The Black Hermit

Written by: Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Adapted by: Nokuthula Mashaba

Director: Diamond Mokoape

Cast: Molefi Monaisa, Sello Zikalala, Madge Ntamo, Segomotso Modise, Sanku Patrick Bokaba, Tshepo Seagiso, Boitumelo Matlape, Thulani Ramogototwane, Thandokazi Msumba, Cindy Dlamini, Tshepiso Mabebo, Michelle Victor and Patricia Chokwe.

Venue; State Theatre Arena

Until: May 27

Rating: ***

THE importance of showcasing a production such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s The Black Hermit is in exposing audiences (especially younger ones) to African literature and plays. There’s much to absorb from the Bessie Heads and Wole Soyinkas of this world and they all form part of the African cultural heritage.

This play also shows how steadfast the State Theatre is in its mission to develop, and the theatre has identified something in young director Diamond Mokoape.

This is the second play she is doing for the theatre, having tackled This Is For Keeps by Vanessa Cooke, Janice Honeyman and Danny Keogh impressively last year. She has a sensibility, which, nurtured the way the State Theatre is doing, could see her doing well in the future.

Princess Mhlongo, the current Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre, was spotted and nurtured in this way by the State Theatre and this is one way to pick up young talent and to recognise future voices.

With The Black Hermit, Ngugi brings forth post-colonial societal issues, with a juxtaposition of religion and tradition and politics from tribal and urban perspectives. He also questions the idea of freedom and ponders whether we’re still living in mental and social bondage. He digs into his thought of decolonising the mind and this is something to which SA is not immune.

The story follows Bakang/Remi, the first of his tribe to go to university, who leaves the village for the city and does not return home. His mother, his customary wife, the community elders and his pastor are worried and “convince” him to come home to lead his people.

The appeal of this rendition of the play lies in its adaptation which, instead of its Kenyan origins, magnifies the Tswana culture. Delivered in English and Tswana, it highlights the need for more plays in indigenous languages. The nostalgia and the audience’s connection to it prove this.

The ensemble cast boasts good character work especially from Sello Zikalala, Molefi Monaisa, Madge Ntamo, Segomotso Modise and Thulani Ramogototwane.

The content of the play is strong. It’s the look of it (especially the set) that could be worked on to elevate it to the grand production it could be.