La Boheme

By Nyakallo Motloung

Although I am a big theatre goer, I am a novice with regards to opera and that is why I was excited when I was invited to the opening night of La Boheme at the Joburg Theatre. La Boheme is an age-old but timeless love and loss story between a young couple, Rodolfo and Mimi. The opera is a Gauteng Opera production directed by Marcus Desando, music by the Gauteng Opera Orchestra and conducted by Eddie Clayton. The cast consists of local performers and they really sold me there. I had never seen an opera live and to see the mainly black cast list got me even more excited and internally, I was singing Solange Knowles’ F.U.B.U. But, I digress. Additionally, being a lover of poor theatre, it is always a great experience for me to see the other side of the game, consisting of grand sets and costumes.

So I sat in my seat with great expectations, awaiting the show to start. The curtain opened and I saw a simple but lovely set. I could tell instantly that the opera had been modernised as I saw the chic apartment of Rodolfo and Macello and their modern costume. Unfortunately my heart sank a bit as I struggled to hear the male performers in the beginning and was not helped much by the confusing subtitles. Performers’ lack of projection on stage always makes me feel as though I am looking from the outside on an inside joke, which is very isolating. But I was not deterred, I sat on the edge of my seat and adjusted my concentration from 100 to 110. However, I was instantly taken by Marcello (Solly Motaung) whose voice and physicality was a pleasure to watch throughout the show. His charm went beyond his character. Motaung’s presence on stage and ability to engage the audience was really satisfying to watch. A trait which I was expecting more from Rodolfo (Phenye Modiane) who was the leading man and protagonist of the show. He truly has a beautiful voice and his interactions with Mimi really warmed my heart. However, there is a gentleness in Rodolfo that I feel Modiane played too far and as a result, made him shrink on stage. His actions were too small and there was a lack of commitment in them that made me want to listen to rather than watch him.

However, I was really blown away by Mimi (Khayakazi Madlala). What a star. Her voice really gave me a visceral reaction. I could not hold back from shouting “YAAS GIRL” when she hit those high notes and I would like to apologise to the two ladies who sat beside me. But also, #SorryNotSorry. We had been told that Madlala is a second year student at Gauteng Opera it is such a pleasure to see a new talent who I hope will go very far. Not only was I taken by her voice but also by how well her physicality connected to her voice. The same can be said for the gorgeous Musetta (Litho Nqai). My goodness! I just loved her vocal range and the way she took control of the stage. It was not only in the writing but also in the body of Nqai. As I stated, I am but an eager novice in the world of opera but I am a self-proclaimed expert in spotting performers enjoying themselves on stage; which was what drew me to Motaung, Madlala and Nqai.

My (very high) expectations were not met fully but overall, I enjoyed the show and I have learnt that I really need to watch more opera. Really! I would definitely recommend the show, especially to opera lovers. You have a chance to do so at the beautiful Mandela Theatre at the Joburg Theatre from the 20 – 23rd of July.

Get your tickets at https://www.joburgtheatre.com/la-boheme

image2

Review – Woza Albert

By Nyaki Motloung

There is a beauty in the combination of protest theatre and poor theatre that will live for a thousand years and explains why Woza Albert! will keep returning to our theatres. And for these reasons and many more, it was a so heartwarming for me to see Soweto Theatre’s Red Theatre being packed on the opening night of the play.

Woza Albert! is a political South African satire which imagines the second coming of “Morena” in South Africa during the apartheid-era. Morena is the Christ-like figure whose arrival is much anticipated by many black South Africans and is a threat to the apartheid government as he is rumoured to bring salvation for the black people.

The largely self directed two man cast are required to play many characters such as a street vendor, barber and government officials in a bid to express the varied opinions of the arrival of Morena. And what we see is a spectacle where voices and bodies fill a stage with such a confidence that the (very minimal but effective) set, lighting and costume become just a cherry on top of this delicious cake.

Hamilton Dhlamini is a veteran in the performance of the play and displays the eloquence, wit and comedic timing which come from great discipline and and commitment to this great story. His swift changes from characters such as a black migrant worker to the worker’s white employee are so crisp and as an actor myself, I highly respect his continuining level of commitment to every role.

On the other hand, Bheki Mkhwane is new to the role and this performance was the first time I had seen him perform on a stage, whereas I have watched him many times on television. Filling the shoes of Mncedisi Shabangu, who was previously part of the Woza Albert! duo is no easy role. At times, I found myself missing Shabangu’s humour and ease on stage. However, being a creature of habit, I realised that change isn’t a bad thing. At all. One of the necessities of long living productions such as this, is the ability to re-imagine and alter. And in this case, the re-imaginaing came with the change in casting. It is not Mkhwane’s role to replace Shabangu. He was not tasked to fill anyone’s shoes and he did not; he brought his own shoes and boy, he wore them well.

Mkhwane, for me, brought an element which I can only explain as a father telling a story to his children which is close to his heart (this is not a comment in his age, okay. Ngicela ning’yeke). He takes control of his roles and when he calls izithakazelo there is a beautiful reaction from the audiences with whistling, clapping and a “yaaaaas'” here and there because many black Twitter has taught us new and different ways of expressing ourselves.

Although there were some opening night nerves and minor mishaps which can, and I am sure have been, improved such as forgetting to use props at the correct time and volume drops, the play is truly stunning. Dhlamini and Mkhwane are a two man talent army and a force to be reckoned with. I highly recommend this play and recommend that you you take a friend or three because there are some hilarious moments which you don’t want to be laughing at alone.

The production has only two shows remaining and will close on 22 February. Check out Soweto Theatre’s website to book your tickets.

c4ut0mow8aaauwu

Robyn Sassen’s Review of ‘Just Antigone’

antigone

Nyakallo Motloung as Antigone. Photograph by Sabelo Ndumo. 

On the 18th of February, honored theatre critic Robyn Sassen wrote the following review about ‘Just Antigone’. For the original article, please click this link:  https://robynsassenmyview.wordpress.com/2016/02/18/electric-mix-of-frisky-youth-ancient-tragedy/

“Taking on Sophocles with electric abandon might not be the dream of just any drama graduate. The material is difficult, linguistically, morally and chronologically. The language is complex and bloody and some of the issues it embraces are impossible to get your head around without your heart (or belly) wanting to explode. But clearly none of this has daunted the young cast of seven – some of them in their professional debuts – in this absolutely astonishing work, which immediately raises the bar for theatre of this nature.

Just Antigone clocks in at under an hour, but the mesmerising focus and the sophisticated balance between contemporary gestures, asides to the audience and the horror of the moral double crossing of the original  plunges you into not only the internecine and devilish politics of ancient Greece, but also the tragedy of human frailty in the sight of ambition, power and one-upmanship.

The cast switch and change roles and genders as the generational tale, replete with the interjections of a chorus, unfurls, and the context of Oedipus, the father of Antigone, who tragically lands up killing his father and marrying his mother, is described with clarity, levity and wit, which never teeters into disrespect for the tradition or the circumstances. There is a resonance in this work with the meshed cultural texture that Neil Coppen achieved in his recent production of Animal Farm, blending time and idiosyncrasy in a way that hones the legibility of difficult material, but Just Antigone slips in and out of contemporary political phraseology and reference. It doesn’t hurt the work. It keeps you engaged.

Antigone (Nyakallo Motloung) is a loyal sister and a feisty challenge to her egotist uncle King Creon (Jóvan Muthray), who is at times so wrapped up in his own sense of authority that he becomes emotionally blind and quite frightening. Muthray’s delivery of this role is polished and convincing. And opposite him, Motloung is articulate and passionate. There’s a balance achieved here which is so fine and so much about trust and a sense of artistic authority that it takes your breath away.

In many respects, the unequivocal star of this work is Mlindeli Zondi – who you may have seen in Making Mandela – as the hapless Haemon, son of Creon and lover of Antigone. Torn between loyalty to his father and an understanding of his father’s deep moral flaws, not to mention his love for his girl who has dared to challenge Creon, he is left no alternative but to die at his own hand. The emotional and spiritual torsion central to this character is articulated with a great sense of finesse, never overacting, but oft overarching as a profound and intelligent catalyst to the tale.

But it hardly seems fair to isolate only three performers. The full ensemble feels dangerously beautiful in its concatenation of text, gesture and sinister nuance. Individually and collectively, they rise and soar with one another, dancing on the edge of the scripted text and expressing horror and catastrophe as they intermingle and dovetail. It’s a beautifully directed piece of work, and while the screaming which is necessary in the tale fills POPArts’s smallish tight space with harsh metallic fierceness, that might make you want to flee, the cast engages with the monumental reality of performing something as old as Sophocles with thoughtful wisdom.

Neither paralysed with respect, nor awash with hipness, under the directorial hand of Mahlatsi Mongonyana and Billy Langa, the cast offer Sophocles’s words, thoughts and reflections – and his indictments cast on the immorality and filth of society – in a palatable and fine context that is accessible and provocative, making you realise there is nothing quite as fine as a spot of Greek tragedy in central Johannesburg on a week night.

Arguably, this company of performers has what it takes to develop into the kind of repertory theatre that is capable of defining the industry. Watch each of these names: they have a great future ahead of them”.

  • Just Antigone is adapted from Sophocles’s Antigone by Mahlatsi Mokgonyana and directed by Mokgonyana and Billy Langa. It is performed by Binnie Christie, Sanelisiwe Jobodwana, Campbell Jessica Meas, Nyakallo Motloung, Jovan Muthray, Star Tlali and Mlindeli Zoni at POP Arts Theatre in central Johannesburg until February 21. Visit popartcentre.co.za

Thank you Robyn for this tremendous review!

Informal Review of ‘Just Antigone’ by Gita Pather

1620607_10151879086766478_552362329_n

On the 20th of February 2016, Director of the Wits Theatre, Gita Pather, wrote the following comments about ‘Just Antigone’ on her Facebook:

“Last night after a particularly long hard week, I went to the lovely Hayleigh Evans’ PopArt to watch Just Antigone directed by Mahlatsi DBoy Mokgonyana and Billy Edward with Mlindeli Emmanuel Zondi, Jovan Muthray, Campbell Jessica Meas, Binnie Christie and two other phenomenal actresses.

It was a triumph that few directors could match. The directors first coup is their ability to cut to the bone of a convoluted classic that is premised on the idea that the audience are familiar with the preceding context provided in Oedipus and present a pared down text interspersed with a contemporary hip version of the Greek chorus. It is one that takes “selfies” injecting a physicality that is so uniquely South African into Sophocles much loved Antigone.

But thankfully, it’s not some superficial “tricksy, cute, being hip injection” that I have seen so often in classic plays as directors attempt superficially to make the work more accessible to a young audience.

It brings a pace to the play and Yet nothing of the beauty of verse and language is sacrificed and all of the six strong cast handle the original text with a delicacy that belies their youth and is a testimony to the process driven, body and text centred performance approach of Billy and Mahlatsi. There were standout performances and in particular : Jovan, Mli and the young woman who played Antigone whose name I know but which escapes this rapidly aging mind although a Programme may have helped. She is outstanding… She brought a sensibility to her Antigone that was masterful. Mli who plays Creon’s son is a marvel, an actor whose very body seems to arch over the stage with a palpable intensity that was riveting to watch. In contrast, Jovan’s languid, slighting sneering Creon’s was an equal delight. During the play, a cell phone went off and not missing a beat, he swung his considerable energy into a wonderful swipe at the offending audience member to great humorous effect. All three of these young actors are talents to watch and as the play unfolded, I could only marvel at this wonderfully crafted play that could only happen in South Africa because it embodies a style and a physicality that is so distinctive. The directors In particular are going places …. They already have an impressive credit list and could teach many a seasoned director a thing or two about great ensemble work.

All in all a fabulous evening concluded with a handshake and understanding that Antigone will come to the 969 festival as my opening performance. Well done to the directors and cast. So buy a ticket now …. Two more performances today and tomorrow”

The Movement RSA thanks Gita for her kind words, and invitation to be the Opening Act of the 969 Festival!