WHERE THERE IS smoke in a story involving powerful figures, there is always fire. And the story that wriggles its way out into the public forum is often a cover from one much more sordid and filthy than the public should be allowed to know or can stomach. This is one of the central principles of Nailed, a prescient and deliciously vicious comedy that casts political shenanigans under an acerbic loupe, directed as it is by Luthando Mngomezulu.
It’s a parody of a political figure very closely modelled on real life powerful local characters who’ve angered you behind their ‘heh-heh-heh’s and their blue light brigades. But no direct fingers are pointed, in this tightly woven and clearly structured piece which blends chaos with levity, anger with smarminess in a way that will keep you riveted. In this respect, Nailed evokes works such as Paige Nick’s novel Unpresidented, and Smallanyana Skeleton, a workshopped student play performed in 2016.
It opens with the pathetic news of a mix of a medical incident and a bad fall befalling a man in leadership. The news media shouts it out. There’s press conference which aims to explain it. And in the middle of it all, is the face of pathos: Comrade ‘Capable’ Mgobhozi (Khulu Skenjana), ensconced in a wheelchair, a (rather crudely improvised) moonboot and a neck brace. His head and hands are bandaged; his face, the picture of sheer misery. And this scene, you understand, is not only the opening point, but also the denouement of the piece.
As it unfolds, the play takes you back two years, so that you can understand how this comrade landed himself in such a fraught position. Sprinkled with political rhetoric in the name of The Party tossed hither and yon, the work is a gloss on the media machine. It casts a laugh enfolded in a poke at political correctness and a faux feminist set of values defined by the length of a woman’s fingernails.
Like a conventional soapie in some senses, with all its sex, intrigues and domesticity, and with its cast doubling and trebling up, Nailed invokes whole community under the MEC’s rule. It’s a ministry that terrifying and hilariously blends tourism with the dealing with asylum seekers and refugees, but the niceties of the ministerial portfolio fall by the wayside, as this comrade in his three piece suit gets into his groove, with all the sham, husbandry, drama and whisky he needs to keep afloat.
The work has a set that turns on its own axis, switching between an office context and a domestic one, that seems to necessitate that you sit in the middle of the theatre to be able to see both sides concurrently. Strictly, this is not necessary: the work is well staged and finely tuned to navigate this set smoothly.
And while much of the dialogue is not in English, the story is written with such a clear narrative focus and such a strong grasp of momentum that even if you’re not equipped with a Nguni language, you understand it well, as it unfolds.
Blending a tightly honed understanding of traditional African ritual and responsibilities with the vortex of nepotism and earnest political beliefs bent by corruption that has coloured South Africa murky, Nailed is sophisticated and witty, nuanced, extremely well cast and beautifully directed. You may have seen Mngomezulu’s play Isithunzi that graced the Market Theatre in 2017: his directorial hand is even firmer here: Nailed unequivocally raises his personal bar – and that of the theatre for this year, so far.
- Nailed is adapted for stage by Mpho Molepo, based on Niq Mhlongo’s anthology of stories entitled Soweto under the Apricot Tree and directed by Luthando Mngomezulu. It features creative input by Nomvula Molepo (lighting), Phumelele Dlamini (costumes), Nthabiseng Malaka (set) and Siya Nkosi (sound sourcing and editing) and is performed by Nyaniso Dzedze, Zesuliwe Hadebe, Lunga Khuhlane, Katlego Letsholonyana, Aya Mpama and Khulu Skenjana at the Barney Simon Theatre, Market Theatre complex in Newtown, Johannesburg, until March 3. Call 011 832 1641.