Katlego Chale and Nhlakanipho Manqele in Brothers Size.

Photographer: Lungelo Mbulwana



THE BROTHERS SIZE by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Director: James Ngcobo

Cast: Katlego Chale, Nhlakanipho Manqele and Marlo Minnaar

Lighting Designer: Simon King

Set and Props Designer: Nadya Cohen

Costume Designer: Nthabiseng Makone

Sound Designer: Mandla Mkaba

Choreographer: Lulu Mlangeni

VENUE: Mannie Mannim at the Market Theatre

For the past few years artistic director of the Market James Ngcobo has been exploring especially themes of brotherhood when selecting their Black History Month production – and 2022 is no different.

This time he has opted for a revival of The Brothers Size by award winning playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney for a limited season until February 28 . It was first presented here with an American cast and Ngcobo was keen to try his own hand with local actors because of the universal theme and the excellence of the play.

And last time, he explains, it was a week run only with not too many theatregoers able to attend.

He is also excited because he is working with three actors he has never worked with before. “It’s been a hands-on and collaborative effort,” he notes and he was thrilled by their response to the play.

, Nhlakanipho Manqele

It’s the story of two brothers, one of whom has been incarcerated and just returned to normal life. Ogun Size played by Nhlakanipho Manqele is named after the spirit of iron and labour. Oshoosi Size, played by Katlego Chale, is the younger brother named after the spirit of the forest and a wanderer.

Elegba, played by Cape Town actor Marlo Minnaar, who arrives as a friend of the brothers who comes to stir the pot and provoke additional discord between the them, is named after the spirit of chaos and the god of the crossroad.

Pointing to the names, Ngcobo liked the fact that the playwright used Yoruba names, which in typical African fashion, give some of the character of each of the men.

Together the two brothers and a friend start the conversation about prison and the rest develops from there.

For those who don’t recognise the playwright’s name, he was also involved with the film Moonlight’s script, which received so much Oscar buzz and awards a few years ago.

If you saw the film, you would have recognised the sensitivity with which the story was told. It was also refreshing at the time that this was a Black voice telling their own stories. It has fortunately become more commonplace now with the Black Lives Matter movement which adds a much more personal dimension to these stories.

It is set in Louisiana which, according to Ngcobo, is also the prison capital of the world  ̶  not a title that many world cities want to claim. Especially in the past decade, much has become more public about the imprisonment of especially Black men with the numbers suggesting that not many of them escape this horrific punishment. This plays a huge role in this particular story.

 As they start their conversation it is clear that the younger brother feels a certain entitlement because he has just left prison and is perhaps in need of some pampering from his perfect older bro.

There’s also a friend who is obviously not the influence needed in the vulnerable convict’s life at that exact time.

With all our knowledge about the African American male and his precarious position in American life, one cannot but experience the play through that prism. It’s like navigating a slippery ledge throughout.

As the older and wiser brother, Manqele is the one who holds all the cards. His character is the one who opens his heart and allows the story to shine through in full colour. The strength of both his words and his action leads the way, with Minnaar’s cool cat someone who could lead those with less backbone astray. And his slippery Elegba is in it only for himself. What happens to those around him is only a concern when it affects him and his wellbeing.

Magical moves.

The younger Size is perhaps the most difficult role to play. He needs to generate some sympathy from the audience to get them engaged. But because Chale starts on such a climatic note, he has nowhere to go as the play builds towards a climax. From start to finish his bravado never lets up to allow for some compassion.

Yet his sensitive moves in a few passages throughout show a side of the actor which could have been harnessed more effectively throughout.

This is a play that relies heavily on performance, and a wrong step upsets the rhythm. We don’t want to see any of the work as we step into the story.

The music and the visuals could also have more impact if they land at exactly the right time with precision.

Nonetheless, it is a courageous play to stage, with more than enough to grapple with  ̶ including the performances.

McCraney is regarded as one of the most talented and significant writers in the US. He is the Chair, and Professor in the Practice of Playwriting at the Yale School of Drama; and is the Yale Repertory Theatre Playwright-in-Residence. He is also a member of Teo Castellanos/D-Projects Theater Company in Miami, a member of Chicago’s highly regarded Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble, and 2016’s  Moonlight is based on his own work In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. With his co-writer, director Barry Jenkins, they received the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Age Recommendation:16 (L)            

Season: until Sunday 28 February 2022

Venue: Mannie Manim at the Market

Performance times:     Tuesday – Saturday @7pm and Sunday @3.15 pm.