Dirty, smarmy secrets

Smallanyana

HE ain’t heavy, he’s my mop: Jerry Mntonga plays Handy Andy. Photograph by Mariola Biela.

THE POMP AND flippancy of a political leadership blindly consumed with its own intrigues and self importance comes under the brutal gaze of seven young Wits writers in Smallanyana Skeleton, a parody loosely cast around South African values. Blending a multitude of talents, from beat-boxing to set design, the work is fresh and vital, cleaving irony and wit with a deeper message, but on the whole, it is bruised by a lack of polish.

As you walk into the rubbish-strewn theatre, it is being mopped by a guy in overalls. The wet mop on the theatre’s black floor becomes a cipher for a multitude of messages, from sex to death, as the guy, “Handy Andy” (Jerry Mntonga) is part outsider and part insider in this tale of sordid immorality based on getting down and dirty in secret, stealing big things such as monuments and fooling tax payers.

With unquestionably inimitable value as a new South African story, the work is hinged  too closely to real people on the current political stage: a character called Honourable Godzille, compromises the parodic thrust the work promises. Is this a play about Helen Zille or is this a broader-based attack on hypocrisy and the skeletons in cupboards of a generic political leadership?

While there is an occasional tendency toward overacting by some of the cast, there is also an energy which leans a little too closely to cinematic dynamics, downplaying formal theatre conventions and hurting the clarity of the tale itself.

Having said that, this work contains some of the self-reflective humour of a selfie-obsessed, social media-dependent society that only writers of this generation can articulate with as much internal knowledge, and harsh criticism, as the work requires. There are some truly fine moments of nuance and improvisation in this play, which is built against a very nifty set conflating newspaper street posters with media interaction rather deliciously.

While the tale is a smarmy one which languidly flows from the issue of rubbish disposal pipes being too wide or too long and into sordid hotel bedrooms, thence to toilets and closets, it is hurt by too many transitions where you’re left in the dark while the cast changes scenes. These breaks in the narrative flow hurt the focus of the story, and often, you’re left proverbially in the dark as extraneous bits and pieces of narrative are strewn about, sometimes not completely coherently.

But the immense value of a play of this nature, featuring students ranging from first years – Nambitha Tyelbooi who plays Jenny List (the journalist) and Thando Mulambo who plays Honourable Humdrum, to young professionals – cannot be underestimated. The fun that was had in the construction of the work shows unquestionably, and is contagious. But the hilarity of the tale, and to an extent, its darkness gets bewildered in the overall messiness of the story.

  • Smallanyana Skeleton is written by Samantha de Jager, Sam Kentridge, Lehlohonolo Mmeti, Sarah Nansubuga, Daniella Oosthuizen, Caitlyn Spring and Joe Young, facilitated and directed by Kgafela oa Magogodi. Featuring design by Julian August (lighting) and Edmund Braatveld and Tsholo Ramosepele (set and costume), it is performed by Bradley Cebekhulu, Abongile Matyutyu, Jerry Mntonga, Lucky Mqoboli, Thando Mulambo, Danielle Oosthuizen and Nambitha Tyelbooi, in the Wits Amphitheatre until August 27. 011 717 1376
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