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TIN BUCKET DRUM
DIRECTOR: Karen Logan
CAST: Mpume Mthombeni and Wake Mahlobe
VENUE: Kalk Bay Theatre
UNTIL: September 8
MESMERISING, scary, simple and complex in equal measures, Tin Bucket Drum is magical.
Using shadow puppetry, kabuki theatre, magical realism and live percussion, the hour-long play is enchanting and gorgeously realised.
Everything comes together – subtle lighting, fun sound effects, scary allegory, hypnotic rhythm, tight script – to create a story that works on several levels.
On the face of it, Mpume Mthombeni tells the story of a spirited little girl who is born into a town where people are afraid of a shadowy dictator who hates rhythm. Not only have the people been silenced, but their paucity of spirit is reflected in their arid environment.
Nomvula’s revolutionary heart cannot be stilled though; no matter what is done to her, she cannot deny her need to experience the beat.
Shadow puppetry creates crowds and the scale of distance, while props such as a wooden table and red scarf become various objects in Mthombeni’s clever hands.
Percussionist Wake Mahlobe provides not only the beat of the story but acts as the foley magician. He creates the sound of raindrops, gunshots and heart beats on his drums and even tosses the cutlery for good effect. Though never intrusive, he mirrors Mthombeni’s every action on the aural level, helping to create the multi-layered feel of the piece.
The eventual dénouement makes for some thought-provoking parallels to corruption and other real-life situations in police states, but it does not detract from the girl’s story. Nomvula’s tale emphasises the importance of freedom of speech and the lengths people in power will go to in order to stifle it.
Wearing white make-up, Mthombeni tackles various characters, effortlessly morphing from concerned mother into tortured but unbroken old man into haughty bureaucrat.
With a sharp crack on the table she emphasises a point before twirling away from the table in a swirl of skirts to become a different character. She is the innocent girl, gleeful in her discovery of drum-sticks as easily as she menaces from the podium of a despot.
At the heart of the play is writer and director Neil Coppen’s sharp script that not only grounds the piece but also gives it wings, as Mthombeni delivers her lines with the rhythm of poetry.
He doesn’t hit you over the head with a message; the message is the beat around which the story weaves. Tin Bucket Drum is a pointed reminder that at the heart of great theatre lies the simple act of telling a story.