There’s a kernel in this play that is so demonic and sinister it chills you to your heart, and while all the tools are there for a wise and raw bit of story-telling, for which director Mncedisi Shabangu’s work has become respected, surrounded by generally unconvincing performances, something of its candidness becomes a little lost.
Hinging on the broader thematics of Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga’s acclaimed novel Nervous Conditions (1988), the play uses the names of the performers, which immediately might confuse you if you know the novel and expect to find the characters you’ve read of.
Instead, we meet Bonolo and Tsholofelo, teenage characters in a narrative about death and the idea of crossing over. The story begins at the end, a well used device to draw interest in, but there are logical flaws as the material unfolds, which leaves you bewildered as to how things work or what you understood from the startling opening that so beautifully evokes tears and crucifixion in a rudely rural context.
Also, while this cast of young actresses work hard to hone their complicated roles, which touch and are spinned about by everything from poverty and illness to homophobia and the confrontation of taboo, there is an element to their approach which begs more physical discipline or a greater deal of debriefing as they transition into frantically violent and often blood-curdling roles.
Shabangu’s use of graphic elements, like blood, nudity, explicit references to sex and illness have become characteristic of his work, and reveal him to be taking off where the teachings of Yael Farber and Lara Foot touched him over the years. The haunting nuances in his 2009 work 13 attest to this. While Crossing features a palpable sense of horror and surprise in its plot, it lacks the kind of balance that would make the blood and gore feel a little less gratuitous.
By the end of the play, you feel a great sense of ordeal on the part of the cast. The tale they have come to tell you is done, but the rhythm of its emotional hardness continues to beat with alacrity in their tears. Crossing is at this point, at work that is all emotion and guts, but it doesn’t yet have the kind of muscle that would lend it subtlety and heart.
- Crossing, based on Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions is adapted for stage and directed by Mncedisi Shabangu and designed by Neo Joberta, (lighting) and Thabo Rapoo (choreography). It is performed by Jessica Lebogo, Shammila Mosikare, Tsholofelo Saul, Mathapelo September, Bonolo Tlaletse and was part of the Wits 969 festival. It performs at Mmabana Arts Council in Mafikeng, from August 9-15. Visit mmabana.org.za