DEURnis – The Expansive Embrace of Performance According to Theatrerocket

If you’re looking for something completely different at this year’s US Woordfees (March 1 to 10), check Theatrerocket’s new productions in their latest DEURnis season:

Deurnis Ignatius van Heerden in Droom
Ignatius van Heerden in Droom



If there’s one thing that the production company Theatrerocket has proved in its short existence, its that those of us who follow theatre must pay attention.

No one would have given much of a thumbs up to one of their first and probably edgy productions dubbed DEURnis. It just sounds silly – one-on-one theatre!

But they had an idea and they were determined. DEURnis is a one-on-one site-specific theatrical production with a very intimate yet cutting-edge and experimental approach. It involves a single audience member who views three separate dramatic pieces per package (there are four different ones to choose from at Woordfees this year), with each of these having one performer and one audience member.

Each piece is approximately 20 minutes long and written for a particular room/space in a house/building, so as a viewer, you move from one room or even caravan to the next to see your three chosen plays.

It is the social issues that permeate the different works that affect individuals in different ways depending who you are. And for those who aren’t interested in gimmicky theatre, that’s exactly the trap they have avoided by aiming for excellence and substance in the texts. Some will suit specific individuals better than others.

Personally I’m not too excited by the more confrontational ones (there’s usually one that’s slightly more out there in a package), but then other audience members might feel differently.

“We have been inundated by people interested in writing for this venture,” says Johan van der Merwe, who with Rudi Sadler started their production company Theatrerocket a little more than two years ago.

DEURnis Lem 1
Tiaan Slabbert in Lem

Both theatre fanatics of a kind, they know and understand the pitfalls and what audiences want.

Part of why DEURnis works so well is because it is such a well-executed concept. They understood from the beginning that the control had to be constant to see that everything works superbly. And as they have had many plays to choose from, they have managed to execute their strict code of excellence.

It’s a fascinating experience, being the only one in the room in situations with a stranger telling a story that is often inclusive rather than too intrusive but affects you as the viewer in very specific ways. For many it might also be uncomfortable to be this intimate with someone you’re not familiar with. But if you think about it, it makes it easier that you don’t know the actor.

This is not a financial venture for the company. With only single actors and audience members, the numbers simply don’t add up. But because of the way it has been done, the performance-experience the actors (at this stage mostly young but older actors have joined for this latest venture) accumulate, can’t be calculated.

Deurnis Net
Ben Pienaar in Net

And chatting to a few of them in-between performances, they are equally thrilled by how much they are learning in the process. “Each performance is different because of the reaction of the individual viewing,” says one performer. Many of them are already in their second play and the growth is obvious in their performances as well as the play’s toughness a second time round.

Prospective directors are also excited about the challenge and safety of testing their skills on such a small and intimate stage. “It’s a safe environment in which to experiment and push your own boundaries,” says Van der Merwe.

Having sat through two nights of 12 plays (even a dance with multi-media included), it doesn’t matter which package you choose. They’re all extremely well crafted and in sometimes scary ways, fun to experience. Following the earlier seasons, I was excited because of the great potential – and they keep delivering.

“We have been inundated by especially writers who find the format exciting and challenging,” says Van der Merwe and they have also expanded their initial idea with a new concept titled DEURnis 20-voor 2.

This time it is two actors with an audience of 20. Described as an unusual site-specific theatre experience, it is aimed at the adventurous theatregoer. “We are exploring the limits of theatre in a creative way,” says Sadler. A ticket gives you access to two pieces, each approximately 45 minutes long.

These will be staged in The Grappa Shed while the one-on-one plays are performed at the Quiver Tree Apartments in Stellenbosch.

From their earliest days, these two theatre aficionados knew what they were doing. They also realised that it wouldn’t be easy and had no romantic visions about making theatre. Theirs is a true passion, almost the only thing that keeps people pushing through the pain.

With DEURnis for example they have found a sponsor but the financial gain for everyone is minimal. Many of the actors though have been spotted and pulled into more lucrative theatre and television work and that is why it probably appeals to a younger performer who can benefit from the experience.

Last year they were rewarded with a kykNET Fiësta and an ATKV-Woordveertjie as well as being nominated for best production at Aardklop. Their other more traditional play, Die reuk van appels with Gideon Lombard was as richly rewarded.

And if I have to pick a favourite from this year’s batch, it would be Ignatius van Heerden and Droom. The dancer/choreographer has done something remarkable with movement and multimedia which easily transports its audience-of-one to another magical world.

That doesn’t detract from many of the others with sassy texts and performances, which will have you intrigued and sometimes intimidated but also excited about the way theatre finds ways to explore new directions which will hopefully appeal to those who don’t go to more traditional theatre – and then show them the way.

* For more information, check

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



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.