Living in the love of a broken people

Itsoseng

THE people shall decide! The cast of Itsoseng, (from left) Khanyisile Ngwabe, Akhona Namba, Thabiso Rammala, Katlego Letsholonyana, Alfred Motlhapi, Rea Segoati and Dimpho More. Photograph by Mpho Khwezi.

IT WAS STORYTELLER extraordinaire Gcina Mhlophe who once commented that the art of storytelling lies not so much in the tale but in the telling. She could well have been referring to Itsoseng, a beautifully crafted love story in a time of disappointment and a place of poverty.  It’s a rich and well choreographed work which tells a story as timeless and as tragic as Romeo and Juliet.

Written by Omphile Molusi in 2008, this extraordinary tale of broken dreams and pure love is mostly in Setswana, but it is honed and moulded and performed with such a sense of commitment and focus, that you don’t have to understand the Setswana to be able to roll with the story’s punches and laugh and cry with the characters’ joys and horrors.

In previous manifestations of this play in this theatre, it took the form of a monodrama, where the central character, a young man named Mawilla, offers insights into his whole community with nuance and gesture. Now, with a cast of seven, the work is fleshed out in a different way and with different levels of energy that infuse the material. It is very astutely cast and the conflation of Mawilla (Thabiso Rammala) and his ‘home boys’ Saxa (Alfred Motlhapi) and Buda 6 (Katlego Letsholonyana) is fierce in its sensitive portrayal of the dynamics of childhood and youth. The women in the cast, however, under the quiet leadership of Dimpho More in the role of Dolly, lend the work its fire and its music. Intertwining beautiful harmony with protest action, the work is tight and well defined and the performers intelligently directed.

Each performer shines in his or her individual way, which enhances the sense of texture in the work. And what Motlhapi can do with a simple shopping trolley simply beggars belief as he conjures up a whole history of a disused and destroyed shopping centre that’s one pivot of the tale, with this humble vehicle.

Itsoseng is a real township just outside of Mafikeng in the North West Province, which was formerly part of Bophuthatswana under apartheid puppet ruler, Lucas Mangope. This play describes a tale of blind anger and protest, of broken economies and shattered political promise. And given the way in which the hopes and dreams of the broader community rest upon mob energy and hollow commitments from government, it’s a work which hangs with prescience on contemporary South African realities.

Flawed only in its use of shebeen noise and stage smoke which is simply too big for the Barney Simon theatre, Itsoseng is an important work for South Africans to see. For the injustice it portrays. For the beauty with which it portrays it. And for the delicious cast of magnificent young talent.

  • Itsoseng is written by Omphile Molusi and directed by Lesedi Job who has been mentored in this capacity by Kgafela Oa Magogodi. It features design by Hailey Kingston (set), Nthabiseng Makone (costumes), Nomvula Molepo (lighting), with incubates Jabulile Precious Mangqangwane (lighting), Sinenhlanhla Zwane (set), Sabelo Mavuso (sound) and Nthabiseng Malaka (costumes). It is performed by Katlego Letsholonyana, Dimpho More, Alfred Motlhapi, Akhona Namba, Khanyisile Ngwabe, Thabiso Rammala and Rea Segoati, at the Barney Simon Theatre, Market Theatre complex in Newtown, Johannesburg until May 7. Call 011 832 1641 or visit markettheatre.co.za.
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Forever gems and smiles to set the world aglow

khokho

WHAT comes around … Cruelty and ugliness become synonymous when Hyena (Sandi Dlangalala) meets Fudukazi the tortoise (Nomonde Matiwane). Photograph courtesy artslink.co.za

Occasionally, very occasionally, a creative work seems to make itself. Is it about the universe taking control? Or God? Perhaps it is about having done a thing so often you go into autopilot and don’t think about the hugeness of what you are doing. Either way, when this kind of small miracle happens, everything, but everything, fits into place, in such a way that you can almost hear it click. This level of theatrical brilliance is what you experience in Khokho’s Treasure.

A couple of years in development, this work, which began as Under the Baobab Tree is a clever cipher for a range of African stories. An old man, beloved by the community in which he lived, has died. His legacy is contained in a big suitcase. And what can it be? Is it money? Is it jewels? Rather than anything crassly material, the suitcase is a repository of triggers to stories, songs and memories. And Francois Theron and his cast take the possibilities of these values and shine them up to an astonishing level, which will touch you – and your child – deeply.

Stripped of cliché, the stories are told with a developed sense of empathy and a generosity of spirit. The cast, including established NCT performers such as Suzaan Helberg and Nomonde Matiwane, and newcomer Kealeboga Tshenya, is young enough, yet mature enough, to inject a fine level of wit and self-deprecation into the range of characters that inform the material, which makes you love each and every one, not only for his or her good qualities, but for his or her flaws too. Arguably the highlight is a new tale by Gcina Mhlophe, about Fudukazi, the magic tortoise, epitomised in beautiful detail by Matiwane, who is not afraid to lend such heart to her performance that you weep out of love for the hapless beast.

But something must also be said for Helberg’s smile. This young actress, who plays the gogo and narrator of the work, in her very competent and linguistically flawless performance, exudes a sense of happiness which is so uncontrived and so giving that you get swept up in its glow. Indeed, the positive energy of this work is infectious, as it sidesteps triteness. Not all of the five stories told are happy ones, but each of them presents an energy that gives cultural miens – and South Africa’s different languages – a place. From Afrikaans to Ndebele, isiXhosa to Sesotho, there’s an easy and legible flow of the idea of cultural relevance, be it with a blanket in hand, or under the spell of Nomhle, the African Cinderella, be it in a soccer tournament or on the rural hills of KwaZulu-Natal.

Brightly coloured and direct, Khokho’s Treasure could be an ambassador to all that it good and hopeful in this beautiful land of ours. And while very little tots might become restless before interval, because of the work’s length, as a creative manifestation, it’s as good as it gets.

  • Khokho’s Treasure is adapted and directed by Francois Theron and features design by Stan Knight (set and costumes), Nicol Sheraton and Phillida le Roux (choreography), Jane Gosnell (lighting) and Dale Scheepers (musical direction). It is performed by Sandi Dlangalala, Sibusiso Nhlapo Ferguson, Suzaan Helberg, Nomonde Matiwane, Mark Tatham and Kealeboga Tshenye at the National Children’s Theatre in Parktown until September 3. Visit nationalchildrenstheatre.org.za or call 011 484 1584.

Zandile: a play that must be seen

MoMo Matsunyane is Zandile. Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer

MoMo Matsunyane is Zandile. Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer

Gogo. These two syllables, under Gcina Mhlophe’s pen in the classic South African play Have You Seen Zandile?, embrace everything that a loving, hard working grandmother is about: Vulnerable, pugnacious when necessary, and above all, capable of real love. On stage 28 years ago this astonishingly fine work comes back to full fresh life in a glorious production, which honours the play’s roots and heart yet offers its own fabric and texture.

On a microcosmic level Have You Seen Zandile? is a tale of eight-year-old Zandile and her Gogo in Durban and of how she is spirited away to the rural area of Transkei by her mother, to be raised in the traditional rubric: she cannot be educated, must marry young, must work her body hard in the field. It’s a tale of deep love stamped on by financial dearth, political complexity and heart break. And it’s about broken dreams and ultimately broken hearts.

Carried with dignity and such beautiful authenticity by MoMo Matsuyane and Zethu Dlomo, the work reflects the dynamic of little girls – it opens with Zandile as an exuberant eight year old, and takes us through her teen years. With just a tweak to her hairstyle and costume, and considerable adjustments to her delivery, Matsuyane, an utterly extraordinary performer, embraces with such rich truths all the values of being a child: from the way in which she draws or speaks to the flowers to the beautiful artlessness of how she declares her dreams for a beautiful future.

Dlomo, too, in the role of the mother, grandmother and Lindiwe, a school friend, is able to beautifully manipulate her body to embrace the age of the character she is performing, fleshing out the susceptible yet gutsy Gogo with heart and soul, as she paints a reflection of the child’s mother with severity and coldness that comes of hurt. Mhlophe has constructed all her characters with a genuine human fondness, enfolding everything from myths and horrors of menstruation from within a pre-puberty sensibility to the age-specific games that children play.

Indeed, the games form a considerable part of the absolutely wonderful set, which utilises the blackness of the theatre space as immediate blackboards. Chalk drawings of stick figures and fishes and a house with a pointy roof and flowers with smiles adorn the space with the gritty realism of childhood happiness. There’s also a brilliant set which forms part of the work. Part cupboard, part screen, it reflects the moon and the grass as it is a repository for important things like letters from a child.

Have You Seen Zandile? is one of those unequivocal theatre moments, which bring together script, design, direction and performance with an impeccable sense of respect for the discipline, the work and its history, but not without a rambunctious sense of fun and real emotion. A lot of the dialogue is not in English, but if you do not speak isiXhosa, you are not left out. There’s a melding of language with movement, a kneading of gesture with word that makes for an imminently legible and totally consuming play. You leave this theatre knowing exactly why it is considered a classic.

  • Have You Seen Zandile? is written by Gcina Mhlophe, directed by Khutjo Green and designed by Wilhelm Disbergen. It is performed by MoMo Matsunyane and Zethu Dlomo at the Barney Simon Theatre, Market Theatre complex, Newtown, until October 26.