THE MOTHER OF ALL EATING
DIRECTOR: Makhaola Siyanda Ndebele
PLAYWRIGHT: Zakes Mda
CAST: Mpho Osei-Tutu, Jerry Mntonga, Bernett Mulungo (pianist)
VENUE: Barney Simon Theatre at The Market
Until: June 1
RATING: **** I
If you were wondering what had happened to protest theatre, it’s alive and well and playing at the Market.
But we’re not dealing with the past, we’re talking about now and doing it in stylish fashion to boot.
What is even more intriguing is the play was written by Mda in the past century and he is telling the story dealing with corruption among civil servants and politicians in a neighbouring country. The circumstances are eerily similar to what we are experiencing.
Ndebele first saw the play in Lesotho in 1992 as a first-year UCT drama student. “I knew after watching it I had made the right decision to study drama. I realised the impact theatre could have on society. The play was speaking truth to power: it was funny, it was protest, it was revolutionary and it was potent,” he said.
It is all of that with the added bonus of being prophetic which makes it even more relevant as it points to the patterns of power and what happens to people when they are given just a whiff.
Much of the fun of watching the play is the contemporary approach.
To show the excesses of The Man, the role has been cast with two actors (Osei-Tutu and Mntonga). They’re telling their individual story while exacerbating their exaggerated accumulation of wealth accrued with such astonishing entitlement. It’s good for the country to have millionaires to compare with those from others countries, is The Man’s motto.
The stories people tell to justify their own existence is played with a serious dose of buffoonery which has one giggling throughout as the two actors skip through their selfish lives while combating those who get in their way of getting more money.
Pianist Mulungo has composed a score almost in the style of a silent movie which not only adds the sound effects like phones ringing and knocking at doors, but also creates the atmosphere at specific moments.
That’s what they do, they explain. Once you’re in the civil service, it’s all about eating!
It invites the audience to join the circus in carnival style as they explain the reason for their wealth and why it is more patriotic than simply being the good citizen. It turns into quite a dialogue.
The approach is a gamble, but with fine acting, a piano that introduces an extraordinary voice and smart thinking by the director and his assistant Gaosi Raditholo, they’ve kicked this one into the new millennium with powerful panache.