(From left) Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi; Stefan Erasmus and Luke Brown in Undermined


DIRECTOR: Tara Notcutt

CAST: Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, Luke Brown, Stefan Erasmus

VENUE: Kalk Bay Theatre

UNTIL: May 3

RATING: 3 stars (out of 5)

Theresa Smith

SHORT and not overly sweet, Undermined is a welcome bout of old-fashioned storytelling. Using physical performance as much as the dialogue to further the story, it moves along at a crackling pace and the three actors are in constant motion.

There are no props on the stage, with the actors occasionally acting as objects for each other – like creating a hut’s roof or using their headlamps (okay, they do have one prop each) to create the effect of a bus on a long road.

There is dancing and singing, but it is the story of Madlebe that keeps your attention. He is a Mozambican who comes to Joburg to make money to provide for his family. He ends up working in a mine, where his unusually good hearing is initially useful, but draws some unwanted attention. Divided into chapters, each named to give you a sense of what is to come, the story is the focus.

Each of the actors plays the main character for a third of the play, tackling various other characters the rest of the time and they mesh together really well. They are extremely focused because the timing has to be just so, especially with the dancing.

The singing and dancing make sense within the context of the story – like Madlebe slaying a leopard could conceivably lead to a party back home in the village – but it just goes on two choruses too long each time.

Co-written by performers Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi and Luke Brown, the play is all about the narrative, but director Tara Notcutt’s stamp is all over it.

This feels like the next chapter of Mafeking Road, which evinced a similar feel. This one just being the modern tale as opposed to the other play’s older source material.

Where Mafeking Road was madcap adventure seguing into steampunk territory, this one is more grounded in today’s reality, though on fast-forward and with choreographed dancing.

There is a slightly overblown comic book sense to the story which gives it a delicious sense of fun, because just taken on the narrative alone it is actually a tad sad and uncomfortable – the story of this guy who comes to South Africa looking for a way to make money, who doesn’t exactly find the most welcoming of cities.

It is a cute story which is told directly to the audience, inviting you into Madlebe’s world and eventually reminding you that making money is a means to an end, not necessarily the sole purpose of life.