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SA actors thrilled to take ‘Suitcase’ to Soweto

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Siyabonga Twala and Xolile Tshabalala in director James Ngobo's production The Suitcase. This will be the first theatre production at the opening of Soweto Theatre. Photo: Mujahid Safodien

The two actors starring in The Suitcase:

Playing the lead in The Suitcase has been a dream role for Siyabonga Twala. To get a chance to rework the part while at the same time opening a historic new theatre is almost too scary to grasp.

“Fortunately,” says Twala, “the play was successful the first time around, so at least we know it works.” At least that takes away some of the worry, but not enough to allow him to rest on his laurels.

Usually, even with the best plays, they have a four-week rehearsal period and the run might be another four. “But that’s it. then we have to let go and move on,” he says wistfully.

That’s why this reprisal is such a magical moment for this storyteller. That is what he calls himself rather than an actor. And when you watch him in The Suitcase, it will make total sense.

He’s delighted about the new theatre, especially for the people of Soweto. Even getting to The Market is a tough ask for most of the community because of distances and time. “Even weekends, most people are just too busy to travel back to town,” he says.

But now, they will have their own theatre and he believes this will change the arts because of the accessibility for the people.

“That’s why I’m so thrilled to bring this particular play to the people,” he says.

And even though he’s done it before, he comes at it in a new way.

“The new cast has brought a different energy,” he says.

More than that though, he is excited The Suitcase has been chosen to open this landmark building. It is all about what the play says and the way this particular group is telling this story.

Even if he has told this story before, Twala is delighted by the chance to discover new things.

“These kinds of chances never happen,” he says.

But all this is changing and with a new theatre celebrating especially the community, it is good that they have chosen a story told to the people by one of their own sons.

”It’s an amazing feeling,” says Xolile Tshabalala.

She’s talking about being the first one to step on to the stage of a spanking-new theatre.

“It feels as if we are going to walk there and make ghosts.”

One day she will be telling her grandchildren about this extra-ordinary journey. She feels blessed.

“These actors are gifts,” she says about the production The Suitcase which is opening the new Soweto Theatre.

And while she feels you have to honour those who have played the part before you, you have to “wear” the character in your own way.

That’s something the graceful Tshabalala does with ease. And even though she has to drop her shoulders and mar that beautiful stance of hers to change into someone who is slowly being worn out by life, she slips into that time and the clothes as if to the manner born.

This is someone who has had to put her own directorial ambitions on hold even after having studied in New York to hasten this course.

“Soon after I returned, I received a call from Aubrey (Sekhabi) who told me I would be doing Winnie in Rivonia Trial.”

That has been her career path rather than her choice. Others have decided she should be seen – for the moment.

“At least I’m learning all the time by watching the best,” she says of the directors she is working with.

And every once in a while, a directing job is slipped in just to keep her hand in and her interest fuelled.

It was her grandfather’s storytelling that first alerted her to this world.

“He loved listening to radio stories and when he couldn’t tune in himself, I would have to act them out,” she says of her earliest successes.

She has been written about often (in this paper a few days ago because of her current TV work) but there’s much more to come. For those of us who best love theatre, let’s hope she doesn’t drift away from these pastures too swiftly.

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