Writers: Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom and Aubrey Sekhabi
Director: Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom
Cast: Presley Chweneyagae, Atandwa Kani, Refilwe Mokgotlhoa, Tshireletso Nkoane, Ontiretse Tumisho Manyetsa
Choreographer: Thabo Rapoo
Venue: State Theatre, Arena
Until: April 22
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
MPUMELELO Paul Grootboom’s Rhetorical is at best a struggle piece for today’s times, but more an examination of the socio-political landscape, using the speeches of former president Thabo Mbeki as a catalyst. It’s a necessary examination.
The show was conceptualised around the idea of world speeches with the help of Germany’s Siemens Stiftung, the Kaaitheater in Brussels, and the Market Theatre, and it’s the first series of staged speeches.
Mbeki’s better-known speeches form the backbone of this production. But they are intertwined with images and scenes representing what is happening in SA today, poignantly satirised.This makes for an interesting juxtaposition as it avoids presenting Mbeki’s speeches as propaganda.
Grootboom has a cinematic approach to theatre and here it is almost as if he is giving us a documentary with dramatic effects. Wilhelm Disbergen’s design allows for the multimedia to add to the narrative.
Poet Lebo Mashile once compared South Africa to a schizophrenic and Grootboom’s images reveal South Africa in her complexity and multiplicity. It is gripping and provocative stuff.
Grootboom has a knack for presenting images that mirror society and provide an insight into the minds of his characters.
He has done so explicitly in his previous works, but even when dealing with a political theme, the writer and director is forthright.
Bringing most of these characters to life is the brilliant Presley Chweneyagae and he portrays Dada Mokone, a character based on the ANC Youth League president, Julius Malema, with distinctive flair.
Dada Mokone’s lavish lifestyle and stance in representing the poor are first on the agenda, before the performance moves on to issues like crime, the economy, redistribution of wealth, poverty, HIV/Aids and xenophobia.
These are presented in relation to Mbeki’s days in office until he was recalled by the ANC.
Atandwa Kani’s Mbeki is likeable and he manages to get to the soul of the man by not trying too hard.
He gets the subtleties right, but injects his own sincerity into the character. And Mbeki makes for an interesting character, because of how he has come to be known publicly – as aloof and detached.
The play investigates those qualities and asks, was his detachment because of his foresight? Was his rule about policy or rhetoric? Was he bordering on dictatorship?
The play also paints a vivid and bold picture of the state of things today. It’s not pretty, but it’s real. And there’s a message of hope in all of this.