Exhilarating historical journey

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COLORED MUSEUM
PLAYWRIGHT: George C Wolfe
DIRECTOR: James Ngcobo
CAST: Altovise Lawrence, Aubrey Poo, Aya Mpama, Bronwyn van Graan, Caroline Borole, Elisha Mudly, Johan Mthethwa, Lebo Toko, Lesedi Job, Michael Themba, Mono Monyane, Naima McLean, Rori Motuba, Tshepiso Tshabalala, Ziyanda Yako
MUSICIANS: Esbie Moilwa (music director, pianist), Johan Mthethwa (pianist)
VENUE: Market Theatre
UNTIL: February 23
RATING: ****

 

It’s difficult to describe the adrenalin rush of experiencing live theatre when everything comes together so brilliantly. This is one of those – the full package with extras included as a bonus. It’s not an easy script because without the understanding of an imaginative mind, much of the explosive material can simply get lost without the rewarding impact.

Comprised of a handful of sketches that tell a story of 400 years of slavery with a through- line that could also dwindle away if not delicately pulled along, the individual stories are each given shining power by an empowered and energetic cast who stripped their souls on stage to honour the words.

It’s glorious to witness someone taking a chance on young talent in such a grand way and granting them permission to grab the glory. They do and turn Colored Museum into something that breathes and builds brightly as the ensemble bring all their exuberance and vitality to bear.

Ngcobo introduced a bigger cast than is traditionally true to the piece, but in this way creates a stage on stage with each one given a chance to tell their story, grab the moment and fill in the pieces of the puzzle in a way that’s diverse and allows the different moments to unfold like pieces in a museum.

It’s not a text that points fingers. These are people who come together, look at their lives and unravel the impact that decades and decades of oppression have had on their being. It’s about having let go of the drum.

If you allow others to dictate your rhythms, the balance is disturbed and lives will be bent and often destroyed.

“It’s emotionally draining to be black,’ says one young lass, “I’m only going to be black on weekends.” If you haven’t lived a life where the colour of your skin comes into play every day, it’s difficult to stand in that place. But we can listen and laugh with the playwright who knows that merriment will make the arrows that much sharper and clear minds to catch the nuances as he painstakingly paints the picture in rich colours, stroke by stroke.

The richness of the production has been achieved by not ignoring any of the building blocks. Introducing a soundtrack for the stories and to add flush to the ambience, not only are two talented musicians tasked to tell their story with different tools, but the already challenged cast are pushed further with a few haunting songs introduced to the mix. It’s chilling stuff. Either in solo or as an ensemble, they enter the music and strike those notes with sweet melody or pull it back softly to hold the moment.

The contributions are many, from Gregory Maqoma’s sassy choreography (all but the fan dance which overshadowed a song that should have shone on its own), Thando Lobese’s costumes with pizzazz, Nadya Cohen’s savvy set design and Esbie Moilwa’s musical majesty.

There are too many moments to single out even a few.

This is what makes this such an extraordinary production. There aren’t any weak links. Simply open your heart and go along for the historic ride. The individual stories will touch and affect individuals differently. It’s about reclaiming your past, stepping into the world and making it your own.

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