Part of the all-star female cast who will tell the stories of the children in Viljoenskroon in the James Ngcobo-directed Children’s Monologues at the Market Theatre. Picture: Brett Rubin Photography
The stories of the children in Viljoenskroon, outside Parys in the Free State will once again take centre stage tonight when the Children’s Monologues take audiences on a journey at the Market Theatre.

Under the direction of the Market’s Artistic Director James Ngcobo, an all-star, female cast will take on these stories in the form of monologues, in order to raise funds for theatre charity organisation, Dramatic Need.

While Ngcobo and his charges dazzle audiences in South Africa, in the US, Danny Boyle will direct another all-star cast at Carnegie Hall, in New York City. The US cast also features two South Africans, Trevor Noah and Charlize Theron.

The South African cast is made up of Chi Mhende, Thembisa Mdoda, Zola Nombona, Thuso Mbedu, Cindy Swanepoel, Fiona Ramsay, Lesedi Job, Khanyisile Ngwabe, Napo Masheane, Lerato Gwebu, Natasha Sutherland, Esmeralda Bihl and Lulu Mlangeni; bring their talents to a unique production as a gift of unconditional kindness to raise an awareness about the challenges facing children living through poverty and conflict.

Speaking to Tonight, Ngcobo said the children were participants in the Dramatic Need’s programme that aimed to bring the theatre to their small town. It was in one of these programmes that the children ended up telling these intimate stories of hope, laughter and pain, stories of their own lives, to volunteers at the centre.

“The kids were around the centre and they spent a lot of time with the guys from the UK, Danny Boyle and Amber Sainsbury. What came out of those sessions were testimonies - children started telling stories about their own lives.”

“One will be, my father is such an amazing father since my mother passed away he looks after me, irons my clothes the other will be a child telling a story about how her favourite uncle raped her when she was 13.

“It is a tapestry of life, in this little hamlet, little township and talks to the experiences of young people in contemporary South Africa,” Ngcobo explained.

The all-star female cast who will tell the stories of the children in Viljoenskroon in the James Ngcobo-directed Children’s Monologues at the Market Theatre. Picture: Brett Rubin Photography

“There is something quite cathartic about how these kids were able to trust someone and tell them these stories. There are kids who told these stories to these people, that they haven’t even found a way to tell to their own families,” he added.

The stories were then sent off to world renowned playwrights, each one given a testimony to turn into a monologue. To maintain the authenticity of the testimonies, the playwrights skyped with the children frequently.

Editing and reworking were done in ways that Ngcobo explained were respectful to the original story. Playwrights include Sir David Hare, Tom Stoppard, Lynn Nottage, Neil LaBute, also some South Africans like Napo Masheane ,Yael Farber, Amy Jephta and Bola Agbaje.

Proceeds will enhance programmes at Dramatic Need, which director Mfundi Vundla is patron of.

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The decision to stage the monologues through an all female cast was deliberate, because Ngcobo felt that this would allow the stories to come from the mouths of young people. It was also to shine a light on the oppression that women on the continent face, by allowing women to take the lead and demonstrate their talents.

While most of this cast has become known for their television work, Ngcobo explained that this would also allow the audience to see another side of them, as most of them were trained in the theatre.

He added that the importance of a production like this was to cement the role of the arts and the Market Theatre in society.

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“We must use what is happening in our country as our muse. It’s articulating a theatre that is socially conscious in continuum with the ethos of the Market Theatre,” Ngcobo said.

Nombona, who is known for her television work and her role of jailbird Monde in Lockdown on Mzansi Magic, is also a part of the cast. Nombona said the experience had been both challenging and an opportunity to grow in her craft, despite not getting paid for it.

“When I first read the monologue I have, I didn’t really connect much with it. It sounded a bit far from me until I met with James and read it and we spoke about it. So as soon as I had that direction, then I got excited about it,” she said.

The show will also feature music from a five-piece band and choreography by Lulu Mlangeni. They were cognisant of ensuring that the music, while not original, was fitting with the stories.

When asked why people should see the show Ngcobo said: “It’s a night of such warmth, a night of putting these unknown young people on a pedestal, to say this is from the lips of the young. Come to the Market and slices of life as you know them. A replica of the landscape you see every day.

“For a night, we are closing in on individuals that will never have a statue erected in their name,” he said.

Their stories, despite what they have been told, matter.

* Tickets for The Children’s Monologues are R200.