One Night In Miami Not Explosive Enough In Text But Play Delivers in Exposition

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David Johnson in Nadya Cohen’s world in A Night in Miami.

Pictures: Iris Dawn Parker

DIANE DE BEER

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI

PLAYWRIGHT: Kemp Powers

DIRECTOR: James Ngcobo

CHOREOGRAPHER: Gregory Maqoma

VOICE COACH: Iris Dawn Parker

LIGHTING DESIGN: Wesley France

SET DESIGN: Nadya Cohen

COSTUME DESIGN: Nthabiseng Makone

CAST: David Johnson (Malcolm X), Richard Lukunku (Jim Brown), Lemogang Tsipa (Cassius Clay), Seneliso (Sne) Dladla (Sam Cooke), Nyaniso Dzedze, Sipho Zakwe

VENUE: John Kani at The Market Theatre

DATES: Until February 25

SPONSORED: American Embassy in SA

 

This one is much more about the people on stage than the script. It’s how they bring everything to life, the way the play has been staged and the opportunity for this young cast to test their skills and grow wings – which they will do.

The premise is that four iconic African American men, namely Malcolm X, Cassius Clay (soon to become Muhammad Ali), Sam Cooke and Jim Brown, meet in a hotel room just after Clay had won the heavyweight boxing crown from Sonny Lister.

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Malcolm X (Johnson), Sam Cooke (Dladla) and Jim Brown (Lukunku) in conversation.

Already famous to the outside world, these four friends feel safe in the privacy of the room as they take the gloves off to have some heated conversations. And all of that, who they are and their conversations, is what the playwright imagined would have played out – and more potently, would still be playing out today. That’s the nub of it.

With the two countries having such similar racial track records still today, it has always made sense that especially the race-driven stories play so poignantly here. There’s very little explanation necessary and perhaps that’s the problem with One Night in Miami. It’s just too familiar with very little new, unfolding. It’s almost too predictable, as you know where the conversations are going and how it will develop.

What would have been more exciting in these circumstances and what the director alludes to with the visuals, is the kneeling by NFL players during the American anthem. It’s a play that is screaming to go somewhere explosive. We’re talking of events that took place in 1964, half a century ago for goodness’ sake – and for these men living in the world today, not much has changed. They are still fighting for their lives in many circumstances – daily. Think of the current court case where two white men are charged with forcing a black man into a coffin. Or in the US, #BlackLivesMatter. Really, that still needs saying in 2018?

We’re living in a mad and chaotic world where what is flying around us has overtaken most of what we could possibly imagine – and that makes it tough for works of fiction – (and perhaps why something like Inxeba – The Wound has had such impact. While watching it, it is as if your skin has been turned inside out because of the emotions swirling about.). That’s what the play needs – to make your flesh crawl. The topic in 2018 and the fact that we’re still talking race, demands that.

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Cassius Clay (Lemogang Tsipa) and Malcolm X (David Johnson) in prayer.

But the familiarity of the play aside, what isn’t familiar is the cast, who sets this one alight. It’s a young ensemble with weight, given a chance to test and grow their abilities (especially on stage) and they will. From Johnson, perhaps the more experienced on-stage actor as a quiet yet determined Malcolm X who is dealing with his own demons, and the silky-voiced Dladla as soul singer Sam Cooke who is struggling to make a particular impact on his people, to Lukunku as the imposing Jim Brown who is fighting his own battles for a future when his sporting career comes to an end and Tsipa as the naive and excitable Clay on the eve of change and massive celebrity, they are an imposing bunch – both the characters and the actors who bring them to life.

Add the two sidekicks (Dzedze and Zakwe), playing characters that ostensibly guard the four chums while they chat. Dzedze informs us of what’s to come from the Nation of Islam; and his naïve underling (Zakwe), an excitable and enthusiastic disciple in the making.

It’s all about undertones – where they find themselves at and how to manage their lives, the little they have control over. There’s much jousting, as there would be between vibrant young men, but it takes a while to get to the heart of what Kemp wants to focus on. Because what he’s dealing with is out there, he could have jumped right in rather than crawl. It takes concentration to stay with the conversation.

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Crooner Sam Cooke (Sne Dladla)

But the music alone, magically rendered by Dladla, the performances with heart and an inspired yet subtle staging, all contribute to a play that might not be explosive in text but delivers in exposition.

It could, though, have been so much more.

One Night in Miami Captures Iconic Moments With Vibrant Young Cast

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Sne Dladla, Sipho Zakwe, Richard Lukunku, Lemogang Tsipa, Nyaniso Dzedze and David Johnson.

Pictures: Iris Dawn Parker

February is Black History Month in the US, Canada and the UK for the remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. One Night In Miami by Kemp Powers, directed by artistic director James Ngcobo, is The Market’s way of honouring this observance. The play is based on the fictional retelling of a night shared by four iconic men including Cassius Clay on the verge of converting to Islam and becoming Muhammad Ali; Malcolm X who was at odds with the Nation of Islam; soul singer Sam Cooke; and famous footballer Jim Brown. DIANE DE BEER speaks to the director about his choice:

 

It’s what the play represents and speaks about and addresses that so excited James Ngcobo. “The meeting is in what has become the iconic Hampton House Motel on February 25 1964. Cassius has just beat Sonny Liston to become the new and youngest world heavyweight champion. In the room are four hugely successful men but in their own country and with all their success, they’re still negroes.  It’s a time of madness,” he says.

And from where he is looking now, not much has changed. The similarities between the US and here are obvious he believes and that’s why for example a musical like The Color Purple slots so easily into this timeframe.

Selecting this play while honouring Black History Month is obvious to him. “It’s a new play, was performed in London to great acclaim last year and is a first for the continent. The playwright will be attending a performance during the run,” he says quite nervously about that expectation. For him as a director, it’s also about growth. He talks about a basket of diversity which is what his programming is all about. “We can’t just be one voice.”

What he loves about the play, which is based on a real meeting at the time but is a fictional account of what happened, is that you have four famous black men who would have felt safe in this private space allowing them to speak freely.  They love each other and thus spoke frankly, starting out quite jovially yet becoming more confrontational as the night wore on.

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David Johnson (Malcolm X), Richard Lukunku (Jim Brown) and Sne Dladla (Sam Cooke).

There are quite a few tensions in the room between these friends because of the four, Sam Cooke was the one they all believed had a crossover voice – because of the music. “He is the one who would have been heard by everyone,” explains Ngcobo. But he was singing gospel and soul, and according to Malcolm X, not using his power to progress his people. Clay, on the other hand, was having his own struggle and the feelings in the room about especially the Muslim faith, were also bumping against one another.

Ngcobo also talks about the playwright’s ability to play with the celebrity status but also the concerns of the civil rights movement at the time in which this is set and how these famous men were being pulled this way and that – not always in their own interest but because of their popularity pulling power.

These are four men sitting with their own dreams – on the cusp of something we know about but they still have to live through. It’s intriguing stuff and with a powerful cast of young actors, all of them drama graduates, who have been put on this one stage.

In the course of rehearsals, Ngcobo brought in different specialists – Iris Dawn Parker and Dorothy Ann Gould for example – to help with the American accents as well as Gregory Maqoma to choreograph the fights as well as guide them with their movement. “I have never believed that a director can work in isolation,” he says as he  points to long-time collaborators Nadya Cohen (design) and Wesley France (lighting).

What he wishes for the Market Theatre it is that it should be the destination of storytelling. “It’s never been about black or white or particular constituencies. I curate with my patron’s eyes. Some they will love and others not and that’s how it should be. We can’t please everyone and do everything.”

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Sne Dladla as Sam Cooke.

“I’m so excited about this new generation of leading men,” he says about the young actors he is working with for this one. From David Johnson (perhaps best known for his role in local soapie 7de Laan) to Sne Dladla (most recently seen as Pop in King Kong), Sipho Zakwe (who wrote and starred in Isithunzi), Richard Lukunku (popular TV and film actor) and Lemogang Tsipa (starred in Craig Freimond’s Beyond the River), these are all young men building their careers and eager to be on stage.

“It’s great to be in the room with such dedication and determination,” says their director. “I know they will honour the work every night and that’s what I’m looking for. The Market is one of the stops in their acting journey and that’s as it should be.”

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Nyaniso Dzedze as a Nation of Islam disciple.

Part of his mission is to mentor young people as well as doing work which allows them to test new skills and sharpen others.

The Market Theatre Foundation’s Sophie Mgcina Emerging Voice Award is barely five years old and already all its winners are making their mark as they continue to celebrate the indomitable spirit of the late artist, teacher and cultural activist, Sophie Mgcina.

The inaugural winner in 2014, Lulu Mlangeni has just performed in her new production Confined at the Market Theatre. Khayelihle Dominique Gumede, winner in 2015 is currently working in Cape Town as co-director with Neil Coppen in his first opera, Tsotsi, based on Athol Fugard’s work of the same title. Tsotsi which plays at Artscape from February 8 to 17 and will move to the Soweto Theatre at a future date.

The 2016 winner Thandazile Sonia Radebe, is also part of creative team of Tsotsi as the choreographer.

The latest winner, Lesedi Job who made her directorial debut with Mike van Graan’s When Swallows Cry at the Market Theatre in 2017, is currently reviving a new production of the work at the Baxter Theatre and will be directing at the Market Theatre soon.

 

  • One Night in Miami runs at The Market’s John Kani Theatre until February 25.

 

 

Some of James Ngcobo’s basket of diversity at The Market this coming year:

  • Winner of the 2017 Zwakala Theatre Festival and the 2017 Standard Bank Fringe Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival, the political thriller Dikapapa shines the spotlight on a struggle stalwart who becomes a traitor but is hailed as a hero in a democracy. Dikakapa is co–written by Teboho Serapelo, Isaac Sithole and Lebeko Nketu mentored by Kgafela oa Magogodi starring Karabelo Khaalo, Kholisile Dlamini, Mdengase Govuzela, Mduduzi Mdabuli, Mojabeng Rasenyalo and Thembi Qobo.  (February 9 to 25).
  • Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking with Dorothy Ann Gould directed by Matthew Graham Wilson. (March 9 to April 1). Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. So begins American writer Joan Didion’s memoir. *
  • Lesedi Job directs Meet Me at Dawn by Zinnie Harris starring Pamela Nomvete and Natasha Sutherland. It is a modern fable that explores the triumph of everyday love, the mystery of grief, and the temptation to become lost in a fantasy future  in March.
  • The Gibson Kente Musical  13 – 29 April 2018 ( the one that was staged at the Soweto Theatre) honours the father of  township theatre, who will be remembered in song and dance by a remarkable cast under the direction of Makhaola Ndebele.
  • Athol Fugard’s Train Driver which has never been staged at The Market starring John Kani and Albert Pretorius from May 16 to 31. Kani has also written a new play with Michael Richard which will be staged with the two of them later this year.*
  • A return of Nongogo directed by James Ngcobo five years ago is restaged from June 15 to July 15.*
  • The acclaimed Die Reuk van die Appels based on the Mark Behr award-winning book, starring Gideon Lombard, directed by Lara Bye will run from June 13 to 24.*
  • Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love will have a female director and will run from July 8 to 29. (There’s a sudden interest in this late US playwright’s work with Sylvaine Strike directing Curse of the Starving Class for this year’s Woordfees which will hopefully travel to Joburg for a later run.)

 

 

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The Colour Purple is Bold, Black and Beautiful

Pictures: @enroCpics

 

DIANE DE BEER

 

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Shug Avery (Lerato Mvelase) leads the pack in The Color Purple

 

 

THE COLOR PURPLE

DIRECTOR: Janice Honeyman

CAST: Didintle Khunou (Celie), Lerato Mvelase (Shug Avery), Aubrey Poo (Mister), Neo Motaung (Sofia), Sebe Leotlela (Nettie), Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri (Harpo) and the rest of the 20-strong ensemble

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Bernard Jay

PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Sarah Roberts

RESIDENT DIRECTOR: Timothy LeRoux

LIGHTING DESIGNER: Mannie Mannim

SOUND DESIGNER: Richard Smith

MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Rowan Bakker (and part of an orchestra of 8)

CHORO0EGRAPHER: Oscar Buthelezi

VENUE: Nelson Mandela at the Joburg Theatre

DATES: Until March 4

 

It’s always a gamble these huge musical productions but following Dream Girls and King Kong specifically, we have built up enough of a track record to understand that we can pull it off.

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Didintle Khunou as the indomitable Celie in The Color Purple.

And as this one proves incontrovertibly, we easily have the depth of performance talent. This is BIG music, but what that means is that it gives a musical veteran like Aubrey Poo an opportunity to sing a number like Celie’s Curse as he has never sung before – and he has had many amazing moments on stage in the past, but here he lets rip with an emotional heft that is completely in sync with the character. On the other side of the spectrum, it gives a solo newcomer like Didintle Khunou the chance to shine as she takes Celie and gives the character life. Both make these moments majestically their own – again and again.

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Aubrey Poo as Mister opting for change in Celie’s Curse.

As a musical, it is the perfect storm for right now. Based on the acclaimed Alice Walker story, the reach is wide and covers a multitude of sins, including substance, gender and domestic abuse so dominant in our current world which is what makes this such a relevant piece.

In our country with so much strife, a celebration of especially black talent in a world where the stories are still told from a predominantly white point of view is important and poignant, hence the magical reaction and participation of the audience. There was no doubt about their appreciation of what they were encountering on stage.

And rightly so. For audiences, this is a musical to get stuck into. It’s not about pretty songs and lively dancing. It’s grappling with intense emotions while telling a story of a young girl who after being raped by her father resulting in two pregnancies, is given to a brutal man who treats her in similar fashion. She’s his to look after and he can do with her as he wishes. She has absolutely no say in the matter.

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Didintle Khunou as Celie (front) with Lerato Mvelase as Shug Avery.

Anyone who could bring some light into her days is banished, like her sister Nettie, with Mister (her husband) making sure she never hears from her again. It’s a miserable life still experienced by so many voiceless in this world.

While abuse tops the list, many other issues are dealt with, including refugees – a problem of our time, but as this one shows, nothing new. But even in the worst of times, redemption is a possibility and that is what gives this musical its power. People can step up and change and others can embrace the moment in all its authenticity. It’s a musical with quite a few teary moments – which is not the norm with these kinds of spectacles.

Speaking to some of the soloists beforehand, all of them commented on the music and how tough these songs are to sing. But they have stepped up and inhabited the music – all of them, soloists and ensembles included.

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From the chorus of three women (Lelo Ramasimong, Dolly Louw, Ayanda Sibisi) who throughout comment sharply on what is on their mind, to Khunou as the earnest Celie and Mvelase as the flamboyant Shug Avery, the show-stopping Any Little Thing by Sofia (Motaung) and Harpo (Mahaka-Phiri), which brings much needed light relief, while Leotlela taps into her emotions as Nettie when she tells her sister about her children, it’s musical heaven.

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Harpo (Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri) and Sofia (Neo Motaung) performing the glorious Any Little Thing.

With a stunning set design, which is uncluttered and allows the lighting to tell magnificent tales, to the choreography that pushes boundaries, underpinned by the Honeyman staging which pulls the story together – which is no easy task – this is a sublime coming together of all the elements.

It is a musical where you have to engage, you have to listen to the lyrics and allow the performers to take over with their emotions in full flow. It’s high notes and low in both song and understanding, it’s detailed with heaps of humanity first trampled on and then celebrated.

And in the South African context, it’s about time. We have so many stories to tell and with our diversity at the forefront, it should cover the full spectrum and allow everyone to shine as they do on that stage.

It’s truly glorious to experience how we take a universal story and make it our own.

Halleluja!

Survivor’s Story of Fight Against the Islamic State and Hope to be The Last Girl

Diane de Beer

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and my Fight Against The Islamic State by Nadia Murad and Jenna Krajeski (foreword by Amal Clooney) (Virago):

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We read the headlines and we see the awful images, especially those horrific beheadings but then a mudslide, another refugee crisis, drownings in the Mediterranean Sea or a Trump tweet swamp the news cycle and the ISIS terror falls through the cracks.

They were topping all the news broadcasts at a specific time but only in very specific instances. We knew much more of those leaving their own safe homes in the UK and Europe to join the Islamic fighters in their endeavours to establish a caliphate than about the people in the devastated countries like Syria and Iraq.

But it is these little lives – those we don’t read about, those who lose everything and have never had a voice – who have to live the everyday horror on the ground of what it means to become part of the statistics of these terror groups that have only their ideology (power and money) to dictate their actions.

Humanity isn’t part of what they believe which is a scary thing when you are at their mercy.

This is the story of one of the voiceless women snatched from everything she ever knew to be a sex slave for men who had all might on their side and believed they had the go-ahead of the Koran to do their worst. Nothing could stop them.

Nadia Murad was born and raised in Kocho, a small village of farmers and shepherds in northern Iraq. She is a member of the Yazidi community and with her brothers and sisters lived a quiet and quite isolated life.

On August 15, 2014 when she was just 21 years old, life as she knew and loved it, ended abruptly. Even though the village had been waiting for the Islamic State militants who were on the march in the region, no one could have predicted what was about to happen to this community.

Already regarded as a fringe of a fringe community in the wider Iraq, they believed their Arab and Iraqi neighbouring villagers would step in and come to their aid. But they were left on their own without any chance of survival. Nothing could have prepared Nadia for the devastation and emotional upheaval of her life.

Scenes of the holocaust and people being pulled from one another without any warning, or simply shot if there was any resistance, play out in your imagination as you follow this story of a young girl who had hardly ever set foot outside her village.

Once the rape begins, it isn’t only the horror of that brutality that is overwhelming but also her belief and being told that her family would reject her because she is no longer a virgin and it won’t help for any of them to escape. In the end they would be killed by friend or foe.

Survival is part of our genes and this is also how it plays out here in even the direst circumstances. Nadia never stops fighting for her life. She knows even with her family decimated, that she wants to go on, fight the good fight and tell the world what is happening to the tiny Yazidi community that is in the last spasms before being obliterated.

The frightening thing about Nadia’s story is that it is happening today in a time where no one goes unseen. But there’s so much going on, countries devastated, people wiped out by other people or natural disasters, that we can hardly keep up. So even if the means are available, the audience is overwhelmed.

Think of Rwanda. Nadia herself makes that comparison, saying that never in her life would she have thought her horrors would be compared to that of Rwandan women. It is like a cycle repeating itself over and over again and the picture is of course far bigger than this one small corner of Iraq where ISIS has now been removed to go and battle and sow chaos somewhere else.

But Nadia has done this the way that works best. She wanted to tell her story, to bring justice to her world, not to allow the Islamic State militants to further their reign of terror and to make people pay attention – one story at a time.

It must come to that or it simply becomes a mass of horror. It’s like the body of the small boy that washed ashore that stopped everyone in their tracks – for a moment at least.

Learning about the Yazidi people, listening to Nadia explain how fractured Iraq is since the fall of Saddam, understanding when she notes how ISIS occupied the roads in these outlying regions which meant that they controlled all the movement. There was no other way in or out.

This is a story not only of the atrocities but also of a country that has splintered into tiny pieces with everyone fighting and mistrusting each other and even the larger groups we are aware of, consisting of infighting, splinter collectives.

It’s madness and in amongst this, real lives are battered and destroyed. Nadia has become an activist and a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations but every time she tells her story – and that is often what she does – she relives the horror of every rape and the loss of every member of her family and friends.

She also remembers how they searched the horizon for help, how they hoped above all that their neighbours would be there for them. It’s an anger and a mistrust that is difficult to curb to the point where she couldn’t speak Kurdish once she managed to escape even when it meant it could save her life.

That’s what happens in these circumstances when the world turns its back.

“More than anything else,” concludes Nadia in this astonishing book, “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.”

Hence the title and the reason you should take the time and read her story.

This is our world – sadly.

The Color Purple – a Musical of our Time

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Africa Scene ensemble

Pictures: enroCpics (Corné Du Plessis)

The Color Purple; The Musical opens at the Joburg Theatre this week. Director Janice Honeyman and three of the soloists speak to DIANE DE BEER about the challenges of both the singing and storytelling in what has become an iconic production which many have attempted to stage locally – but this is the first time and arguably, the right time:

 

“Begeisterd” is what Janice Honeyman felt when she first saw The Color Purple.

Based on the classic cult novel by Alice Walker, she feels strongly that it speaks accurately about the black experience and reflects the influences so evocatively with the build-up and then final release of Celie. The young African American girl is the focus of this provocative story which deals with hardship and anguish yet finally joy, with abuse focussed on in the harshest light. It couldn’t reflect our times more aptly.

But, notes the experienced director, as a production, the storytelling leaves no room for manoeuvre. And that is what she loves best. The story is what propels the musical forward and that’s what she is intent on honouring in this production which has finally made it to local shores.

It’s about the top dog, people in power, feeling entitled to abuse those without voice. It’s a huge story that goes beyond gender and race and it’s a story of our time – as it has been through the ages. “It’s a story of the heart that has nothing to do with separatism,” she concludes as she gives a thumbs up to her talented cast – which she always is so good at putting up and then pulling together.

For all three the soloists, the joy and the challenges of this show go hand in hand.

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Shug Avery (left) and Celie (right)

In the pain of the story of The Color Purple, there’s joy, says Lerato Mvelase who plays Avery Shug, the jazz singer, who becomes Celie’s (Didintle Khunou) friend and support.

When retelling this story of violence and abuse written in 1982 and filmed by Steven Spielberg in 1985, it shines a light on the  friendship and support of the women that drive the story strongly. Could it be staged at a better time? It’s now when women all over the world are reaching out to one another to break cycles of abuse that seemed never-ending looking back.

Bringing it closer to home, wi.th our high incidence of violence and abuse against women, this coming together of the women in The Color Purple tells a story many can relate to.

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Lerato Mvelase as Shug Avery (centre) with ensemble

But, says Mvelase, who we last saw as Petal in the glorious King Kong, it’s the music that has her excited and energised. “I thought I knew it all,” she explains. “I am personally challenged not only by the people in the room, the magnificent voices, but also by the music. I am singing notes I thought were impossible,” she says about her newly-discovered range.

“It’s humbling to work on your craft in a story that is still of this time.”

“It will help us all to heal, reflect and take something away to think about,” she adds. She thinks there are many things confronted in this story that we turn away from. “It’s an extremely emotional show that underlines that no matter what we go through, there’s always laughter.”

Questions arise from the show including those so part of the zeitgeist. “What has been done to our women? But also, what have men endured to become who they are,” she continues.

Her character, Shug Avery, is the one who best embodies these dilemmas. “She has been rejected by her own people but through her liberation, the other women are given the key. They don’t know how,” says Mvelase, “but once Shug has their attention, men and women start relating to one another.”

Attention is what the auditions brought a young Didintle Khunou who plays Celie in her first solo role in this big a production. But she’s not flustered and obviously up for the challenge. As a Wits drama graduate, she has maintained her singing lessons because she knows growing as an artist is a process and she wanted to work on her craft in all areas.

She’s excited about participating in this story of oppression and liberation which her Celie so embodies. And she loves the fact that in this time of strength for women, it is a musical and a story that shows exactly that. “That’s where the focus lies.”

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Mister (Aubrey Poo)and Celie, plus ensemble

Celie was raped and abused from the age of 14 – first by her daddy and then her husband who her father sold her to, called simply Mister.

In response to playing this aggressive, abusive character in these times of sensitivity, Aubrey Poo had to dig deep to find the source of this man’s hatred and harshness towards others. But with Mister coming from a place of slavery (and simply understanding how African American men are still treated in their own country), gave him understanding and a place to work from. It takes time for those things to change says Poo and this is how he crafted his character.

Like his two fellow artists, he is hugely excited about the score. “It’s a tough one though. It’s beautiful music but a challenge to sing. It’s quite high for my voice but very cleverly written,” he believes.

It’s interesting that after so many years (arguably decades), it is now that The Color Purple will finally be staged locally. It wasn’t planned this way, but that’s why certain stories are classics, as they stand the test of time – and can usually slot into a specific period. But, it could hardly be more appropriate than right now.

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Shug Avery (pink pants) and Harpo (Yamikani ). Celie is at the sewing machine. with the female ensemble in dance

 

And while the story is set in the US, the two countries share so many similarities in their dire record of race relations that this story plays out with authenticity.

But locally, the excitement of The Color Purple is also the cast. Many of these performers have been given their first big chance and just listening to some of the big sounds, it’s no great risk to predict that they are going to rock their audience.

And if by any chance you think the topic is too much to handle in a musical, think Sarafina. It doesn’t get much heavier than that.

  • Tickets are available now: phone 0861 670 670, go online at joburgtheatre.com or book in person at the Joburg Theatre box office.  Theatre patrons can also pay at selected Pick N Pay stores. Show runs at the Joburg Theatre on the Mandela Stage until March 4.

 

 

 

Tshwane Foodie Adventures Plentiful in The Village Where the Mood is Mellow

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Platter of dimsum at Cowfish

DIANE DE BEER

Tshwane has become quite the foodie town in the new millennium and its playing power is diversity. There’s not much you’re not going to find in the capital city when talking cuisine.

The latest stomping ground, for the past two years at least but still growing and evolving, is an area called The Village in Hazelwood. There are many favourites starting with the Italian granddaddy, Alfie’s Italian Café in Hazelwood Road as well as its offshoot just around the corner, Alfie’s Pizzeria and Deli in 16th street.

On either side, there’s Salt that offers modern deli fare and Culture Club – Bar de Tapas that does a mean and very generous tapas menu as well as one of the popular Burger Bistros (the original is in Pierneef Street, Villieria).

The feel of The Village is modern, it’s young without being exclusionary, the prices are competitive, and the service is attentive overall. Parking is available and the mood is mellow especially on warm Pretoria nights.

The thing about The Village is the ambience. Starting in Hazelwood Road and turning into 16th Street, which is dedicated to different dining options, it represents smart pavement eating, which – with Pretoria’s fair weather – is simply the best.

In the past, because of some archaic laws, very few restaurants had an outside option, but it has become almost obligatory and suits this area to a T. The selection on all fronts is great, and you can pick something to suit your fetish for that day or night. Meals can be gargantuan or a light lunch, it’s all out there on a platter for you to sample.

Perhaps for the moment, it captures Pretoria’s strengths best. This is truly fine modern dining from hamburgers to pizzas to Portuguese balachau to Asian inspired cuisine, pasta and freshly baked breads and patisserie.

Two of the youngest kids on the block are the Portuguese flavoured Ozé Café & Bistro and Cowfish, which specialises in meat and fish.

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Ozé Café and Bistro
  • Ozé Café and Bistro, 24 16th Street, Hazelwood, Pretoria; Tel: 012 346 0150

If Portuguese is your preference, the menu is modern with a good smattering of both fish and meat. It was a fishy day for us and we opted for the sardine starter and one portion of prawns to share. They didn’t have either clams or the tentacles for the octopus salad but perhaps the festive season played havoc with availability.

The sardines, a special on the day, were extraordinary with a helping of boiled potatoes and veggies. Everything seemed very straightforward with quality ingredients doing the trick. It was the perfect choice, followed by a half-serving of the smaller portion (250g) of prawns, grilled to perfection as the menu said it would be, served with a salad. But there was a choice if you favoured chips for example.

All we needed to conclude the meal was something sweet, and again their donuts weren’t available but that wasn’t a train smash with a serving of pastéis de nata (two mini pastries per portion) not to be missed. It was one of the best I’ve had and a sweet conclusion to a lovely lunch.

Oze's pasteis de nata
Oze’s Pasteis de Nata

With a cocktail bar on the premises, their drinks menu is innovative and fun with a wine list that offers different by-the-glass options.

If meat is your food of choice, the delights are many with chourico, chicken livers, trinchado and buffalo wings on the starter menu and for mains, chicken or beef espetada or the usual steak options (300g) with a choice of either fresh cut chips, boiled potatoes, mixed vegetables, Pretoria’s ubiquitous creamed spinach, or Portuguese salad or rice.

I am also tempted by some of their sandwiches like the Portuguese bun layered with cured chourico and Terra Nostra cheese or the Portuguese French Toast (Rabanadas), buttermilk dipped, fresh cut strawberries, bacon, maple syrup and mascarpone cream. It sounds deliciously decadent.

Our bill with a tip was R400 which included two coffees (R40) as well as the drinks (wine R60, Bloody Mary, R40). That’s not a bad deal.

Cowfish interiors
Cowfish Interiors
  • Cowfish, 11 Hazelwood Road, Hazelwood, Pretoria; 074 111 8033

As the name suggests, Cowfish has a menu which represents a specific spectrum, with the accent on hamburgers, sushi, dim sum, signature plates and cocktails – arguably an odd mix and yet, it opens up a choice which in its quirkiness allows for a fun meal. It also encourages sharing, with, for example, a dim sum platter (R165) which was our first choice with the possibility of something else to follow.

We selected the 9-piece platter with three flavours of our choice which included beef, lamb potsticker, pork and shrimp, prawn and cream cheese, chicken, coriander and cashew nuts or chicken, ginger and spring onion or a dim sum classic, sui mai  (prawn, chicken and tobiko). For vegetarians, they have spinach, cream cheese and spring onion. It’s a broad selection and will take a few tries for you to find your favourites.

Prawn tempura at Cowfish
Prawn tempura at Cowfish

It was a great start to the meal, but we were ready for another small bite with the prawn tempura (three crispy prawns served with Teriyaki sauce, creamy spice and mayo, R110) a winner.

They were almost too pretty to eat and a smart accompaniment to the dim sum.

But we had only sampled a minor selection of a menu that is as intriguing as it is imaginative. Their signature plates, for example, include a tomahawk steak (ribeye on the bone – 600g – which offers great presentation and bulk), ribs (wok-grilled pork ribs served with a chilli soya barbeque basting), chicken Katsu (crispy fried chicken strips in Japanese breadcrumbs and plum sauce) and a Teriyaki salmon steak.

The hamburger menu is also enticing with a Kaizer cheese, Ravenous Pig and Belfast Boy all begging for closer inspection as do their salted prawns and squid salad or their Vietnamese calamari.

On the sweet side they have Kawasura rolls (spring rolls filled with strawberry, hazelnuts, dark and white chocolate served with ice cream), deep-fried ice cream or chocolate meltdown. They specialise in cocktails but also have a fair selection of wine and beer which is good to go with the hamburgers.

It’s a laid-back, easy vibe, the staff are friendly and attentive and with both these options, I’ll return for more foodie adventures.

 

The Anticipation of a New Drama Company through Collaboration with Market Lab and Windybrow Art Centre

If you don’t know anything g about the Market Theatre Laboratory in Newtown, it means you haven’t been paying attention. Some of our top talent in the acting world – from directors to actors – come from this rich and diverse training school established as a training and development arm for the Market Theatre. DIANE DE BEER spoke to the head of the Market Lab, the innovative Clara Vaughan about their latest endeavours and plans for 2018 and it’s all systems go right from the start with all kinds of new plans being hatched and executed:

 

clara-headshot.jpeg
Clara Vaughan, head of the Market Lab

The big news at the Market Theatre Laboratory in 2018 is the launch of a new drama company, in collaboration with the Windybrow Arts Centre.“We’re currently busy with auditions,” says Clara Vaughan, head of the Market Lab, who hopes that for a few of their graduates (from the past five years), this will function as a bridge at the beginning of their professional lives.

“For actors there are no structures in place,” she argues and especially for the newbies, this is a tough ask at the start of what is usually a taxing if rewarding career choice.

The company which will be based at the Windybrow Art Centre, will consist of six young people, four from the Lab and two from other institutions. Vaughan is excited, for example, that two of the UK actors who had participated in the Lab/UK collaboration have also applied.

The Market Theatre Foundation has appointed Keituletse “Keitu” Gwangwa, daughter of legendary SA jazz musician Jonas Gwangwa and social activist Violet Gwangwa, as the head of the Windybrow Arts Centre. She will be running the company with Vaughan and the Market Lab contributing to programming, partnerships and operations.

The Centre has been given a new lease on life as a division of the Market Theatre Foundation since April 2016. The once-mothballed theatre has been refurbished and now brands itself with the tagline “More than just a theatre” to reflect the changing nature of the space including as a base for the newly-launched drama company (still in search of a catchy name).

The programme for the company will be one of productions as well as workshops and teaching opportunities and the aim is to select six people who have the skills to work without outside intervention, while certain exciting individuals will be introduced on specific programmes.

Lab class pic
The Market Lab students in action.

One of these already in the planning stages is the current recipient of the Julie Taymor World Theatre fellowship, with the founding principle to provide travel opportunities for enterprising young theatre directors to immerse themselves in artistic experiences beyond the US borders thereby expanding their creative horisons.

He will be doing The Comedy of Errors with the company in collaboration with PopArt.

They are also looking at a site-specific work to investigate the history of this historic landmark building that will become their home for a year.

 

All kinds of collaborations are already envisioned with, for example, Gerard Bester and the Hillbrow Theatre Community Centre.

Vaughan knows that working in the same area both geographically and philosophically, they want to make sure they are complementing rather than replicating services. “There’s such a need,” she says and that’s what they hope to serve.

rm-theatre.jpg
The Ramolao Makhene Theatre Theatre at the Market Theatre Square in Newtown

Similarly, the actors will benefit from the teaching experience – as some of the Lab students already have when participating in the Hillbrow Theatre’s Inner-City festival, discovering their skills and love for directing, for example. “One of our students co-directed the winning production last year,” she notes.

These are just some of ways the students and graduates are guided gently into the industry where possible. It also opens learning experiences for those who will become part of the company to work with one company of actors for a full year in a diversity of projects, the value of which should not be underestimated and something that is regarded as a necessity in the industry in order to learn, develop and grow.

 

The other expanding enterprise at the Lab is the acting class for anyone over 16. “It is so over-subscribed,” says Vaughan which tells her that there’s a need out there for affordable classes which is what they’re offering. Theirs is a 12-week course every Saturday and it attracts people from across the board – race, gender and age. “The diversity is exciting,” says Vaughan who explains that anyone – from those acting in soap operas (“sometimes the production house pays”) to individuals who have always wanted to act but have never had any coaching – can apply.

For the Lab, it is a way to generate money for other projects as well as invest in growing their audiences.

What they have realised is that audiences who are invested in the acting process are loyal and interested in what they do. “It’s as if they suddenly care about acting and it’s not just someone randomly attending one of our shows. They’re invested which means they will keep coming back.” That, she believes, is a terrific way of building and establishing their audiences.

But they also learn, and some stay on for more courses after the first round having decided to tap into this rich vein of experience that so many have benefitted from in some way in the past.

In the meantime, there are the Lab students who will be working on exciting projects while learning their craft. Vaughan has for example obtained the services of Andrew Buckland who will be working with the students. Like with Leila Henriques who directed the successful Hani, The Legacy, she feels it’s important to use the resources available to them. “Just think of the skills we’re tapping into,” she says as she points to people like Dorothy Ann Gould and others, all who have invested in the Market Lab over the years.

Another avenue Vaughan is keeping on point with this year is international collaborations having witnessed what their UK experience taught her students last year. “It’s been amazing to witness,” she says. But also, to watch and see what they experience and how they internalise everything they have learnt.

This year she’s hoping to work with the Market Photoworkshop on a collaboration, a New York Instagram outfit with the handle Everyday Africa. It seems like the perfect fit and will bring new horisons for them to master and hopefully turn into yet another great learning experience for the then soon-to-be graduates which they can again pass on.

That’s the important thing about the set-up at the Market Lab. While there’s only immediate opportunity for a few, every student that walks through those Newtown doors can reach a much larger audience on many diverse levels.

That’s why a director like Leila Henriques waxes lyrical about her experience with the students. They understand how many lives they touch.

Viva theatre and storytelling, viva!

 

 

 

Hani: The Legend Celebrates a Hero’s Life with a Youthful Ensemble at Market Lab

The ensemble of Hani the Legacy1
The Ensemble of Hani: The Legacy

Pictures: Craig Chitima

DIANE DE BEER

HANI: THE LEGEND

DIRECTOR: Leila Henriques

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Linda Shabalala

CHOREOGRAPHER: Teresa Phuti Mojela

CAST: Graduates of the Market Lab (Boikobo Masibi, Darlington Khoza, Khanyiswa Mazwi, Mathews Rantsoma, Mthokozisi Dhludhlu, Ncumisa Ndimeni, Nosipho Buthelezi, Pereko Makgothi, Sinehlanhla Mgeyi, Thabiso Motseatsea, Tumeka Matintela and Vusi Nkwenkwezi

VENUE: The Ramolao Makhene @The Market Theatre Square

AGE RECOMMENDATION: PG12

TIMES: Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7pm and Sunday at 3pm until January 28

 

It’s bold, brash and brilliant just like Hani and the youthful ensemble who are celebrating a hero’s life.

How do you reimagine a hero, perhaps forgotten or not known by particularly the young, and push him to the forefront where he belongs?

In this instance, they played it smart by taking a group of energetic and enthusiastic Market Lab students under the guidance of someone with the insight and experience of director Leila Henriques and you get those young minds fine-tuned and into the zone.

You play to their strengths and then you redline it with some hip-hop and rap with beat. It hits all the right marks with the young who are the target audience but because of the quality and the exuberance, it reaches much wider.

What is impressive is the text that so encapsulates the genius of Chris Hani while cleverly shining a light on his desire and determination to give his people, especially those at the bottom of the rung, economic freedom. This is also what bumps this one brilliantly into where we are right now. It emphasises how on the mark Hani was all those years ago – almost a quarter of a century back.

Because his wishes were so all-embracing and inclusive of especially those who had nothing, his outcomes would have delivered a much different country. That’s also the country so many are pointing to right now. In a world turned upside down by greed, it’s time which is what makes him such a prefect role model for the young and this such an exciting and invigorating show.

Sinehlanhla Mgeyi
Sinehlanhla Mgeyi

But that’s just a part of it. It’s storytelling from start to finish no matter the means. It starts with Hani’s humble beginnings and how he witnessed his parents’ suffering and how that contributed to his political fire and eventually fighting spirit. And it concludes with advice on how to light that torch and take it forward.

It’s all good if you have worked wonders with the script, but then you also have to execute. Inspired by the way the US musical phenomenon Hamilton stands and delivers with hip-hop at the forefront, that’s exactly what they do with this one.

The performances – one and all – are firebrand from the movement to the emotional impact of every word uttered either in speech or in song.

How does one so youthful capture someone so iconic as Mandela? And that’s all part of the fun as well as the gauge of where they’re going in search of their heroes.

Storytelling is such a powerful tool to achieve different things. In this country with its horrific past, this is arguably the purest way to engage and to get to know one another, amongst other things. What better way to explore one another than to celebrate our extraordinary talent?

Mathews Rantsoma
Mathews Rantsoma

Once you discover the transformative excitement of theatre there’s no turning back. In Newtown, both at the main theatres and at the Market Lab, there’s a strong push to engage with young audiences by telling stories that will both educate and entertain. That’s a big ask.

But they have been making inroads on all counts with South African theatre surging ahead as the winner.

These actors were all Market Lab students when they started this production for Grahamstown’s National Arts Festival last year. They have recently graduated, and this short season is their first foray onto the professional stage.

What a way to jumpstart what is not an easy if hugely satisfying profession. And hopefully they can take this one on tour to schools around the country. It is a play that will work for scholars on so many various levels – from creating role models to showcasing the possibility and potentials of theatre and more.

It’s a win for everyone.

But there’s still a week to catch the spirit of Chris Hani as nurtured by this very exciting group of young players. And well done to the Market Lab for giving the play another airing.

 

Chris Hani – a Reimagined Hero and Role Model for Today’s Youth in Hani: The Legacy starts Market Lab Season 2018

Pictures:  Craig Chitima.

Darlington Xhosa as Chris Hani
Darlington Xhosa as Chris Hani

DIANE DE BEER

It’s a time when we all need heroes, people we can look up to, individuals who will stand up as role models.

Who better than the late Chris Hani as re-imagined by the Market Theatre Laboratory students, graduates of 2017, in a Gold Ovation Award production in their first professional run presented at The Ramolao Makhene Theatre at the Market Theatre Square in Newtown, Johannesburg?

Hani: The Legacy originated when lecturer Leila Henriques had to create a play with a group of first year students for their acting class. “I was inspired by Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda, his philosophy,” she says about the hip-hop musical about the life of American founding father Alexander Hamilton.

That took her head to Chris Hani, a man whose death is better recorded and illustrated than his life. Henriques knew that she had found her inspirational figure and someone who today’s youth know very little about.

The ensemble of Hani The Legacy

The students were all on board and they started by creating timelines which then had to be researched. How, for example, Hani had to walk 25 km to school on Mondays and back on Fridays as a young rural boy? All of this not only bode well for performance – which was rewarded with the National Arts Festival award and full houses at last year’s Festival – but also taught the students how to put something together, to workshop and improvise, to research and finally, to keep working and perfecting the product.

That’s exactly what they’ve been doing up to this latest run until January 28 following the Grahamstown run, and two short seasons at the Joburg 969 Festival and then at the Lab last year.

It’s about celebrating a life and one that is not defined by his death. And it had to be with music. “It’s been amazing because none of these actors were singers but the sounds they created has been magical,” notes Henriques. Sitting in on rehearsals as they work on a new song that has to improve and inform the transitions, it’s amazing to experience the versatility.

This is their language, they understand the rhythms required and how a movement emphasises a sound and the sounds inform the story. It all had to be an integrated part of the storytelling.

They have combined hip-hop, ballad, traditional music and choreography all pulled together by Teresa Phuti Mojela to underline the life story of a struggle hero who played such a key role in the liberation of our country.

His murder by right-wing extremists in April 1993 will never be forgotten by those of us who lived through that time when the country was on a knife’s edge of critical political negotiations and political violence.

It turned him into a martyr and Hani: The Legacy is an attempt to use theatre in an innovative way to colourfully explore the full man – the revolutionary, the freedom fighter who became a father, and the husband who became a hero.

“What could have been if Hani was still alive is what could still be his legacy,” is how Henriques captures their thinking. But more importantly, this is the youth speaking to the youth, telling our stories. It’s not that others are excluded but this is where the strength of the production lies.

Mathews Rantsoma and Sinehlanhla Mgeyi
Mathews Rantsoma and Sinehlanhla Mgeyi

What they tried to do was walk the life of this rural boy who became a struggle hero, the gap left by his assassination and the potency of a legacy that is nurtured in this time of enormous political and social challenges.

Once the production got traction and then went on to win awards, they knew it could travel. Henriques is thrilled that this current season also offers the new young graduates a bridge into their new professional world. And because this is one that is also geared towards learners, it is something which has legs and opportunities.

It’s a large cast, 12 actors, but that’s all they need. There’s no set or any other trappings. It’s the cast, the music and their story. “It’s easily transportable,” says Henriques, who is proud of how this production evolved from its early days.

Ncumisa Ndimeni and ensemble
Ncumisa Ndimeni and ensemble

She is also effusive in her praise of her young cast. Describing them as exceptional, she cannot speak generously enough about their enthusiasm, their energy and their commitment. These are also the same young students, six of whom participated in an exchange programme with a UK theatre company, who first performed together with the British students here in October last year. They all travelled to the UK in November for their final performance and some workshops.

Clara Vaughan, head of the Market Lab, hopes to revive and repeat these international contacts in different ways because they are invaluable both as a confidence-building exercise and through the exposure to a much wider world

With the help of her assistant director Linda Tshabalala, Henriques feels blessed and privileged to work with these young talents. “It’s such a worthwhile, positive experience,” she says.

At the end of the month she returns to her first love, acting. She’s working with extraordinary director Sylvaine Strike on a Sam Shepard play Curse of the Starving Class which premieres at the Woordfees in Stellenbosch (March 2 to 11). “It’s the words,” she says, of the play, “it’s beautiful and so amazing to work with such a quality text.” She’s also excited by the cast which includes actors like Rob van Vuuren, Neil McCarthy, Roberto Pombo and Anthony Coleman.

But for now, she is focussed on the immediacy of Hani, The Legacy which she knows will find its audience.

The cast for Hani: the Legacy: Boikobo Masibi, Darlington Khoza, Khanyiswa Mazwi, Mathews Rantsoma, Mthokozisi Dhludhlu, Ncumisa Ndimeni, Nosipho Buthelezi, Pereko Makgothi, Sinehlanhla Mgeyi, Thabiso Motseatsea, Tumeka Matintela and Vusi Nkwenkwezi

Venue: The Ramolao Makhene @The Market Theatre Square

Age Recommendation: PG12

Duration: 60 minutes

Show times: Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7pm and Sunday at 3pm.

To make block bookings, contact Anthony Ezeoke 011 832 1641ext 203 or Yusrah Bardien at 011 832 1641 ext 204.

Ticket Prices: Students R70; Tuesday to Sunday R90.

 

Funerals, Food and Feeding Schemes Fueled by Women in Full Flow

Another One's Bread. Written by Mike Van Graan. Directed by Pamela Nomvete. The play features an all-women cast in Faniswa Yisa, Chuma Sopotela (recently announced as the 2018 Standard Bank Young Artist for Performance Art), Motlatji Ditodi and Awethu Hlel
Awethu Hleli and Motlatji Ditodi

Pictures: Suzy Bernstein

DIANE DE BEER

 

ANOTHER’ ONE’S BREAD: A Dark Comedy about food, funerals and feeding scheme

PLAYWRIGHT: Mike van Graan

DIRECTOR: Pamela Nomvete

CAST: Faniswa Yisa, Chuma Sopotela, Motlatji Ditodi, Awethu Hleli

VENUE: Mannie Manim at the Market Theatre, Newtown

UNTIL February 4

 

 

As is his nature, Mike van Graan breaks new ground – in a fashion.

Apart from being commissioned by the Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE), he has also tapped into the trending world of woman power quite magnificently.

Commissions aren’t a new thing, but kudos to the CoE for taking their topics of interest and giving them to activist playwright Van Graan who in recent years has found the ideal way of juggling comedy and crisis.

His writing has always been crisp and insightful but finding a handle, in this instance food security, and tying it to something as ubiquitous as funerals which have spectacular value in black communities (“they eat Shoprite food, but want Woolworths funerals”) is sheer brilliance and allows for an abundance of hilarity.

In direct contrast to Zakes Mda’s tragic mourner in Ways of Dying, The Substitutes, whose name implies a singing group rather than a serious quartet of mourners, are four dynamic women who have come together driven by need.

The one, as the title suggests, feeds the other. Not only are they making a living, but by finding the best source of leftover food – funerals – they have discovered a way to generously keep their feeding schemes going and growing in the township.

Fashioning this one out of sketches, allows Van Graan to pick different topics with one, for example, that many would appreciate – bureaucracy. It’s the scourge of the modern world and it seems the way big business has settled on to keep their money, while endlessly frustrating their customers, until they run off screaming.

He spotlights this with an incomprehensible application being drafted to the Arts and Culture fund while on the other side of the room, one of the women is engaged in a phone conversation with a call centre as she runs through all the buttons she must push before finding life – and that quickly dies.

The razor-sharp text is combined with clever casting of four actresses cunningly individual yet speaking with one voice. The choice of giving this one to the women is dazzling not only because it’s time, but also because we so seldom see four (especially black) women running the show and with the director also female, truly ruling this one.

And they nail it! It’s fun, highlights the comedic talents of actresses like Sopotela and Yisa who often play more weighty characters and also brings a different energy to the story and the stage.

Yes, it’s slightly messy but for this one, it works as they move in and out of the stories with the light shining on different characters and their tales, or simply get them all squabbling quite deliciously around a table.

But Van Graan, while having a giggle, never lets his audience off the hook. It’s a time of trouble in our world and beyond and he won’t let you forget it. He’s simply feeding you some funny lines to hook you gently and then turns the screws.

That’s what we need in these times. We can’t turn away from what is happening around us. It’s a disaster on so many levels. But why should we be pulled down to that level at the same time? Instead, look at it from a different vantage point, laugh a little – or a lot as in this instance – and then get serious as you get the message.

He casts the net far wider than might have been asked for but in that way, you must listen carefully while enjoying the merriment. He preaches vegetarianism as the healthier option while lambasting the fat cats in parliament on the one hand. Then sweetly turns the land issue upside down with a discussion on the disastrously tiny plots of land dedicated to RDP housing.

With funerals as the backdrop, Van Graan taps into the lucrative business that this has become in the black community. Many families might end up spending more on the dead than on the living and here, he also has something to say, when one of the women talks about her own burial and how she would rather go up in smoke than lie until the end of time amongst all those strangers in a cemetery.

Holding it all together is the camaraderie of the four larger-than-life characters as they turn up at funerals where they do the mourning – with flourish – and then get paid. And with this comes some soul-baring singing and choreography to die for.

It’s a terrific way to start your theatre year and you get a chance to vent.