The production which is showing at the State Theatre, is a 90-minute celebration of Basotho traditions, praise poetry and music that one would find in girls’ initiation.
The production’s writer and director, Lebo Thope Leisa, said that while she had taken some artistic liberties with Paleho, the base of the story was the commemoration of these traditions.
Paleho is the story of an 18-year-old young woman who is on a quest for self-identity. Through a traditional-cultural passage to womanhood, she is not only given a chance to understand who she is, but where she comes from.
The production aims to draw audiences into the world of sacred drama, music, language and the beauty of the rituals.
One of the opening scenes is young women, bare-breasted but painted in a white powdery substance, doing a mixture of traditional dance and singing. The atmosphere in the theatre was charged, the songs seemingly cultivating some level of spirituality or spiritual awareness.
The cast is all female and they seem to trust and take comfort in one another. They feed off of each other in the dialogue, especially Mmanoko (Nthabiseng Mojaki), the initiation school mentor and the five initiates.
The production makes use of sound effects and light techniques to give an aura of authenticity to specific scenes, especially those with lightning. Ngaka, played by Nontsikelelo Ndzume, exudes the confidence and strictness of a traditional healer and spiritual guide, while Paleho (Mannini Nkata), locks down the portrayal of a troubled young woman.
The language is Sesotho, which includes the figures of speech, metaphors and idioms that make the language dazzle. It sounds poetic.
The production addresses many themes, all which have relevance in most communities today, including violence against women and children, incest, the importance of knowing your roots and the impact that has on personal identity, and the importance of family.
It explores initiation rites without being too obtrusive - something that was addressed possibly by the added dramatic effects in the writing process.
The set and the visual illusions used by the cast are impressive and enhance the storytelling. The only underside to the production is that some scenes went on for a bit too long and some characters tended to overact in some parts.
There were some shock effects, such as when Paleho - after hearing her family’s deep dark secret and having her world shattered before her eyes - has an accident: urinary incontinence. Whether that was real urine or a stage effect remains to be seen.
The cast is barefoot for most of the performance, so when one of the other characters accidentally stepped into the “pee” it was a cringe-worthy moment for most of the audience.
While Paleho has its quirks and defects, this does not take away from the fact that it is an enjoyable yet informative look into Sesotho culture.
Paleho is on at the State Theatre until Sunday, November 5.