How to wear denim this summer
Arts Alive is beckoning and on the theatre front, James Ngcobo has big plans.
It’s 20 years since its inception and Ngcobo feels the festival is no longer a teen. It has to stand up and be counted.
“We wanted something from the past, something looking at the present and perhaps ahead,” he says about his choice of plays.
The plan was also to involve as many people from different places and platforms as possible. There are only four, but each play feels like a gem in the making and was chosen for a specific reason.
Hitting audiences with a star cast, Ngcobo has loved especially three Athol Fugard pieces: Master Harold and the Boys, Boesman and Lena and Nongogo.
“Now I have directed all three,” he says gleefully as he talks about this final tribute.
“For me, more than anything, Nongogo is a love story,” says the director of this showpiece which will run at the Soweto Theatre from September 7 to 15 and star Tony Kgoroge as Samie, Desmond Dube as Blackie, Motlatsi Mafatshi as Johnny, Masasa Mbangeni as Queenie, Fana Mokoena and Hamilton Dlamini.
“I want the actors to get under the skin of the characters, not just read them; become them,” he says.
Following the Soweto season, Nongogo moves to The Market.
Also with Market roots, Milk and Honey was conceived and written by Dominique Gumede, directed by Ngcobo and features a cast of Market Lab students.
It was a need to create a piece to mark the 1913 Land Act and Ngcobo joined hands with Malcolm Purkey to select this as the perfect topic for the students to grapple with.
“I wanted them to work with a real text, not to workshop, but to experience how you deal with that.”
Written by a young writer and working with students, it also encouraged them to look back at their history. That’s exactly what the play deals with. The story is about a young and successful corporate man who suddenly starts dreaming in Tswana. In his present life, he is completely removed from his ancestral roots. He is a lawyer who deals in the rational, yet suddenly he has to unpack this other world which he has never acknowledged.
The story tackles a century of lost land and, more specifically, how the Bapedi people were deprived of their territory. Milk and Honey premiered at the National Arts Festival where it won three ovation awards and was part of Wits 969, a post-Grahamstown season.
Reviews and rewards meant it warranted a longer season which will give audiences a chance to listen and learn, not only about the 1913 Land Act, but also the Lab students and the quality they achieve.
“It’s about mentoring and allowing others a foot in the door,” explains Ngcobo.
In that spirit, Somewhere Over the Rainbow is about contemporary Joburg – about its people, for its people, says Ngcobo. It’s written and directed by young Wits graduate Benjamin Bell and is a two-hander featuring the writer of Milk and Honey, Gumede, as well as Tony Miyambo. It’s important to Ngcobo to expose and explore the work of new voices and actors and he was thrilled with this festival aimed mainly at Joburg and its environment; this story talks about living in the city right now.
These two shows will alternate at the Market’s Laboratory Theatre from September 2 to 7 at 7pm with a matinee included on the Saturday. Milk and Honey will have another week-long run at The Market until September 14.
If solo shows are your bag, few can beat Lionel Newton as he delivers the famous and astounding Robert Browning’s Pied Piper of Hamelin and to add to the experience, he has written a Beckett-like sketch as well as commissioned Nick Warren (Sunday Morning, Dirt) to write a third. The thread holding these three very different showcases together echoes the theme of modern existence in the beautiful chaos of Joburg. The notion that we are all creatures of survival.
When it was first performed at Grahamstown two years ago, it was the additions to the Browning brilliance that detracted from the whole, so it’s good to see he has worked on that.
The show, directed by Sylvaine Strike, will play at Theatre on the Square from September 3 to 7.
Many of these shows are also travelling to the Afrovibes Festival in Amsterdam later this year which is all part of Ngcobo’s plan to shrink the world, theatrically speaking. “We have to get out there and bring others here,” he says.