drove her around. We set off on our City Sightseeing Tour hoping to be entertained and to learn something about the new African city which we rarely venture into or walk around in since the flight of white businesses and residents in the late 90’s and the rise in anxiety about crime.

It must be said that Joburg is no Cape Town or London. Joburg’s monuments and sights are not pleasing to the eye nor are they particularly awe-inspiring. Joburg’s attraction is its people –cosmopolitan, brash and friendly– the kind of go-getters that rushed to stake a claim in the Witwatersrand gold mines or those that left their homes and families to seek their fortune in the big city working in the mines and providing services for the growing residents. Even today, Joburg is the business and financial centre of South Africa and still draws people from other parts of the country, becoming one of the most cosmopolitan communities in the country with a noticeable and vibrant Black middle class that participates in every forum of city life. It is also a city with a past that was mainly White and this should not be obliterated but explained as it also made the city what it is today.

A live guide could bring this tour to life in a way that the audio guide can’t. In London they offer a choice of an audio or live guide. The tour could also have White and Black guides to cover the different periods of the city’s existence. One could have a White guide for half the loop and a Black guide for the other half. One of the problems with the audio guide is that sometimes it was either ahead of or behind the spot to which it was trying to draw our attention and while we were trying to locate which building or street or statue it was referring to the bus had moved on and we had missed it.

A live guide would also be able to sell a place of interest and encourage people to visit it because they can answer any queries or anxieties people have. They could recommend places to eat and shop and perhaps the City Sightseeing Tour could liaise with existing walking tour groups in Joburg so that people could join a guided walk; probably the best way to experience Joburg. I would have loved to do the Mining District Walk but hesitated to do it on our own.

Better communication with the places of attraction en route would ensure that visitors who hop off are not disappointed. At Constitution Hill we were advised by the driver to take a guided tour but when we’d paid for our ticket we were told that there no tour guides available as they were all busy with a large number of school groups. Three German tourists decided to go elsewhere when they heard this. The coffee shop advertised in the brochure was non-existent as we were informed that no-one had yet taken up the franchise. After buying a bottle of water at the bookshop, we managed to tag onto the end of another tour. The guide was informative and we wished we had been able to do the full tour with him.

We had lunch at The Ocean Basket in Gold Reef City; however, if you want to spend more time viewing places of interest, you may want to carry sandwiches to eat on the bus or a picnic to have at stops that have no restaurant or café facility. This left us very little time to see the Apartheid Museum which warrants at least 3 hours. Here, an audio guide would be useful as it is a maze and a mine of information to absorb.

In the end we hopped off and visited only two places of interest –Constitution Hill and the Apartheid Museum– as we wanted to avoid the rush hour traffic on the drive back home.

Sugarman Live: Not As Sweet As The Film (12 Feb 2013)

Carnival City, Johannesburg was ready to rock but Rodriguez was not cut out for the big top.

I was chuffed when my sister managed to get tickets to see Rodriguez (aka Sugarman) on Tuesday night, for his first night’s performance at Carnival City, Johannesburg. Having seen the filmed concert in ‘Searching for Sugarman’ and hearing for the first time the music that was the anthem for South African youth in the 70’s, I was looking forward to a great set and a fanatical audience.

An almost exclusively white audience with a fair number of grey heads made the trip to the middle of some motorway gambling joint that was built to look like a humongous circus. A sense of pilgrimage and expectation was palpable in the swelling queues and the big round bar did a roaring trade as everyone got into the spirit for a good ol’ sing-a-long to their favourite tracks from the album ‘Cold Fact’.

By nine o’clock the crowd was clapping for Rodriguez to appear and he certainly looked the part as he stood tall and lanky at the front of the stage with a black hat atop his long dark hair. The distinctive nasal tones filled the arena but it wasn’t a familiar song and the crowd’s response was lukewarm. In fact the first three songs passed by in similar fashion before the riffs for ‘I wonder’ filled the air and everyone stood up and sang along.

Rodriguez was known to have played with his back to the audience in small clubs in Detroit so it should perhaps not be surprising that he lacked a stage presence or connection to an audience. The film ‘Searching for Sugarman’ had shown him at his first concert in Cape Town since being discovered living in relative anonymity and poverty in downtown Detroit. The ecstatic reception of his South African fans who had thought him dead and the bewildered delight of Rodriguez himself had obviously created a unique connection that made that performance come alive on the film.

Here on the Carnival City stage there wasn’t much pizzazz even though the audience were constantly trying to egg him on with requests for their favourite tunes or demands to take his hat off. He himself tried a few quips in Afrikaans managing to say ‘asseblief’ and ‘dankie’ and telling a joke about not having said that Daffy Duck had been f*king stupid but that he had been f*king Goofy.

Of course let’s not forget that he is about as old as Mick Jagger but without the pampering and massive support structures and when at the end of the set he was helped off the stage by a young woman he suddenly looked like a very old man indeed. Gamely, he returned for an encore; a Dylan classic ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ got the crowd going again but we hadn’t come to hear cover versions so we left before the stampede for the car parks began.

Argo - A Great Escape (11 Feb 2013)

This fake movie based on real events is an edge of your seat escape adventure with enough humour to keep from tearing your hair out.

Ben Affleck directs and stars as Tony Mendez, a CIA exfiltration expert who devises the plan to get 6 Americans out of hiding in the Canadian Embassy in revolutionary Iraq.

A short voice-over at the beginning sets the scene and provides a very concise political context for the following sequence of events not shying away from the responsibility of the US in creating the present instability in the region. The US helped depose the nationalist Ahmed Shah in 1925 and installed the pro-Western Reza Shah Pahlavi, a profligate and hated dictator who tortured many of his traditional Shi-ite subjects. Overthrown by a popular uprising in 1979 and replaced by Ayatollah Khomeini on his return from exile in Paris, Pahlavi was given sanctuary in the US on the grounds of medical necessity. This incensed the Iranian populace who demanded his extradition and led to the protests and eventual storming of the American Embassy in Tehran.

The film begins with scene outside the American Embassy. A palpable but justifiable hatred of the US is evident in the loud clamour of the large crowd milling outside the gates. We understand the hatred yet we feel empathy for the Embassy staff caught up in these events and we are on the side of the 6 American staff who managed to find refuge in the Canadian Embassy.

Back in the US, the embarrassed Government tries to figure a way out and in a desperate last resort opt for Mendez’s fantastical plan to use a film crew on location in Iran as a cover for getting the hostages out. Ben Affleck is immensely likeable as the courageous and earnest exfiltration expert Mendez who declares that he has never once left anyone behind. John Goodman and Alan Arkin provide some great one-liners and comic relief as the long-in-the-tooth and industry cynical make-up artist and producer of the fake film Argo.

I expected gruesome scenes of torture and violence but there was none of that. The suspense was maintained by the age-old format of pursuer and fleer and the wish to see those fleeing make it.

Suspense-filled and fun entertainment with a feel-good factor.

Showing at various Nu-Metro studios and at Ster Kinekor Sandton and Cedar Square till 14 February 2013.

** Lincoln fails to inspire

Daniel Day Lewis nominated as Best Actor for the Oscar is the spitting image of Lincoln but from his performance as the great man, I failed to understand how Lincoln could have been as popular with the people as Mrs Abraham Lincoln would have us believe. In contrast to Tommy Lee Jones’s spirited portrayal of the abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, I found Day-Lewis’s performance unengaging and wooden. Perhaps he was trying too hard to look and sound like Lincoln and forgot to be the man or perhaps Lincoln was as curmudgeonly and irritating as that in real life and his wife was wrong about his popularity. Scenes with his young son – meant to underline his fatherly warmth – came across as unnatural and did not succeed. Sally Field was far better as the wife and mother and deserves her Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

Spielberg’s film was long (2h 37m), disappointing and bored me. The timing of its release in the year of Obama’s re-election couldn’t be more opportune but an issues-based film with little action and all talk needs to engage the audience more. However, due to some difficulties in following the accents and the 19C fustian of the time as well as imposing today’s politically correct sentiments on history it failed to do this. The civil war had less to do with high-minded ideals about racial or human equality and more to do with the onward progress of industrialisation and capital which demanded free wage labour and the end of the paternalist bonds of slave labour which were becoming restrictive and a hindrance to free competition. This raison d’être is lacking in the film and so the bitter civil war was never properly explained. The argument for Amendment 13 – the Act to abolish slavery – was put forward as a way to end the carnage of the civil war and to uphold the union as an indivisible whole. The courtroom debates highlighted the political manoeuvres and machinations to get the bill passed but did not expand on the political arguments and compromises which were made and which ensured that racism continued long after slavery was abolished.

Lincoln’s pragmatism is evident in the quote below taken from Alistair Cooke’s ‘America’ which is a truer version of the great man than Spielberg’s idolised portrait of a man outraged by slavery:

“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

In the end we feel no euphoria when the bill is eventually passed.

A journalist friend of mine says Quentin Tarantino’s Django (which has received a great deal of criticism from politically correct worthies) is a better portrayal of the essence of slavery and the spirit of the times than Spielberg’s fawning portrayal in Lincoln.

Lincoln is showing at Sandton and Cedar Square till 7 Feb.

*** Les Miserables – too sentimental for me (January 2013)

Affectionately known as Les Mis in London, the Palace Theatre production of Victor Hugo’s classic tale of an 1832 Parisian uprising quelled by the authorities was a familiar landmark, almost an institution on Cambridge Circus, Shaftesbury Avenue. I went to see the live production in 1992 and was singularly unmoved but that may have been the company I was with or the fact that I was sitting in the gods. I decided to give this film version a go after hearing that Hugh Jackson had won the Golden Globe for best actor and that a London colleague had given it a decent write-up. Hearing Barry Ronge on Radio 702 say that he had been to see it six times and cried each time made me waiver as I’ve sometimes been disappointed by Barry’s effusive praise for other films which I thought mediocre and unfortunately this was one of those times.

Hugh Jackman plays a sincere Jean Valjean (a convict made good but constantly on the run from his gaoler Javert, having made a run for freedom while still on parole) and Anne Hathaway is very touching as the hard done by single mother forced into prostitution, who on her dying bed, leaves her daughter in the care of Valjean. But the film pulled too obviously at the heartstrings. I was more moved to tears by the prosaic narration in Sugarman than by this musical extravaganza. Russell Crowe as Valjean’s nemesis, the gaoler Javert, was somewhat wooden in both the acting and singing. Some of the less famous actors like Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks were better singers than the big stars. There were some moving tunes but they sounded a bit samey to me after a while and I the film at 2h 37m felt too long.

If you’re a big softie like Barry, then you will enjoy this.

Showing in Cedar Square, Sandton and Rosebank till 7 Feb 2013.

Santa's Story - a song of life (9 Feb 2013)

This is not a tale about the horrors of Auschwitz; it’s a story about the yearning for joy in the midst of despair.

Directed by Janice Honeyman, scripted and researched by Gwynne Robbins, Santa’s Story is part narration, part song with black and white video footage of old family photographs and documentary footage of the time anchoring it in real events that we sometimes find hard to believe actually happened. The Sandton Theatre production works well and with minimal staging and just a few costume props, one is taken from pre-war Germany to the civil war in Spain and from occupied France to colonial Rhodesia. It is performed with warmth and poignancy and beautifully sung by Santa’s own daughter, Aviva Pelham – a renowned and award-winning performance artist and singer – and was written by her granddaughter, Gabi Sulcas.

When in 1939, Santa Erder’s father puts a 20-year-old Santa on the train to her future husband, Jack Pelham (originally Ya’akov Perelman) in Africa and says his last goodbye from an anti-Semitic Poland about to go to war with Germany, he makes one request of her:

‘Promise me that you will always keep the Shabbat.’

At a time when European Jews were being persecuted, forced to flee their homes, leave family and friends behind, and sometimes change their names, religious ritual provided a focus of constancy and identity and a link to the loved ones they may never see again. Keeping the Shabbat flame alive made a mockery of Hitler’s attempts to exterminate them.

‘Hitler did not win’ says Santa. ‘The Jews are still here and I am still alive.’

Santa remembers the things that gave them hope and succour in those dark times – the neighbours in Germany who warned them to flee, the Spanish dancing, the lullaby that reminds her of her mother, the Parisian girlfriend who introduced her to Jack Pelham for a bit of amusement, the morning when Jack knocked on her carriage door and she answered it with a face covered in a cream mask and curlers in hair.

In choosing to go to ‘darkest’ Africa and marry a man she has never met and only written to a few times, Santa chose life and escaped death in a concentration camp.

At the end of the performance, and to the delight and awed surprise of the audience the real Santa is accompanied onto the stage by her daughter and joins in singing a last song. At 94 years of age she looked stunning and is an inspiration to us all, reminding us that if we grab life and never stop hoping we can overcome the most adverse conditions and bring joy to others.

Santa’s Story is on at the Theatre on the Square in Sandton until 17 February 2013.

***** Searching for Sugarman, January 2013

Musical mystery man Rodriguez sold half a million records in South Africa and was bigger than Elvis here in the 1970’s, but lived in obscurity in his hometown in Detroit and was thought to have put a gun to his head after failing to please a live audience. This engaging and moving film documentary follows two of his most ardent fans from Cape Town as they try to discover who he was and why he never made it big when his music and words were as good as if not better than Dylan. After ‘following the money’ they find to their astonishment and delight that Rodriguez is alive and living with his daughter in Detroit in the same house he has lived in for 40 years, working as a humble labourer but still playing guitar and writing songs. Rodriguez himself remains a mystery; a quietly spoken and essentially private character with strong convictions writes convincingly about the working man and the tough street life in industrial Detroit, exudes an anti-establishment aura that captured the hearts of young Afrikaners in South Africa who found in his music a way to express their own opposition to and their hatred of the oppressive government during the height of Apartheid rule.

If you have not yet had a chance to catch this in the cinema since its release in August 2012, then it is still showing at the Cinema Nouveau in the Rosebank Mall until Thursday 24 January 2013 and is well worth seeing.

The Mall is undergoing a major refurbishment so it is a bit hectic in the parking lot and there is a lot of noise but we watched the movie in comfort and without any disturbance. Rosebank Mall is also the only Ster Kinekor cinema shop to sell coffee rather than slush puppies and gets the thumbs up from me for that.

*** The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey, January 2013

Peter Jackson goes back to the beginning – to the story of Bilbo Baggins’s first adventure as The Hobbit, written 18 years before the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This may be more a film for Tolkien nerds than the general public and at 2h 50min is overlong and covers much that seems to have already been covered in the popular trilogy of films.

However, what this film has going for it is Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. Unlike the sweet-faced, somewhat naïve Elijah Wood, who plays Frodo in Lord of the Rings, Freeman is refreshingly comical as an irritable, middle-aged, pipe-smoking Bilbo who balks at Gandalf’s request to go on an adventure to find the Lonely Mountain, the home of the Dwarves, and to leave off reading his books, curling his hairy toes comfortably on the bench outside his snug hobbit-hole and pondering the lush rolling landscape of Borrowdale.

There are too many battle scenes with orcs for my liking but I was pleasantly entertained for the most part.

It is showing in 3D at Sandton, Cedar Square and Fourways until 24 Jan 2013.

Jodi Picoult packs them in at Novel Books, January 2013

Novel Books was proud to host one of the top mainstream fiction authors in the world and one of South Africa’s favourite authors on her fifth tour of South Africa. Ms Picoult, an attractively petite 44-year old, did not disappoint the hundred or so enthusiastic fans who crammed into the small but charmingly eclectic bookshop in the Hobart Grove shopping centre.

The author of 18 novels and a host of awards is on tour to launch her latest creation – ‘Lone Wolf’ – a book about the hotly debated topic of euthanasia. The comatose patient, Luke Warren, is a wolf researcher who has been injured in a car crash. His daughter Cara is waiting for a miracle recovery while his son Edward argues it would be in his father’s best interests to turn off the life support. Ms Picoult relishes controversial subjects and this issue is at the crossroads of medical science and morality.

However, to my initial disappointment, she chose not to dwell on this moral controversy as she does not believe in telling her readers what to think; rather she wants to allow us to wonder who is right by offering up different perspectives for our consideration. Instead over the next half hour, she kept her audience enthralled with facts she discovered about the lives of wolves that was almost akin to watching a Nat Geo or Discovery documentary – so detailed were the images she painted for us in the audience.

As part of her research for the book she had met wolf researcher, Sean Ellis, in Devon. Sean had lived in the Canadian Rockies with real wolves and had closely monitored their behaviour over this period. Apparently, wolves are not cold-blooded killers. They are very intelligent and live in family packs that are organised like military units where different members play different but crucial roles to ensure the survival of the pack. There is the big, strong baiter wolf who usually makes the first move; the alpha wolf, who as the collective brain of the group, is more wary because he has to think about the group as a whole and so hangs back; the diffuser wolf, who intervenes to stop other wolves within the pack from tearing each other apart; the tester wolf, who picks fights so he can test the packs capabilities and maintain quality control; the numbers wolves, who follow the orders of the alpha wolf; and the nanny wolves who are really old baiter wolves redeployed to teach the cubs what to do.

In the middle of her talk, she got four volunteers from the audience to stand at the front and imitate the different howls of the various types of wolves mentioned above much to the delight and howling laughter of the audience itself.

Ms Picoult takes 9 months to write a book including time for research and 3 months publicize her books on tour. She keeps business hours – rising at 7.30am each morning to open her email and personally respond to up to 200 fan letters per day, followed by reviewing and editing her previous day’s writing and finally writing up the new excerpt. Story ideas land in her lap – ‘what if’ questions she can’t answer or things that keep her awake at night. Characters then pop into her mind to take these ideas away from her. The hardest to write was ‘Perfect Match’ – about sexual abuse – because her kids were the same age and it was difficult to distance herself from the situation she was writing about. However, she does not think her books are depressing. ‘There is a thread of lightness running through them just as in Shakespeare when the fool pops up in the tragedy.’

**** The Life of Pi, January 2013

Directed by Ang Lee, also renowned for award winning blockbusters such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain and Sense and Sensibility, this fantastical film is about a lot more than the technical wizardry of bringing Yann Martel’s 2002 booker prize-winning novel to life. Lee manages to get to the essence of a book that has many layered meanings and which fascinated me when I first read it.

Pi is the inventive abbreviation of the more humiliating full name of Piscine Molitor Patel, a fifteen-year old Indian boy living with his zookeeper father, mother and older brother in Pondicherry, India. The family ups sticks and decides to ship the zoo to Canada where they hope business will fare better. Tragedy strikes as the ship sinks after a storm leaving Pi as the only human survivor in a life boat with a Tiger (called Richard Parker), a monkey and a hyena. How Pi survives with this motley crew for companions provides for a fascinating adventure with spiritual overtones as Pi struggles against the elements and his starving shipmates.

The film begins with the adult Pi retelling his story to a Canadian writer who has been told that he will hear a story that is unbelievable but which will make him believe in God.

While some reviewers insist this is a book about God and religious experience and how we order our lives and the world through such narratives, there are aspects of the work that raised other interesting questions for me when I read it – such as the lessons he learns from his father that animals are animals and not human, that they need boundaries, hate changes, and need to be controlled. This obviously goes against the grain of today’s anti-human, pro-nature sentiment but makes perfect sense in the story and helps Pi survive. As humans we interpret the world through the narratives we create for ourselves. Religion is one narrative but there are many more.

The ending raises doubts about the veracity of Pi’s story and a more mundane explanation is proffered by the authorities who rescue the boy.

‘Which story do you believe?’ is the question to us in the audience remembering that fiction often gets closer to the truth than bare facts because it allows us to consider questions beyond our own limited experience.

This Oscar-nominated film is on screen at Cedar Square, Rosebank Zone and Sandton until 24 Jan 2013.

Earlier (2012) Reviews of Books, Plays / Theatre, Films / Movies

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About Sharmini Brookes

I am a freelance writer living in Bryanston having relocated from the UK.

I do a regular feature on art and culture which includes film, theatre and books as well as other cultural events and restaurants. I attend the Theatre on the Square as a media previewer and try to get to see films as often as I can. I contribute to Artspoken and recently did a review of Material, more critical than the one above.

I also attend regular bookshop talks at the Novel Book Shop in the new Hobart Grove Centre. If you know of events I should attend, let me know at

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