Two wrongs; two siblings

FOR you, Daddy, anything: Thandi (Mbali Nhlapo) skirts around the broken dreams of her complicated father, Sipho (Sello Maake ka Ncube), in Nothing but the Truth at Theatre on the Square in Sandton, until 16 April 2023. Photograph by Phillip Kuhn.

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT a man at the tail end of a long career, who holds tight to his dignity and even tighter to his broken dreams. It’s a quality as much about tragedy and heroism as it is about vulnerability, and in the central role of John Kani’s 2003 work, Nothing but the Truth, which performs at Theatre on the Square in Sandton until 16 April, it is embraced with empathy by Sello Maake ka Ncube.

It is here where we meet Sipho Makhaya, a librarian in the Eastern Cape, who is built of the fabric that constitutes those same kinds of hapless men in works by writers of the ilk of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams or Alan Bleasdale. Kani’s play is well-heeled in South African political diatribe. It debuted 20 years ago, in the wake of the ethically messy Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where sometimes good guys landed up nursing their huge wounds and bad guys got amnesty, if not forgiveness. Does the play still resonate with as much electric clarity as it did, then, when superspy Craig Williamson was a headline and what you may have done in exile or in the name of the struggle remained a bone of contention?

Perhaps not: With two decades of hairpin turns in the road that our country has faced since then, the political edge of this play has become more like a scaffolding to hang a tale of family catastrophe and the untidiness of how brothers and sisters relate to one another. And as such, it works, embracing the universal and unexplainable contradictions and clumsiness of sibling love. But also sibling loss.

Nothing but the Truth is constructed with a mirrored narrative and a sense of within and without. The work fits snugly into the stage at Theatre on the Square, offering a sense of loud, almost oppressive domesticity. There are occasional transitions which might leave you a little too long in the dark for comfort, and gaps in the set which give you visual access to the machinations behind it. The work features Ziaphora Dakile opposite Mbali Nhlapo, lending conversation which is balanced if two-dimensional and content-driven if callous.

It’s a tale of the preciousness of tradition and how you believe something you respect should be cherished. When your person or dream or moment or ritual finds itself in the hands of someone with a different set of values, who are you? What happens to the thing you hold most sacred? Many questions are tossed open in this work, which at times feels overstated, but important and dignified in the threads of values it casts out into the world.

  • Nothing but the Truth is written by John Kani and produced by Daphne Kuhn and Sello Maake KaNcube. Directed by Charmaine Weir-Smith, it features set design by Greg King and is performed by Ziaphora Dakile, Sello Maake KaNcube and Mbali Nhlapo at the Theatre on the Square in Sandton until April 16. Call 011-883-8606.

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