‘Sophiatown’ returns to The Market Theatre, where it was first staged 37 years ago

A scene from the stage production, Sophiatown. Picture: Supplied

A scene from the stage production, Sophiatown. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 20, 2024


The long-running stage production “Sophiatown” returns to The Market Theatre this month.

And while it is returning to the venue where it was first stage 37 years ago, the production comes with a few tweaks that elevate the classic.

Helmed by Aubrey Sekhabi, this time the play is accompanied by a live band.

In a recent chat with the director, Sekhabi said: “This will be our fourth, if not fifth, season with this production. It is so rich. I said, ‘Even if I took out all the songs in the production, it would still hold as a very strong drama’.”

Reflecting on the journey, he said that during the run so far, the tweaks were minimal.

“We changed one or two songs and gave it a bit of cadence,” he explained.

For those who have yet to witness the production, the story is set in the repressive ‘50s, where two “Drum” magazine journalists looking for a tenant advertise for one at Mamariti’s shebeen in Sophiatown.

Much to their astonishment, a white Jewish girl from Yeoville responds to the ad.

Defiant in the face of apartheid, so begins an interesting and harmonious journey, against the backdrop of the vibrant and colourful atmosphere of the area and the shebeen.

A scene from the stage production, Sophiatown. Picture: Supplied

“Sophiatown” enjoyed a successful season at The South African State Theatre in Pretoria last year.

For The Market Theatre run, Sekhabi wanted to introduce new artists. “I thought maybe this time, we turn it into a musical but it still has a lot of drama in it. We secured a live band. In terms of the written word, we have not changed, added or adapted it. We stuck to the words. I think it was important for me to preserve it as such.”

The cast includes Terence Ngwila (as Mingus), Sindisile Nkuna (as Mamariti), Gaby Georgeson (as Ruth), Mncedisi Hadebe (as Charlie), Tshallo Chokwe (as Fahfee), Princess Sechele (as Princess), Zimi Mphefu (as Lulu), Sechaba Ramphele (as Jakes), and Sandisile Dlangalala (as the understudy to Jakes). Philisiwe Ntintili assists Sekhabi in the director’s seat.

Khutso Nkwana, Thebe Mmushi, M’Kaddesh Magadagela, Surprise Mshwana and Oupa Makhubela are the band members.

Despite the years passing, the play still resonates with the audience of today, Sekhabi said. “I think the work is classic. It is a proper drama. You still find shebeens today, even though it is called taverns. You still find that old journalist, where conversation happens. It is a meeting place for comrades. That is very relatable.

“Today, the question of land is a big issue. When you look back at people forcibly removed from their places. The whole question of land is still there.

“The whole question of gangsterism is still so rife in our communities.”

A scene from the stage production, Sophiatown. Picture: Supplied

Greg Homann, artistic director of The Market Theatre, said: “It is wonderful to be able to offer our audience this beautifully crafted version of ‘Sophiatown’ at The Market Theatre.

“When I first saw the production at The State Theatre with a full house of school learners one Friday afternoon, I was so enthralled with how that audience connected with the history, humour and overall impact that the work still has for us today.

“It's a privilege to be able to welcome ‘Sophiatown’ back to its home theatre, where it can be shared again with those that know and love it, and with those that are seeing the work for the very first time.”

Where: The John Kani Theatre at The Market Theatre.

When: From February 27 until March 24 at 7pm, 3pm and 11am, depending on the day.

Cost: Tickets range from R120 – R250 and can be booked via Webtickets. There are also reduced-price bookings for 10 or more and school groups.

Gibson Kente annual lecture

This enlightening lecture series provides a unique opportunity for attendees to gain profound insights into Gibson Kente’s artistic vision and the social context that inspired his work.

Participants will uncover the cultural tapestry weaved by this visionary playwright as they delve into the richness of his storytelling through thought-provoking discussions and retrospectives.

Dr Andile Xaba be leading the lecture. He will provide profound insights into Gibson Kente’s life, work and enduring influence on the cultural landscape.

Xaba is currently writing a book on the playwrights Gibson Kente, Matsemela Manaka and Maishe Maponya, looking at theatre-making in the 1980s and 1990s.

Where: Gibson Kente Theatre at the Soweto Theatre.

When: February 25 at 3pm.

Cost: Free entry but booking is essential due to limited capacity.

“For Coloured Girls”

It tells powerful stories narrated by women who have faced profound pain. The production introduces soul-stirring musical interludes, elevating the emotional depth of the narrative, with symbolic pertinence during Black History Month and South Africa's 30th year of democracy.

This highly anticipated performance promises a captivating exploration of the female experience that is sure to leave a lasting impact.

The stellar cast includes Mona Monyane, Refilwe Modiselle, Swankie Mafoko, Thuto Gaasenwe, Siphesihle Ndaba, Danica Jones, Boitumelo Lesejane and Sioban King.

Joburg City Theatre’s Artistic Director, James Ngcobo, is at the director’s helm with Mandla Mkaba wearing the hat of musical director and Lulu Mlangeni as the choreographer.

Where: Mandela Theatre at Joburg Theatre.

When: Currently on until March 3, at different times, so check on their website.

Cost: Tickets cost between R150 to R250 and be purchased through Webtickets.