Now just one month away, the 2024 National Arts Festival will take its shape and texture from the artists who are in the midst of preparations to stage works from around the country. The Fringe programme is loaded with works that satirise, experiment and intrigue, marking the exceptional energy of our nation’s creatives.

The Fringe has been a feature at the National Arts Festival since it was introduced onto the programme in 1979. The Fringe is shaped by the independent spirit that inspired the Edinburgh Fringe, when defiant theatre groups arrived at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 without an invitation to perform. This act, in support of artistic freedom, was the foundation of what is now one of the world’s largest festivals, and the tradition of breaking down barriers and pushing beyond the gatekeepers has been at the essence of fringe work ever since. The National Arts Festival is proud to be part of a vibrant community of Fringe Festivals around the world.

At the National Arts Festival, the Fringe has been both the dependable stage to which comedians, theatre makers, musicians and magicians have returned with crowd-pleasing favourites, and the fertile ground for edgy new works, exciting ideas, experimental formats and sleeper hits. Uncurated and unexpected, the stages of the Fringe are an incubator and an inspiration for many contemporary artists who first hit, or missed, their mark on the Fringe.

The advent of the Standard Bank Ovation Awards in 2010 assisted audiences in identifying works on the busy Fringe platform that a panel of reviewers had given a critical thumbs up. The Ovations continue to be an important spotlight on the best of Fringe and winning work will often travel on to international festivals or through the South African theatre circuit.

As usual, the National Arts Festival Fringe is bursting with works across diverse genres, origin and language. For young audiences, the Fringe has plenty of theatre for children and families with productions like The Three Witches by local dramatists, The Makhanda Players. A Shakespearean tale of wonders and ick, it’s a charming inter-generational take on the tale of the cranky witches. A Froggie Fairytale uses masks and puppets to tell the story of two bumbling fools, played by Bryan Hiles and Kaylee Mcilroy.

Kaylee Mcilroy is the daughter of Lisa Bobbert and Aaron Mcilroy who have been Fringe stalwarts over many decades. She is also in Adventure of Who, directed by Dad Aaron, which is a magical tale of the search for identity.

Comedy is a hallmark of the Fringe and Fringe World Best Weekly Comedy Show winner Dalin Oliver is heading to the National Arts Festival Fringe with a limited run of his international award-winning show, 90 Day Comedian. In stand-up comedy show Furthermore40, Eastern Cape comedian, MC and voice over artist Mbu Msongelwa gives his take on being in his 40s.
From the Eastern Cape to the screens of Netflix, Khanyisa Bunu is back at the Festival this year with Khanyisa Bunu’s Comedy Special. Kate Pinchuck tackles millennial angst in Don’t Panic, directed by Nik Rabinowitz, and 100 million Tik-Tok views later, Conrad Koch’s ventriloquism skills are on full display when he and his puppet Chester Missing deliver Despicable HeHe. Award-winning comedian Stuart Taylor is also on the programme with a new show Odd Man Out and Jaryd Pillay is serving a spicy course of Passion of the Curry: The Last Supper. 2023 Bronze Standard Bank Ovation Winner and crowd favourite, A Vegan Killed my Marriage is also back at the Fringe.

Sans M, the comedian behind one of South Africa’s best-selling comedic acts, That Funny Indian Guy, brings Cake Litey! to the National Arts Festival Fringe. His productions mix stand-up and sketch comedy with plenty of mischief and music.

Gold Standard Bank Ovation Award winner Sophie Joans is back with her new solo clown show, AÏo; a commentary on AI’s facilitation of humans’ (dis)connection. She also brings Dog Rose back to the Festival and, through her production company, gives up the stage for some naughty tales in Raunchy Renditions.

With a clutch of Standard Bank Ovation Awards over its eight musical theatre productions, Amandla Dança Teatro ZA, returns with new work Mwana Wa Mvula. Based in Galeshewe, Kimberley, Amandla Dança Teatro ZA is under the direction of internationally acclaimed artists Bisi Bangiwe Ka Jobela and Mkhululi Z Mabija. This production follows the journey of male rainmaker, Lerumo, as he battles to reconcile his natural spiritual gift and his father’s Christian beliefs. The tale is carried along by astonishing costumes, slick choreography and powerful music.

Freshly Squeezed is Silver Standard Bank Ovation Award winner Pichi Keane’s brand-new drag cabaret, packed with cheeky comedy, brassy belting, and BDE (big diva energy). The Butlers team is back for their 26th Fringe, with Butlers and Bellboys; a murder-mystery that lets the audience decide who lives and who dies.

Following on from the thought-provoking 2023 production Swartwater, Nama Khoi Productions presents Dwaling/Ihare mâ at this year’s Fringe. The piece explores the aftermath of the Nama Genocide inflicted by German forces on Nama People in the 1900’s and highlights the irreplaceable value of land in shaping identity.

After wildly successful national and international tours and winning the Gold Standard Bank Ovation Award for it at the National Arts Festival 2023, Rob van Vuuren brings Namaste Bae: Blessings and Kombucha back to The Fringe in 2024! A healing ceremony unlike any you’ve ever experienced!

Audiences loved it at the 2023 Festival, and now the outrageous satirical comedy, The Agents
is back with its irreverent and macabre laugh-out-loud cringefest featuring Lisa Derryn Overy, Kyla Davis and Roberto Pombo.

Can of Worms (also a multi-Standard Bank Ovation Award winner) will be there with SHINE ON! A favourite with audiences who get to sing along, dance and lose themselves in the performance, the work is produced and performed by six experienced musicians.

Isaac Sithole returns to NAF with two plays; Selekane and Dikakapa. Physical theatre piece Dikakapa draws on Sharpeville’s history and the divergent life paths of two struggle heroes. While Selekane, a cultural tale told through music, movement and text, tackles themes of greed and power.

Set in the final days of the Anglo-Boer war, Breathing In uses a magical realist style to tell the story of a mother’s love for her daughter and women’s drive to survive in a patriarchal society. Producers Wela-Kepela are well-known to Festival-goers for the musical theatre productions they have brought to the Festival over the years.

Family themes and, in this case, the terrible consequences of family secrets, are under the spotlight in Cursed, which tells the story of two siblings separated very young. After living vastly different lives, they meet at university and, not realising they’re related, start a relationship and choose to have children of their own. Thamsanqa Khumalo directs this play written by Nokwandu Mnyandu.

The terrible conditions, ongoing racism and unfulfilled promises experienced by the nation’s farm workers drives the robust piece Farm Workers brought to the Festival by the Mzansi Arts Development Ensemble. Renowned actress Bo Petersen returns to South Africa to share an intimate family history of the emotional challenges of living secretly in a mixed-race family under apartheid in Pieces of Me, directed by Royston Stoffels.

UNLiMiTED tells the story of a dancer faced with a sudden injury and, with it, the shattering of their aspirations. Produced by Tshwane University of Technology, Faculty of Art and Design, the show is an ode to modern technological innovation, resilience – and the commitment to passion in the face of adversity.

Eastern Cape artist LoveSeed uses music and poetry to narrate her journey through childhood challenges and profound self-discovery in Ibali Lam. Another Eastern Cape musician Sibu G takes the audience into a healing musical fusion of African folk traditions and soul in Ndim Ingoma.

Makhanda’s much loved Kwantu Community Choir is on the programme with a concert repertoire that speaks to the alienation of our human experience in The Offering (to our other selves). African Melodic Remedies will perform The Big Band Explosion; a cocktail of different styles and genres that include acapella and African instrumental music. It is also a celebration of a living legend, 93-year-old Notinki Mdyogolo, an Uhadi player. Another exploration of musical fusion is Ingoma YoHadi (Song of the Harp), a combination of African indigenous sound with piano, clarinet and violin anchored by the Adungu (Ugandan harp). It also features the first isiXhosa hymn by Prophet Ntsikana kaGaba on the UHadi (Xhosa bow harp).

In a different take on the more classical format, Dirkje Daling performs her own, and other composers’ compositions, on solo piano while projecting her painting equivalents on the backdrop in Flow. Also on piano are Germaine Gamiet and Jacques du Plessis with an exciting piano four hands repertoire including sonatas by Mozart and Poulenc as well as the iconic Schubert Fantasie in F Minor in Piano Four Hands.

The full programme and tickets for the National Arts Festival programme is now live on

The 50th National Arts Festival takes place in Makhanda from 20-30 June 2024.