The Antidote
The Antidote

KWAZULU-Natal are represented by three productions on the student programme at this year’s National Arts Festival, which kicked off in Grahamstown on July 3.

The Antidote (Durban University of Technology, DUT), PS (University of KZN, Durban) and Colour: Burn-out (University of KZN, Pietermaritzburg) look set to bring some interesting stories and theatre media to the stage.

Tonight caught up with representatives of the productions to find out more about the pieces.

Professor Debbie Lutge, who heads drama and production studies at DUT, is adviser for The Antidote.

“The Antidote by Simemezelo Xulu and Genbia Hyla is centred on an idea conceived by Xulu in September 2013.

“It’s perhaps ironic that this premise was vested in male prison gangs and rehabilitation, particularly as this year, in Marcia Peschke’s direction of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (a play based on an extreme culture of male rituals, assertiveness and hostility), we reflected on the strata of identification embedded in the ramifications of violent socialisation. This signifies the common acknowledgement that the struggle to contextualise gender remains squarely in the forefront.

“The script, like a modern-day version of the iconic classic, is filled with zany twists. Perhaps the best description would be flipping channels through a series of street art flashes, positioned as a conscientising agent against systems, that 20 years after democracy are once again under re-examination.”

Lutge said the play structure was a series of flashbacks and therefore, although each had the appearance of something concrete, the audience was invited into the imagination, the memory, the dream world.

“The violence is extreme, with some choice language in places, and although not always literal in interpretation, locks the production into a ‘for adults’ zone.”

The play features Lungani Mabaso, Simemezelo Xulu, Sweetness Ngobese, Nokuphiwa Adams, Sibusiso Ngcobo, Andile Khanyase and Kagisho Tsimakwane and crosses between a number of elements – such as poetry, monologues, and Shembe dance – often intricately woven into the fabric of the script.

“Lighting under Mthandazo Mofokeng is by new student designer Nkosingiphile Dlamini, currently serving a theatre lighting internship.

“This is a play filled with passionate student involvement: a student cast, with student technical attention, that is student-directed,” said Lutge.

She expounded on the play: “Slowly through the court case about a drug – issued to inmates – we uncover the inmates’ crimes, flash back to past court cases, and confront the current reactions, as well as question the notion of whether rehabilitation is feasible in cases of innate dysfunction.

“We begin to wonder the following: is the story about what the court case revealed? How do different people remember the exact same event? How can justice be administered on the inaccuracies of memory recall, divergent perspectives and shifting value systems?

“An experimental contemporary work, comparable to, yet different from A Clockwork Orange, this new work promises to break new ground in both concept and direction,” she said.

Nqobile Mthembu, director and creator of PS, said the play was a workshopped piece with a mix of drama and some music, but it was not a musical. “It centres on a domestic worker and a security guard who are stuck in a museum. The play is all about giving voice to individuals who are seldom noticed in society. The play revolves around notions of identity and how one sees oneself among people. It’s about a struggle to find comfort and comfortable places. The museum is seen as a metaphorical mirror for the boxes we create to put people in and a mirror of society and how we see people,” she explained.

Commenting on the title, she said: “When you’re writing a letter and once you’ve said everything, but there is still something else to say, you use PS (post script)… and that’s the domestic worker and the security guard. They have something to say.”

Mthembu said to be asked to direct for a festival this big was an honour and to have so many people excited about what they have to say was amazing.

“Because that’s our jobs as artists: to tell your truth, and to be afforded the opportunity to do so at this level is amazing.”

Jamy-Lee Simons, Lungile Mkhize, Lodiwe Ngema, Cameron Govender, Chuma Mapoma and Nomagugu Gumede feature in the production, with Rogers Ganesan on the technical front.

Director JC Zondi, for Colour Burn-out, explained that their inspiration for this piece came from the work paramedics do and endure. “I and the cast wrote it after riding along with ER24 paramedics for a period of time. But it is also partly inspired by Peter Canning’s book, 417: Paramedic Stories.

“We wanted something that everyone could relate to and we decided that the roads and road accidents was something that could achieve that.

“Accident in itself was too broad and so we zoned in on paramedics, who people hardly pay attention to and who aren’t often heard, and we thought, ‘let’s tell their story’.”

He explained that the physical theatre piece was more about being a narrative and telling these stories, then creating the visuals with the bodies of the two performers, Sizwe Hlophe and Musa Nkomo.

“We are trying to make the audience see what we saw. We narrate the stories to the audience and then we describe the scene through the use of our cast’s bodies, so the gruesome scenes are relayed.”

• For the full details of each of these productions’ stagings at the NAF visit