Kgolo, an acclaimed Setswana musical play, will be heading to the State Theatre for the next couple of weeks this month.
The story is that of a young man who is forced to follow tradition and it is inspired, according to the production's writer and director Martin Koboekae, by the richness of Setswana cultural fabric and, partially, the tradition of go tola pitsa, a Setswana ritual.
It is a fictional story inspired by true events and revolves around Oganne (Ontiretse Manyetsa), a rebellious young man who ignores calls to lead his clan, but instead settles with a coloured shebeen queen, Elsie (Gaoimelwe Mokgakala) in Vergenoeg, near Kimberley.
Meanwhile, back home, misfortune descends upon Oganne’s people and all manner of mishaps are blamed on him because he failed to take heed of his elders’ call.
His aunt is bedridden following a mysterious disease, the fields fail to yield any crops and the animals die, prompting his Uncle Sups (Gaolatlhe Mathenyane) to go and look for him. But upon arriving, his uncle is horrified to learn that Oganne is co-habiting with Elsie and that he entered the village's cemetery at noon – the ultimate cultural transgression.
Oganne is ordered to go home and undergo a proper cleansing ritual. Elsie is enraged, but Oganne leaves and goes home, where he rekindles his relationship with the village whore, Sengaparile (Luisa Ntaje) and gets beaten by one of her many lovers, Mokwepa (Segomotso Modise).
Chaos ensues as Elsie arrives unannounced and comes face to face with Sengaparile and Makukama (Madge Kola), the ever combative and estranged wife of Oganne’s uncle. Elsie is appalled to learn that Oganne and his cousins will do a ritual that requires skipping a pot (go tlola pitsa) while half naked.
The multi-award winning Koboekae, whose career spans over 20 years, said he was aware when initially creating Kgolo that he was going against theatre norms by producing work in Setswana. But it was the performance of the production at the Windybrow Theatre in 2010 and the reception it got, that bolstered his confidence.
“It is a significant step towards debunking the myth that shows presented in vernacular languages are a waste of time. Setswana is one of the first indigenous languages to acquire written form and, as such, deserves to occupy centre stage in all platforms, be it culture, literature, dance, music etc,” said Koboekae.
Kgolo features a cast of established actors and actresses, a decision which Koboekae said was vital in making the production a success.
“People who will come and give it life, but also in the commercial side; if your cast is experienced and are well known, that is where the balance between the artistic and the commercial must happen,” he said.
Koboekae added that some of the cast were not that experienced in the theatre and they were balanced out by the more experienced actors. Since the production is a musical, the balance of actors who can sing and dance, versus those with acting experience is managed delicately.
The story itself is set in the 1940s, so characters are dressed in era-specific clothing and their language matches the time, Koboekae said. The music and choreography is a mixture of Setswana, Basarwa and Khoisan cultures, with the dance being choreographed by Ntirelang Berman, a Botswana-based multi-award winning choreographer and composer.
The production was staged briefly last year, so there are some changes. However, for those who've seen it before, the changes are almost negligible. And for people who've never seen the show, they can expect a story of rich African culture, according to Koboekae.
* Kgolo is at the State Theatre from October 6 – October 29.