Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking With Dorothy Ann Gould and Mark Graham Wilson

Pictures: Lungelo Mbulwana


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Dorothy Ann Gould as Joan Didion

It took someone the quality of writer Joan Didion to get actor Dorothy Ann Gould and director Mark Graham Wilson together for a stage production following their much-acclaimed Hello and Goodbye with her husband Michael Maxwell, a decade ago. They speak to DIANE DE BEER about The Year of Magical Thinking that opens on March 9 and runs until April 1 at The Market’s Barney Simon Theatre in Joburg:


Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

Thus begins the American writer Joan Didion’s haunting memoir of the year following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. The unexpected event ended a partnership of 40 years in a second, just days after their only child, Quintana, had fallen dangerously ill and slipped into a coma.

During Didion’s New York promotion of the recently published memoir, Quintana became seriously ill again. Following massive brain surgery, she died. She was 39.

Following these catastrophic events, it was the famed director David Hare who asked Didion to change her memoir into a play and six months after her second tragedy, the death of her daughter, she began working on the play. This time she was dealing with both the death of her partner and her daughter – a double tragedy.

Both director and actor knew this was the play that would embolden their stage partnership. It is said that The Year of Magical Thinking is a journey through that most universal experience of human pain: bereavement. And while it is frequently harrowing, it is also often amusing and, ultimately has been described as an expression of the power love has to give life meaning. All of that describes the remarkable writer Joan Didion and that is what struck both Graham Wilson and Gould.

How much can one person take? That’s the question Gould asked herself when reading the memoir. “We all cope differently,” she acknowledges but we all encounter these kinds of tragedies at some point in our lives.

It is the way Didion thinks, the way she escapes, the way she writes that makes this such a harrowing yet healing experience and just thinking about Gould and Graham Wilson tackling this depth of feeling is exciting. Watching them work, the detail and thought that goes into every breath, the way they battle one another to get to the truth, is extraordinary and the stuff theatre is made of.

“It’s the scale of the mountain of loss that’s daunting,” says Gould as she wonders about Didion’s husband’s death who she believes just “let go of the fence,” because he couldn’t cope with the sadness of his daughter’s coma. “Some people do that, and I think he told Joan that he was going, he warned her. But she wasn’t listening.” Gould was also affected by the ordinary circumstances in which tragedy occurs hence the opening stanzas of this marvelous text.

“She goes on a big journey with this lament but because she’s deprecating and wry, it is bearable to witness,” is how Gould explains it. She talks for example about the games Didion plays with her mind to cope, something we will all recognize.

How often do we not wish for a different outcome when we go to sleep and hoping for comfort when we wake up? “Joan wills things to turn around, believes she can shift reality with her strong will,” says Gould. We all recognise those games we play with the universe.

For Graham Wilson, one of the joys of the text is the perfection. “There’s not a word you want to cut, not a word out of place,” he says. Gould at the time we were speaking was still worried about remembering her words because we are speaking solo performance and 62 pages of monologue.

But we’re also dealing with someone who knows how to work through tough situations. She started memorizing the text earlier than she would have normally because she knew how important it was to get this one to a point where she didn’t even have to think about what she was saying.

It’s all in the text. The tension is held in what is being said, notes Graham Wilson, and as importantly being left unsaid. That was why every word is so important. “It isn’t a conventional play,” he acknowledges, but that is why this pairing is so valuable. Both these artists are risk takers, daring with their art and pushing the boundaries. Gould feels safe with Graham Wilson because they have worked successfully together before and that allows her to step beyond her comfort zone – to the benefit of audiences.

For Graham Wilson returning to stage after many years in the television world of soapies where he has been in the writing side because of family commitments and financial stability, this project is terrifying – but in the best sense of the word. “It’s such an exposed world,” he says of the stage. And he regards himself as very private. He likes being out of sight, but working in live theatre changes that.

To watch these two experienced artists work, delve into the work, manage every movement, every thought, how something should be placed, when she should turn and how to connect with her audience, is quite something. It’s an exciting and beautiful play written by a woman who has an extraordinary ability to express her deepest feelings in a most unusual fashion.

Gould in her own way has all those qualities on a different level and that’s why this is such a heavenly match. With Graham Wilson as her guide, her star gazer, the two of them will make theatre magic. All the ingredients are there – and this is not above expectation.

“I have to channel her energy of thought,” says Gould about the process.

This is only the second day of rehearsal and already they’re grappling with meaning and movement – the words flowing as if they come from the actress herself.

And she takes flight.



Sylvaine Strike and Jenine Collocott – Homage to Inspired and Inspiring Artists


Artists are the people I love writing about most.

They’re creative, think out of the box, live to entertain and make people smile, think, dream, cry and much more – all at the same time.  They teach, learn, tell stories, show us how to view the world differently, how to admire and accept or simply entertain to take us away from a harsh world – if only for a moment.

Talking to two remarkable women artists recently, I was reminded of the privilege to be given access to their work but also to the magic they achieve through blood, sweat and tears. And in the artistic world, especially at this moment in time, stage is probably bottom of the rung. Not for those of us who love theatre but for the multitudes who haven’t discovered it yet.

Jenine Collocott
Jenine Collocott

Jenine Collocott, artist extraordinaire and director, most recently formed a new theatre company Contagious with actors James Cairns and Tarryn Bennett as well as long-time Fringe producers Simon and Helen Cooper with the aim of “producing independent fringe theatre that brings the creative freedom, simplicity and energy of the festival circuit to mainstream audiences” – so wherever you are in South Africa, watch out for them on their current rounds with their much loved The Snow Goose.

She’s currently rehearsing for a clowning show for the annual Oudtshoorn-based Klein Karoo National Arts Festival at the end of March (29 until April 4). Even though she trained for this specifically in Italy, it is her biggest venture in clowning with a cast of seven, most of whom she hasn’t worked with before and most of whom haven’t done any clowning before, even though you can see why they were picked.

Included are actors Jemma Kahn, Roberto Pombo and actor/producer De Klerk Oelofse who got the whole thing off the ground as the producer.

Speaking to a terrified Collocott is what got me excited. Even though what she was doing was mammoth, she was as excited as fearful in what can be said was a healthy balance.

Not only did she have to take her cast through what could be a painstaking process of becoming a clown, once there and only then, could they start to workshop the performance. Fortunately, she is working with a bunch of actors who know how to create their own work and with her as the gentle yet guiding teacher, the results will be something awesome to witness whether they pull it off or not.

“I’ve never seen anyone be as caring with a cast as Jenine was throughout this challenging process and she didn’t know us. I will never forget it,” says Oelofse who is on a mission to develop a skill set that is as broad as it is empowering.

They are at play in full swing as I write and few shows at this year’s Klein Karoo National Arts Festival excite me more than this novel attempt at a family show with something completely different. Titled Babbelagtig (which means something like chatterbox-ing) the idea was also fuelled by Oelofse’s response to the recent Slava Snow Show.

As with most things Collocott tackles, it’s innovative, imaginative and invigorating. Can it go wrong? Of course, but that’s how artists grow their craft – by pushing those boundaries and taking leaps not of faith but of grandeur and bravery because they’ve worked their way towards this.

Sylvaine Strike
Sylvaine Strike Photohraphed by Suzy Bernstein

No one works harder and with more precision than Sylvaine Strike, director extraordinaire, who has built a reputation for her unique work which is remarkable in its individuality. And she’s constantly changing like a chameleon the work she chooses – and then she makes it her own. It’s her particular Strike style that can be adapted to work with any play she selects in a way that’s quite astonishing.

From her standout The Travellers and Coupe in which she also played, the recently revived Black and Blue in which she recast  Atandwa Kani opposite herself to the two Molière plays The Miser followed by Tartuffe and now making a U-turn with Sam Shepard’s The Curse of the Starving Class, the road she travels allows her fans to jog along with excitement.

What will she do next and how is she going to approach this? Casting on its own is an art as she turns to Andrew Buckland for the extraordinary Tobacco and the Harmful Effects Thereoff and then adds extra bang with the exceptional Toni Morkel.

Gerard Bester, Brian Webber, Daniel Buckland and now Neil McCarthy have all taken on a special Strike hew when working with her. It’s as if her visual acuity allows her to use these actors, formidable as they usually are, in a completely new light.

With Buckland in Tobacco for example, she didn’t simply apply his amazing mime and clowning skills, she allowed the actor in him to flourish with accents of his many skills popping up to accentuate certain points she wanted to make.

If you watch her work, she plunges to a depth with detail that is quite exhausting but triumphs in the final production. Nothing escapes her eye which is both a visual and a visceral one and with her current Shepard production, she used music to tap out the rhythms for the actors to give their characters grounding.

“Shepard can be quite messy and chaotic,” she says, but in that is where you find the meaning and the magic of his message.

It is both what she brings and the way she does it that has netted her such a strong following. They know whatever she does, it will have intent and innovation. From the visual spectacle to the quirky casting, nothing is done without juggling many different balls to find the exact formation for this specific production.

That’s why a Strike show will sweep you off your feet – and then it lingers and plays with your mind.

Sylvaine Strike Pays Homage to Sam Shepard in Curse of the Starving Class

Pictures: Antoine de Ras

Sylvaine Strike is presenting her latest work, Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class, at this year’s Stellenbosch-based Woordfees (March 2 to 11). She tells DIANE DE BEER about her connection with the late playwright Sam Shepard, this specific play which is perfect for this time, and how she works with her merry band of actors to establish her Fortune Cookie Theatre Company brand:


Curse Poster

“We meet the Tate Family at their worst.”

That’s director Sylvaine Strike speaking about her latest work, Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class, which will premiere at the Stellenbosch-based Woordfees (March 2 to 11) before returning to Gauteng and hopefully seasons around the country.

“I’ve always felt that I completely get him,” she says about the American playwright who died last year and whose work is being looked at again as a result, with a few local productions planned.

When Strike was asked by Saartjie Botha, director of the Woordfees, to do something for this year’s festival, she suggested a Shepard play and together they decided that they wouldn’t adapt but put on the play as is. Strike giggles at the synchronicity when she points out that their first performance is scheduled – to the day – 40 years after it was first performed on Friday March 2.

This is Shepard’s most autobiographical work about his father, someone who features in different variations in many of his plays. Writing was the way he described dealing with his despairing childhood. “Part of him was growing on me. I could feel him taking over me. I could feel myself retreating,” says the son in Curse of the Starving Class. The father might be at the centre but the playwright is reaching wide, as he deals with the little people, those targeted most cruelly by the greed of the day, people who feel they have nowhere to turn.

Sound familiar? Think of the poverty numbers in our country, those targeted most brutally by the greed of the ruling classes. Even when written more than 40 years ago, it plays perfectly for our times and not only because of Donald Trump. Curse of the Starving Class circles around a dysfunctional family fighting the financial hardships, the disintegration of their family farm.

“It’s the perfect nucleus family, a mother, father and two children, a son and a daughter. And they’re completely dysfunctional,” says the director, conceding that this is all right up her street – especially on stage. How did they get there? What has happened to them? These are all questions she investigates. Even the door to their home is broken down and the father feels he can’t protect his family. That kind of desperation and neediness comes with its own set of intruders, waiting for easy prey.

For Strike, it was also time to walk a different road and the way her mind works, moving from Molière (The Miser and Tartuffe in the past few years) to Shepard makes complete sense – the choice seeming almost as dysfunctional as the family in the play. But it’s Strike and watching her work is a theatrical experience – completely magical.

But don’t let the title of the play mislead you. It’s not all about the horror of the hardship, there’s always hope and with Strike and Shepard, there’s always a smile. Even though Sherpard is scratching around in a family’s wounds, he never loses his sense of humour and Strike makes light of things where she can with movement and certain characters who in their lewdness are also laughable in a good way. It’s part of her branding, a hopefulness with something mystical hovering.

Neil McCarthy and Leila Henriques in Curse
Neil McCarthy and Leila Henriques in Curse of the Starving Class

Her cast is an indication of her intent. It’s a wildly talented bunch, including Neil McCarthy, Rob van Vuuren, Leila Henriques, Roberto Pombo, Anthony Coleman, Inge Crafford-Lazarus and Damon Berry, some of whom might strike a certain comical chord.

Playing the father is McCarthy, who returned to the stage with a flamboyant flourish for Tartuffe and asked Strike, following the hugely successful season and his reconnection with live performance, to consider him for her next work. She did, hence his casting as the father in a completely different role to his previous outing. And this time opposite Henriques, also someone who will hopefully be seen on stage more regularly. With her unique qualities, including a heart-wrenching vulnerability required for the mother in this particular story, it’s another casting coup.

The two children – 17 and 15 – are played by relative newbies for this type of play, Pombo and Crafford-Lazarus, who were both put through strenuous auditions because of their pivotal part in the play which they passed with flying colours; with Van Vuuren, Coleman and Berry completing the cast with their own specific talents.

Nothing is ever random for this director and that’s what makes the casting so exciting and intriguing.

There’s something messy and chaotic about a Shepard play which is why the rhythms of these characters are so important. “It also gives the actors a sense of safety,” Strike says assuredly.

Music looms large in the rehearsal room. Shepard was as much a musician in his early days as a writer. It has been recorded that rhythm led him to character and with that in mind, Strike, always unique in her acting and performance methods, uses music to get her actors marching to the right beat. It’s extraordinary to watch as they work their way through a scene musically before they do it with dialogue. There’s as much meaning in the movement as there is in the text and that is as much Strike as it is Shepard.

Roberto Pombo and Inge Crafford-Lazarus
Roberto Pombo and Inge Crafford-Lazarus as the children of the family in Strike’s  Sam Shepard play

“I adore bluegrass music,” she says about her choices of Canadian band The Dead South and Australian Paul Kelly. “It is often profound,” she says about the genre, “despite its joviality and upbeat rhythms. Shepard’s writing is musical, he himself was a percussionist, and adored music, from Dixieland to Dizzy Gillespie – he was a great lover of jazz, and his work in many ways reminds one of jazz compositions. It is unpredictable, and yet impeccably structured.”

It is exactly the way she thinks about theatre and why she feels this bond. Listening and watching just a few scenes in early rehearsals, already it is the emotions that come pouring out and engulf you. That’s where the heart of this work is going to lie – or so it seems.

Other influences include the paintings of Edward Hopper and the photographs of Gregory Crewdson, both of whom hold a certain desolation and deep feelings of loss.

Holding all of this together is her trademark and where Strike’s genius comes into play.



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




DIRECTOR: James Ngcobo


VOICE COACH: Iris Dawn Parker


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.)





The Colour Purple is Bold, Black and Beautiful

Pictures: @enroCpics




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Shug Avery (Lerato Mvelase) leads the pack in 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






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.


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.




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 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.

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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.

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

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The Ensemble of Hani: The Legacy

Pictures: Craig Chitima



DIRECTOR: Leila Henriques


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


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


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.