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Soweto’s theatre unpacks a fine debut

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INLSA

The Suitcase is the first theatre production at the opening of Soweto Theatre.

THE SUITCASE

ADAPTED AND DIRECTED BY: James Ngcobo

CAST: Siyabonga Thwala, Xolile Tshabalala, Samson Khumalo, Bheki Mkwane

MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Hugh Masekela

SINGERS: Complete

CHOREOGRAPHER: Gregory Maqoma

COSTUMES: Thando Lobese

SET: Nadia Cohen

VENUE: Soweto Theatre, Bolani Road, Jabulani

DATES: Until June 1 at 8pm

RATING: ****

How can one describe the heaven-liness of the opening of a new theatre? Especially one as historic as the Soweto Theatre?

Perhaps the exuberance of the audience when witnessing the first production, The Suitcase – which was such an appropriate choice, both reflecting on the past and mirroring the present – said it all.

It was a beautiful thing. First, the event was magnificently encapsulated by the people’s poet, Mzwakhe Mbuli, when he took 30 minutes or more to run through a list of Soweto’s heroes going back in history until today.

And director James Ngcobo and his cast did the theatre proud. In this reworked version of this much acclaimed play, they ramped up the energy with bigger performances, perhaps more moments of laughter, but finally homing in on the pain of the little people who out of desperation take a chance which destroys their lives.

Thwala owns the main character, Timi. The way he tells this hopeful and happy man’s story as he falls from grace takes you right to the essence of the heartache. It’s second time around for him and this has been his lodestar from the beginning and which will hopefully bring him back on stage time and again.

It is his performance as Timi that sets the tone as he throws on his jacket, doffs his hat and sets out on another day – walking – to find work in the big city.

As his body and soul take on the pounding of the pavements in search of nothing more than survival, the weather and the woes of the universe seem to settle on his shoulders and on those of those around him. It’s a harsh tale of simple folk who try to find their place in a world that seems to conspire against their holding on to happiness.

Introducing three new actors in supplementary roles, the mood and majesty of the piece have shifted. It seems bigger and more determined to speak to and draw in its audience, which it does easily with the supercharged performances of Mkhwane and Khumalo as they turn up the volume when dealing with the sometimes quickly forgotten agonies of the past, like the oppressive pass system that dominated and deter-mined so many lives.

Tshabala gives the gentle and joyous Nomhla a more visible heart and a stronger voice as she tries to lighten the burden of the family reaching from the past to the future. Gracious is this glorious actress who seems to slip under a character’s skin so silkily.

Adding to and underpinning the people and the place, Ngcobo has cleverly tapped into the mood and melancholy of the piece and introduced a rich soundtrack with the sublime Complete, the four extraordinary men from Vosloorus who produce such exquisite sounds. They ground the story while also allowing those in the audience sobered by heartache of the piece to escape into the soft tones that can lull some of the pain.

It’s a new piece and a new space that come together in honour of a brighter artistic future in Soweto.


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