Our mother’s dignity, at all costs

isithunzi

ME and my brother: Scelo (Sipho Zakwe) and Muzi (Musawenkosi Kumalo) in tandem.

WHAT WOULD YOU do if your mother was publicly humiliated by someone who you considered a friend? Would you want to kill him? Would you have the capacity to turn the other cheek? Would your impotent rage find another outlet? This is the central focus of Isithunzi, a powerful and important play about the complexities of respect, which headlined the 2016 Zwakala community theatre festival.

In 2008, a group of white Afrikaans-speaking students associated with Free State University played a series of appalling and humiliating pranks on black domestic workers employed by the university. The pranks were filmed and went viral on the internet, sparking seething anger across the board, raising and inflaming the race card, to say nothing of sheer respect issues. This became known as the Reitz Four incident, premised on the fact that the four whites who had enacted the humiliation, were from the Reitz res on the university campus.

Young playwright Sipho Zakwe, who plays the role of Scelo here has taken this narrative and run with it, focusing it on two young men, brothers, and the sons of one of the women subjected to having to drink the urine of white Afrikaans boys – amongst other revolting humiliations. The plot thickens: Scelo is a UFS student. His squash buddy is one Schalk van der Merwe, one of the boys responsible for the prank. Muzi (Musawenkosi Kumalo) is his brother, at home, the brother who made sacrifices so that his brother could be educated.

The dialogue about different responses to this scenario are tossed hither and yon in the work, with muscularity and passion. Featuring some exceptionally fine set and audio-visual decisions, the work is utterly riveting and will make you weep with anger at the crudeness of the behaviour and the iconic presence of the mother herself.  While the literalness of the violence – there should be a strobe warning in the theatre – and the predictability of the tale itself mar this work slightly – you know how it will end – it remains a very fine showcase of performative skill on our stages.

Thoughtful and angry, respectful and context-driven, Isithunzi is constructed with broad, yet sophisticated narrative tools. There is some wonderful shadow play details which infuse the piece with mystery and energy, enabling two performers to embrace a whole campus in outrage. With the use of simple costume changes and a grotesque coir wig, the perpetrators are referenced and caricatured, as are students on campus. The work reflects with mature astuteness the harsh realities confronting the poor, without being maudlin or self-serving, and is not difficult to understand if English is your only language. In short, it’s a work of its time, offering a strong voice into what matters.

  • Isithunzi is written by Sipho Zakwe and directed by Luthando Mngomezulu. It features creative input by Ntshieng Mokgoro (mentor), Omphile Molusi (dramaturge), Jurgen Meekel (audio visual), Thapelo Mokgosi (lighting), Shilongane Nkoana (set), Nthabiseng Malaka (costumes) and Ntuthuko Mbuyazi (sound), with DAC incubates Hlamalani Ntando Makhubela (lighting), Ratang Mogotsi (costumes), Mbali Silvia Nkambule (set) and Maggy Selepe (sound)and it is performed by Musawenkosi Kumalo and Sipho Zakwe, with voiceovers by Dawn Thandeka King, at the Ramoloa Makhene Theatre, Market Square, Newtown, until June 18. Visit markettheatre.co.za or call 011 838 7498.
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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.

Unstoppable tale for six

sixcharacters

BROKEN family with a tale to tell. From left, David Butler, Lebogang Inno, Sandi Schultz and Chantal Stanfield. Photograph courtesy artslink.co.za

HOW BEST DO you tell a story sullied and broken by trauma? Do you blurt it all out in one brutal shriek? Or do you give it context and framework? Do you make it circuitous?  And funny?  Joseph Heller did it. Alan Bleasdale did it. As did Luigi Pirandello. Magicked into contemporary Johannesburg relevance by director Sibusiso Mamba, Six Characters in Search of an Author is a play that begins as you step into the theatre foyer, and it will sweep you away on a journey tinctured and moulded by the philosophical constructs behind characters, actors, ghosts and a story that demands to be heard, but begs not to be told.

The woman mopping the foyer floor minutes before the doors to the theatre opened, got a loud and public scolding by an usher, as he checked audience tickets, officiously, a worried expression on his face. People got twitchy. “Should we go home?” they pondered. “What is the Market Theatre coming to?” they thought.

The doors opened and the same seemingly unrehearsed, seemingly haphazard approach of the performers filtered through, with snippets of music cast from an upright piano, a dog older than God in a car in the parking lot and a general sense of incompletion. Not quite sure how to respond, the audience, roughly respectfully, laughed politely along with the flowing sense of panic about a lack of funding, Brexit, rough and desperate read-throughs, and over dramatised gestures. It really did feel unready. And it was precisely the kind of tricky manipulation of the very mechanisms of theatre that Pirandello used as a foil to his work in 1921.

This astonishingly fine cast, with an exceptional mix of theatre veterans such as Desmond Dube, David Butler and Kate Normington, and relative newcomers and faces from tv, such as Sewende Laan’s Chantal Stanfield and Binnerlanders‘s Sandi Schultz hold this potentially catastrophic piece with the kind of tight steerage and sophisticated authority that really finely honed clowns are capable of. While you might not be able to predict the trajectory of this utterly beautiful piece, you know that you are in safe hands.

With some remarkable costume and set decisions that feature characters who are dead yet present, and others who are trapped in the horror of their own self-fulfilling tale of domestic tragedy, the work is a monster of a piece that takes you all over the place, and gives you everything from snippets of Skeem Saam to bits of Hamlet. In bowing with great respect to the European traditions of Pirandello, and with great humour to the dramatic gestures that punctuated certain theatre traditions, the work develops a powerful momentum maybe twenty minutes in, that prevents you from breathing too loud.

Wise interfolding of Pirandello’s text with asides from the contemporary context, this tale of almost incest and exploitation through several marriages and much sad and hard feeling, offers an overriding sensitive pondering of how the construct of theatre matters to you, a person in the world. It will entertain you completely. And it will haunt you.

  • Six Characters in Search of an Author is written by Luigi Pirandello and adapted and directed by Sibusiso Mamba assisted by incubate Mxolisi Masilela. It features design by Thapelo Mokgosi (lighting), Karabo Legoabe (set) assisted by incubate Nthabiseng Malaka, Nthabiseng Makone (costume) assisted by incubate Gift Nwokorie, and Disney Nonyane (sound). It is performed by David Butler, Desmond Dube, Lebogang Inno, Tebogo Konopi, Rebecca Busi Letwaba, Alick Magemane-Mdlongwa, Phumi Mncayi, Dimpho More, Kate Normington, Gontse Ntshegang, Sandi Schultz, Anele Situlweni and Chantal Stanfield and performs in the Mannie Manim Theatre, Market Theatre complex, Newtown, until July 24. Call 0118321641 or visit markettheatre.co.za

Of baked beans and Hello Kitty, modest bling and uncurbable skinder: Welcome to Boegoespruit Ext 25

The Boegoespruit 'family',  clockwise from back: Twala (Jovan Muthray); Christina (Francesa Matthys); Unti (Sharmyan Kassen) and Shaamiela (Kirsty Marillier). Photograph courtesy www.wherevent.com

The Boegoespruit ‘family’, clockwise from back: Twala (Jovan Muthray); Christina (Francesa Matthys); Unti (Sharmyan Kassen) and Shaamiela (Kirsty Marillier). Photograph courtesy http://www.wherevent.com

The thrill of being in the presence of fresh young work as it hatches is incomparable. When you sit in the audience of this delightful work, created in entirety by students, you realise the palpable dynamite that there is in this industry, waiting to explode into professional careers. Boegoespruit Ext 25 is a work not without its flaws, and not devoid of a formulaic construction. It’s also rough around the edges and does need more sharpening, but with all these healable bruises, it’s a solid and delicious piece of theatre that offers a self-deprecating glance at the idiosyncrasies of being coloured, being poor and being hilarious that will make you sit up and take notice of these four young performers.

The saga of a spaza, Boegoespruit Ext 25 is an essay on informal contemporary living conditions, replete with gossip and tragedy, humour and pathos that will move you to spontaneous laughter and tears. The characters are larger than life: Twala, a ‘hairchetect’ (Jovan Muthray), who wears golden pants and a jacket zhooshed into bling with bits of hardware from cold drink cans; Unti, the massively bosomed baked beans queen (Sharmyan Kassen), with a Hello Kitty penchant who runs the spaza shop; Shaamiela, a school girl who knows more about social intercourse than perhaps she should (Kirsty Marillier); and Christina, a bank clerk on a trajectory to be somebody in this world (Francesca Matthys).

Together they form an approximation of a family and reflect on the see-sawing of life, punctuated as it is by a lack of material comfort, a rumbling sense of self-deprecating humour and many dollops of rich local colour. The plot is simple, and has a nice hairpin bend in it, but not a satisfyingly developed ending. And while Unti and Twala steal the show in terms of how well their characters are developed, Unti’s make up is so overdone that she reads as a male in obvious drag, from the get go.

Once you realise that is not the case, you quickly learn to roll with the social punches that this play, which borders on being a revue of sorts, delivers, wrapping real issues of homophobia, rejection, deep sadness and drug addiction into the hilarious fabric of this sustainably strong work. More than anything, the text of Boegoespruit attests to the robustness of this community, stained as it is by the detritus of apartheid and broken by social bias. As a theatre piece, it attests to the way in which the students understand the principles of clowning, of playing to an audience and of collaborating with genuine generosity. The set, too, offers an intimate and astute understanding of the society being reflected, and works well. Remember these names: you will be seeing them again on professional stages soon.

  • Boegoespruit Ext 25 is directed by Leonie Ogle with design by Nthabiseng Malaka (set) and Hlomohang Mothetho. It is written and devised by the cast: Sharmyan Kassen, Kirsty Mariller, Francesca Matthys and Jovan Muthray, and performs at the Nunnery, as part of the Wits 969 Festival, on July 21, 23, 24 and 25. Tickets via co.za

Mythomania: give us more magic

 

 

Something beautiful this way comes: Nomathamsanqa Mhlakaza and Boitumelo Magolekgo in OCA, choreographed by Oupa Sibeko. Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer.

Something beautiful this way comes: Nomathamsanqa Mhlakaza and Boitumelo Magolekgo in OCA, choreographed by Oupa Sibeko. Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer.

When you enter the auditorium and take your seat, there is such a fantastic promise of magic in this seven-piece production, your senses are tweaked and attuned to seeing wonderful incarnate. There’s a squadron of origami creatures of all shapes and sizes floating in the air, and a sphere filled with feathers. There’s a bit of a dodgy ramp made of what looks like papier mâché, but the magic of the origami birds make you forgive that.

But there’s also music, so pervasive and jarringly loud and tonally repetitive, you feel your nose might start bleeding. The Downstairs Theatre is a relatively small space. It conveys an intimacy that could be worked with, particularly in a production that plays on your inner chords with magical stories and old myths, but someone made a decision to turn the volume up. And it’s a bad one: the sound is so pervasive it almost prevents you from seeing the dancers.

But see them, you must: while most of these performers are obviously not trained in the discipline of dance – they move their limbs without drawing the movement into their diaphragms and souls – there’s a sense of dignified beauty in several pieces, which should push further. The descriptions of the myths represented here that you find in the programme notes are delightful, but in several pieces, the relationship between work and words doesn’t resonate.

The highlight is a duo between Persephone and Hades. Called Seeds of Life, Seeds of Death, it’s choreographed by Amy de Wet and performed by Shannon Tootla and Jonathan Young. Without knowing the intricacies of the myth or the manner in which this myth is reworked, this is a scene of love, life and anger, featuring a pomegranate. Touching and resounding with a reflection on the Adam and Eve tale, it’s a power relationship articulated around two interesting performers with great possibility. The give and take between them is shiny in its directness and compellingly authentic in its sense of honesty.

In OCA, which is choreographed by Oupa Sibeko and performed by Nomathamsanqa Mhlakaza and Boitumelo Magolekgo, an immensely powerful relationship is articulated. The work speaks of a woman and her sister who seems disabled. And it’s beautiful. But its correlation with a mother and child and a child impaired with the stigma of albinism, as the programme explains, is not developed with sufficient conviction.

The pieces in this project involving several dancers, including Kaangs Creation and the Rock of Sisyphus have moments of idiosyncrasy and interest, but the individual dancers seem too inexperienced to carry their cameo roles with a sense of authority that should catch your eye. In the former, in particular, the dancer who takes the role of the Mantis God comes across as a doleful beetle with a baleful gaze in an uncomfortable costume, which just saddens the piece.

Costumes also have a spark of something, but in some of the works, like Obanje Abiku, which derives from West African values, the colour coordination of the dresses actually cheapens the work’s impact – as do features like great big green bows at the back of the Mothers’ costumes in the Sisyphus work.

Mythomania has some utterly beautiful moments, and completely well developed transitions between pieces, but there are not enough of these moments. The work in entirety is curious and interesting and has fantastic potential, but the scariness of magic in a production is not sufficiently probed or prodded, either through the dancers’ techniques or through ostensible gimmicks in the tale.

  • Mythomania, a Wits University production, features choreography by Joni Barnard, Kyle de Boer, Amy de Wet, Luke Draper, Alicia Hofmeyr, Gaosi Raditholo, and Oupa Sibeko; performances by Justine Barger, Joni Barnard, Grace Barnes, Meagan Connolly, Samantha de Jager, Marion de Pontes, Skye Gibson, Anna Star Hlali, Ben Kgosimore, Rachel Makatile, Nthabiseng Malaka, Boitumelo Magolekgo, Francesca Matthys, Nonkululeko Mduli, Nomathamsanqa Mhlakaza, Candice Modiselle, Abigail Molemo, Palesa Mannakgotla, Dimakatso Motholo,Simphiwe Ndhlebe, Danielle Oosthuizen, Kendal Petersen, Oupa Sibeko, Kim Taylor, Shannon Tootla, Andrea van der Kuil, Lauren Vankeirsblick, and Jonathan Young; and design by Catherine Dickinson and Kamini Soobben (set); Catherine Dickinson, Claudia Hansen and Kamini Soobben (costumes); and Abigail Thatcher (lighting). It performs at Wits Downstairs Theatre until August 16.