DURBAN theatre writer/director Edmund Mhlongo has his hands full over the next few weeks as he prepares to take a musical and a dramatic piece to the National Arts Festival.
He is known for his affiliation with development projects in the arts, especially work done through the KwaMashu Community Advancement Projects.
Tonight caught up with Mhlongo to discuss the two works he will take to the festival this year, to be performed by emerging artists from the project.
His musical One Among Many: A Musical Tribute to Chief Albert Luthuli and a brand-new work, Sponono the Curse Love, will be staged at the festival.
Sifiso Simamane plays the leading character, Chief Albert Luthuli, in One Among Many, which, as Mhlongo explains, was first performed in 2007, in consultation with Luthuli’s family, to commemorate the 40 years since the ANC leader’s death. He was also the first African to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mhlongo said it was a long process before they were able to pin down the “right” Luthuli for the play.
“After some discussion with the Luthuli family, we decided we were going to do this production with their input. One day Dr Albertina Luthuli (Chief Luthuli’s daughter) came through to a rehearsal to see the developments, but she was not happy with the actor who was playing Chief Luthuli at the time.
“We had to hold auditions for another person. We considered three more actors, but the family did not approve of them. Sifiso was the fourth person, and they approved. They said he had the qualities of their father and they liked him.”
But Simamane is far from just the right face for this piece. The talented actor has featured in plays like Spice ‘n Stuff and Sophiatown, as well as in the radio dramas Tuck Shop, Muti, and Lollipop Lane. His film credits include I Wish I Was in Jail, Singham and When She Comes.
The total cast numbers 25, with Simamane in the lead role and Thomie Holtzhausen playing the antagonist.
Mhlongo said that after the musical returned from the festival, they hoped to stage it at the Winston Churchill Theatre in Pietermaritzburg, and thereafter in KwaDukuza (formerly known as Stanger), which is near Groutville, where Luthuli lived.
Mhlongo will also present his brand new play, Sponono the Curse Love, at the festival.
The drama features Nosipho Samukele Mkhize, Wiseman Mncube and Sandile Mchunu in a tale of an unusual kind for Mhlongo.
The tragic drama tells the story of a 35-year-old woman who is devoted to nursing a sick nun, only to discover that the nun has lied to her about having a husband.
Sponono then tries to start dating so that she too can find a suitable husband. But when all the men she dates die, what will become of her quest?
With such an unusual choice of story for Mhlongo – who is better known for his historical tribute pieces – we wondered what spawned the idea for Sponono the Curse Love.
He laughs, explaining: “It’s a mix of drama, comedy and absurdism in a sense. You have this woman who sacrificed her youth to be a nun. As she takes care of a sick nun, she discovers the older nun’s betrayal, in that she has been married. So she decides to stop being a nun and tries to ‘recover’ the years she lost. The first thing she does is set out to find a husband, but when she starts dating, all her boyfriends die.
“I really wanted to tell a love story, but in a different way. I read a lot of stories in the newspapers about lovers who kill their partners and then kill themselves, seemingly without any reason.
“We often see married couples and think everything is okay, but we don’t know of the difficulties they face. So I got the idea of creating this tragic story that looks at love in a different way. About a person desperate to find love, but no matter what she tries, it doesn’t work.”
He said he chose the young actors for the play on the basis of their talent and work ethic.
• Sponono will launch in Durban after the festival.
• One Among Many stages at the City Hall in Grahamstown from July 7 to 10, while Sponono the Curse Love stages at Dicks. For more detailed information, visit www.nationalartsfestival.co.za.