By Jan Moran Neil: seasoned swallow www.janmoranneil.co.uk
I flew in for the Cape Spring which grew colder as October crept closer. The Ulutsha Theatre Company’s first production, Way Back was creeping closer also.
I have to confess, at first, in rehearsal, I was about as lost as the storyline’s central character: a young Caucasian white girl whose car had broken down in an Eastern Cape Xhosa village. Gradually I realised through a thicket of language foreign to me that this storyline was a much better vehicle for conveying Xhosa roots than the one the central character had been forced to abandon.
Hungry, in need of some warm clothes and not knowing a word of iSiXhosa, Mira Kremess, a straying tourist is given local food, a traditional costume for the forthcoming Heritage Day Festivities and she certainly learns how to say the word ‘thank you’ in Xhosa: ‘Enkosi’.
Mira’s inability to pronounce iSiXhosa words provides a bucket full of humour and Yonela Msutu who plays the ‘good mother translator’ gives a spirited performance ensuring that English audience speakers would not miss out on what is taking place in the storyline. Shaun Tsheqane plays the part of the wise father combining this with a delightful sense of comedy becoming outraged that Mira (the tourist) is wearing denims and a cap. Thus, she is transformed with appropriate attire and brings a smile to his face and to the faces of the members of the audience.
The whole thing is rounded off by some superlative singing by Anelisa Mahlungulu and group acting, singing and dancing was splendidly provided by Onako Mpongoma, Mandy Mpambani, Ayabulela Matwa and Aphelele Mkhefa,
It was creatively conceived and directed by Khulula Nkatshu who is on work experience at the centre. I witnessed an early rehearsal where the 22 year old director phoned an actress when she hadn’t pitched up for rehearsal. The actress told the Khulula she was ‘on her way’ but sound of a television in the background made the director suspicious. I told Khulula that thus is the way of ‘rehearsal’ life and quite on the sudden and as if plucked from the air Aphelele Mkhefa, took over the role of the 12 year old child who leads the tourist to safety. Aphelele played the part with ease, grace and a sense of awe for all that she was seeing around her.
Khuls, the director told me that the play was called Way Back because there is a constant reference back to Xhosa ancestors, as well as the phrase referring to one of moving forward with the roots we accumulate from our past. Indeed, the lost central character found her ‘way back’ with the help of the Xhosa village and certainly was changed by the experience as I was.
At another rehearsal I wasn’t altogether sure what Sibabale Silo was doing. He seemed to be talking a lot to the actors whilst they sat listening, after which there would be much activity. I soon realised that he was giving the company detailed information about Xhosa customs in iSiXhosa and in effect writing the script as the actors listened and then rehearsed, directed by Khuls. I made one suggestion that Onako as Shaun’s wife should get cross with him being present and hit him with his hat but this idea was swiftly discarded when I was told that a Xhosa wife would never treat her husband in this way. A learning curve for me!
The costumes were made by Dileka Ndileka who makes and sells her clothes and also teaches needlework in the Masiphumelele township. In fact the company are planning to model Dileka’s clothes at a show in the near future.
Entry was free but the start time was African: 1.30pm-4.30pm which means the show will start and end within this time. The set needed some painting before we began. Free traditional food was then served to the audience after the finale.
To think: on my last visit in your autumn, Ulutsha Theatre Company was just an idea. Here’s the reality. When we left the Youth Centre in your snow-capped and soggy spring September we saw a perfectly arced rainbow as we entered Fish Hoek. A perfect end to a perfect day. Enkosi.
Hope I find my ‘way back’ soon.
Zone Active (Sport & Recreation Department)
Call: 021 785 5186