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Multi-award-winning dance-drama reopens The Barney Simon Theatre at The Market Theatre

After multiple successes in the Cape, the lauded dance-drama Karatara makes its way to the newly refurbished Barney Simon Theatre at The Market Theatre for a limited run from 9 November 2023.

The Karatara River runs through the Outeniqua plateau in a beautiful setting amidst agricultural land and forests. It has been, for thousands of years, an integral part of the Outeniqua Khoi-tribe.

On 29 October 2018 the so-called “Knysna-fires” devastated a community and ruined the land leading to more cases of homelessness and poverty. Amidst the media-frenzy accompanying the fires, some corporate companies, politicians and affluent individuals living on the Knysna-heads, appropriated the media attention and used the crisis as an opportunity for personal gain.

Karatara is a deeply personal inter-disciplinary dance-drama that deals with the loss of family, home, community and land. It looks at the complex racial and social politics of the area around the Karatara River and explores the role and power of the media. Through the beautifully crafted production, the audience see a family struggling to make sense of an atrocity amidst the opportunism and greed others find in a tragedy.

The theatre piece has been described as “a sensory experience where raw talent has been honed to professionalism”. It is an emotional take on the inferno that devastated a community and claimed seven lives and where hundreds of homes were destroyed.

Six years on from the tragedy, questions sadly remain unanswered. The consuming fire exposed the fissures within the community along racial and class lines. The lackluster response of the media to the endemic problems faced by the community, including homelessness and food scarcity, and the opportunistic response by the elites in society have not helped the situation.

The ownership of the land is divided between the Western Cape Province and the National Department of Public Works. This dual ownership and the separate planning of settlement programs, makes land reform projects complicated. This is largely to the detriment of the indigenous people whose direct descendants live next to the Karatara River.

Karatara debuted at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) in 2022 where it won Best Debut Production. It has gone on to successful runs at Woordfees, The Baxter Theatre, and most recently a short run in Kynsna itself. It has won a Fiësta award for Best Design, and earlier this year it won two Fleur Du Cap awards for Best Lighting and Best Sound Design.

This theatrical treatment and style of the work, with its restrained staging that puts the focus on the cast and storytelling, is a fitting work to reopen the Barney Simon Theatre after that venue’s complete refurbishment. The late artistic director of the Market Theatre, Barney Simon emphasized the role of storytelling based on truth and an honest aesthetic that never clouded the emotional and socio-political weight of a work. It is befitting that Karatara will be the first show to open the newly refurbished Barney Simon venue at the iconic struggle theatre.

The team behind this award-winning production is lead by director, Gideon Lombard, and includes actor/dancer/writer Shaun Oelf and writer Wilken Calitz. The Knysna local Oelf has won many accolades for his stage work, including the Baxter Theatre Artist of the Year Award in 2014. Together with fellow dancer Grant van Ster they founded the Figure of Eight Dance Collective (F08) in 2014. Dean John Smith (Suidooster) completes the cast, alongside Grant Van Ster and Shaun Oelf.

Calitz is a writer from Cape Town who holds a MA (Creative Writing) from the University of Cape Town (UCT). He also did a Masters in Music (MMus) from the Stellenbosch University. The creative was nominated for 6 Fleur du Cap theatre awards in 2015, including for best new South African text for his paly 2092: God van klank. The play bagged the 2013 outstanding drama production at Woordfees. His debut novel Swart swaan was published by Penguin Random House in 2020.

Karatara is an opportunity to see a poignant tribute to acts of resilience and remembrance, told by an outstanding cast and creative team. The three week run ends 26 November.

The Market Theatre acknowledges the generous support of the Eyesizwe Mining Development Trust, whose funding has made this production possible.

Tickets through webtickets, or via The Market Theatre’s website (


For media enquiries contact Lusanda Zokufa (Market Theatre Brand and Communications manager) at or 072 367 7867. For block bookings and special discounts contact Anthony Ezeoke at or 083 246 4950.