Wrap your farm in your haversack

Mmupic

KISS of choice. Adam (Joel Leonard) shocks his peers when he puckers up to Gontse (Khumo Baduza). Photograph courtesy Wits 969.

MAKING SENSE OF life, the universe and everything, when you have kicked your sister out of the home for behaviour you’ve deemed debauched, buried your brother due to no fault of yours or his, are so deep in your cups that you cannot tell real life from sinister dreams, and have your ancestral soil in a bag which you carry around you is faced head on by Simon played by Abongile Matyutyu in Mmu, the one production which went to the National Arts Festival, representing Wits’s student body.

A fresh and complex tale that ably sways through different chronologies and circumstances, Mmu is about the soil we drop onto the graves of our loved ones. It’s about our understanding of the muscular connection between identity and land. Featuring several stories which run concurrently, in a soapie gossip-worthiness rubric, it’s told with clear directorial skills, and you’re not left out in the cold as to who belongs to whom or how the narrative fans out.

Pinned to farm novel traditions and their discontents in a contemporary South African world, replete with a history of accidental crime and the alternatives offered by the shebeen, it features Adam (Joel Leonard) as the white pivot around which the drama rotates. Born on the farm, he inherits it when he grows up. The other thing he doesn’t lose in growing up is his love for the children of the farm’s staff with whom he spent his childhood scrabbling in the sand and spinning bottles. Only it’s love of a less platonic nature, now.

Sometimes not completely believably a man with many love interests in mismatched contexts peppered with power dynamics – because he seems too young – or one with the maturity to negotiate a farm selling operation, Leonard forms an able counterpoint to the rest of the cast, but it is Matyutyu in the central role of Samson that populates the work with the energy and the madness that keeps it tight and well-focused.

A stand out performance by Kashifa Sithole in the role of Maria offers an angle which blends poignancy with humour in a deeply empathetic capacity resonant with the ubiquity of church values in a world spotted by obscenity. And besides, you fall in love with the bigness of Maria’s heart.

Further to that, along the lines of Chilahaebolae, performed under the auspices of this university earlier this year, there is a fantastic collaborative energy and give and take between the cast. It lends the work the kind of busy messy soundscape that being in the traffic of the city entails.

While a low point in the plot is the final moment, which falls a little like a lead balloon in its predictability, and begs for more workshopping, it is the developed and powerful texture and narrative that keeps this story potent, vibrant and eminently watchable.

  • Mmu is written by Quinton Manning and directed by Sinenhlanhla Zwane and Luke Reid. It is performed by Khumo Baduza, Joel Leonard, Abongile Matyutyu, Nambitha Tyelbooi, and Kashifa Sithole, in the Nunnery at Wits University, as part of the Wits 969 Festival. It performs again on July 26 at 17:00, July 28 at 13:15 and 18:00, July 29 at 14:00 and July 30 at 14:30. Visit webtickets.co.za or visit Wits 969 on facebook.

 

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Let your little ones reach for the stars

spacerocks

UP, up and away: Jojo (Lunga Mofokeng), the science teacher (Sithembiso Khalishwayo) and Jinks (Stella Dlangalala) head upwards. Photograph by Sakhile Dube

A FABULOUS NEW element to the Wits 969 offering is a slot for children’s theatre, and this year, the festival pickings, hot off the Grahamstown circuit, features no less than three productions suitable for the next generation of theatre patrons. Space Rocks is a kaleidoscope of fact, fiction, allegory and invention, to say nothing of good moral values, that have everything to do with brushing your teeth and being nice to your brother/sister, and it will keep your child riveted – that is, if he or she is older than the time frame  of 4 to 8 years, suggested by the work.

It’s a rip-roaring tale of an adventure into space on an improvised space ship, by two children, Jinks (Stella Dlangalala) and her kid brother Jojo (Lunga Mofokeng). And while the wrench from the values of the mother (Earth) played by Diana Penman are big and real, there’s a whole splendid world of adventure waiting for them in the night sky. There’s also the scary danger of Vortex and Void, in which they can become lost or totally discombobulated, but there’s a wise and fine selection of morals and songs, hypnosis and seduction that happens on the way. Not to forget Mr Bing Bing, a robot toy who comes along for the ride and gets first prize in the space adventure stakes.

It may be all too much for your four year old – replete as it is with a heady mix of lots of planetary fact and fondly formed humour, including a whole gamut of fart jokes on the part of Jupiter who reeks of gases, amongst other space oddities, but if your tot is the kind of kid who can easily get mesmerised by the gentleness and excited by the shoutiness, the silver foil and delightful lyrics of a work, they may be able to happily bypass the nitty-gritty of the sense of the narrative and hum along. Indeed, the ensemble of this production exudes a collaborative energy which speaks not only of planetary sanctity and good wishes for the future of Earth, but good clean inventive fun, to boot.

Space Rocks in its design is a work that boasts rethinking everything from teabag strainers to bicycle pumps, and it features some utterly delightful shadow puppetry and a sequence of events which is resoundingly clear as it is satisfying in its unfolding.

  • Space Rocks is written by Tamara Schulz and directed by Craig Morris. It features creative input by Tamara Schulz (costume and set) and is performed by Lehlonholonolo Dube, Stella Dlangalala, Sithembiso Khalishwayo, Lunga Mofokeng, Thapelo Mohapi and Diana Penman, in the Nunnery at the Wits 969 Festival, Wits University, on July 16 at 11:00. Visit webtickets.co.za or visit Wits 969 on facebook. Other children’s shows at this year’s Wits 969 Festival include KidCasino! and Rat Race.

The drab mundanity of working nine to five

Ninetofivers

A young woman sits chained to her chair, with a long noisy chain. The room is a quiet cacophony of cheap plastic wall clocks, some suspended from the ceiling, one serving as the lid of a dustbin. A gentle sense of the surreal is cast across the space as it is punctuated by a recording of a pianist playing Beethoven’s Für Elise. But as the lights open the scene, as the music fades and you look at the elements that constitute the set of this work and contemplate the work’s title: everything is revealed. Everything. Nothing is a surprise. The unfolding work, handled with a great deal of effort on the part of young performer Swankie Mafoko, contains an astonishing lack of nuance or sophistication as the notion of a young adult working for her living in an office is extrapolated. And sadly, the Beethoven is left to hangs arbitrarily and feels like an afterthought.

Nine to Fivers Anthem is the kind of work that begs and pleads loudly for the input of a more experienced eye or hand in its development. The language is riddled with easy cliché and the narrative, stripped clean of character development and of light and dark tone in its splaying of details, is earnest, yet skitters feebly around issues of job exploitation, the need to earn a living and the challenges one faces in the time one spends at the service of an organisation or individual who pays one’s salary. The material is bold, but lacks freshness.

Almost teetering into the realms of poetic development, the work contains refrains and repeated elements, which are not formulated with a sufficiently honed sense of rhythm and dynamic to enable the performer to sync with the sound and texture of the words she articulates. Almost resonating with the kind of harsh social critique which a writer like Jack Livings sculpts in his astonishing tales that gut Chinese communist society, such as The Crystal Sarcophagus and An Event At Horizon Trading Company, the heart of Nine to Fivers is in the right place.

But the work needs more time on its drawing board. And the performer’s skills are not stretched enough to reach you there in the audience.

  • Nine to Fivers Anthem is written by Lotanang Makoti and directed by Mahlatsi Mokgonyana. It was performed by Swankie Mafoko, as part of an extended version of the So Solo festival, at the Nunnery at Wits University, on December 11 and 12

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