THE NAUSEATING CLASH of religious dogmaticism and sexualities which contradict hetero-norms is not something new. If you look at the issue of sexuality more broadly and infuse it with an historical glance at the culture and persecution of so-called witches, it simmers and seethes there too. Young playwright Koleka Putuma mines these old realities to create something new, fresh, fearsome and extraordinary in No Easter Sunday for Queers.
Featuring Momo Matsunyane as Napo, opposed Tshego Khutsoane as Mimi, the tale is a simple one, formed with fierce and astonishing language and the spine-chillingly beautiful use of choral elements. The group of 20 first year Market Theatre Laboratory students make excellent use of the passage framed by a wire fence that surrounds the theatre space, and their song and gesture, whispers and presence in a miscellany of flannel skirts, trousers and lacy shirts which themselves confuse gender stereotypes, lend a very powerful reflection on community. It’s something which in many respects is akin to the kind of controlled cacophony created in the works of contemporary Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, who creates opera that confronts horrors.
With Mwenya Kabwe at the work’s helm, there’s a wild and wise sense of possibility: the kind of juxtapositions that do not crudely represent violence on stage, but ones that whip up a sense of frenzy that threaten to sweep you into their vortexes. It’s like being in the presence of a ritual, rather than a crime. And when a sjambok is offered in the guise of a skipping rope, or burnt books seem like burnt bodies, the metaphors cast are fresh and raw.
The work features a lot of sound and fury which pulls out all the technological stops in audio-visual possibility. It’s a pity that one of the sidelights in the work blasts directly into the right eye of audience members sitting in the front row, however, forcing them to cringe away from some of the work’s nuance.
Evocative of Penderecki’s 1969 opera, The Devils of Loudun, or various interpretations of Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible, including the recent local work The Crucifixion of Amagqwriha, No Easter Sunday for Queers delicately and robustly weaves together Christian rhetoric with contemporary South African realities where black lesbians are being murdered. Replete with glances at hypocrisies of society, lobola witticisms and a rich understanding of love that is taboo in the unequivocal face of bias, this is not just a play: it’s one of those works that has the potential to open awarenesses and serve as an advocate for tolerance.
The season is extremely short, but the importance and excellence of this work begs for more.
- No Easter Sunday for Queers is written by Koleka Putuma and directed by Mwenya Kabwe. Stage managed by Campbell Meas, it is performed by Tshego Khutsoane, Tumeka Matintela, MoMo Matsunyane, Khanyisile Ngwabe and Lunga Radebe, with the chorus featuring first year Market Theatre Lab students: Chaunees Bokaba, Siphesihle Fakude, Scout Fynn, Rethabile Headbush, Moagi Kai, Thuthukani Lombo, Amukelani Mabaso, Kgothatso Makwala, Tebogo Malapane, Tshepo Matlala, Melusi Molefe, Kgomotso Moshia, Sydney Ndlovu, Okuhle Ngxe, Nicola Niehaus, Lesedi Nkosi, Philangezwi Nxumalo, Asime Nyide, Pretty-boy Sekhonto and Khanyisile Zwane, and features design by Nhlanhla Mahlangu (music director), Projection and sound design (Nicola Pilkington), Jade Bowers (lighting design) and Thando Lobese (costume and set design). It performs at the Mannie Manim Theatre, Market Theatre complex in Newtown, Johannesburg, until August 25.