Pictures: Craig Chitima.
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 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.
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.
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.