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NKONYENI HIGH SCHOOL (article first published : 2004-03-5)

More often than not, student productions are to be approached with a sense of fortitude. The varying levels of skills and abilities mixed with lack of professional theatrical experience often make for an unfulfilling whole.

This is happily not the case with Durban Institute of Technology’s Department of Drama Studies production of Nkonyeni High School directed by Jerry Pooe. Once I had accepted that the principal and sub-principal roles were firmly under control, I started looking around for the usual “passengers” or less-talented folk that are usually relegated to the periphery of the action where they can’t do much damage! I couldn’t find any. All members of the second and third-year student cast are well-disciplined, committed, energetic and completely believable.

This was good to see because I haven’t been entirely happy with the last couple of productions directed by Jerry Pooe. With Nkonyeni High School he blazes back in full strength to take his rightful place as one of KZN’s top directors.

Making a major contribution is Patti Nokwe as musical director and the musical sequences are sound and well-harmonised. A hymn early on in the show was exceptionally stirring and this was largely due to the performances by Slindile Msomi, Andile Gumbi and Nondumiso Mfeka.Choreography is in the capable hands of Mdu Mtshali and Mbeki Mabhida and they make the most of the cast’s movement abilities.

Nkonyeni High School was originally written in 1992 by Aubrey Sekhabi who generously allowed Jerry Pooe to direct his sensitive work, bringing it more in line with the education problems of today. The musical is set in a particularly unruly class of a high school. Fraught with violence and drug-taking, the youngsters joyously explore their sexual awakenings. There is a particularly chilling gang-rape scene during a disco bash.

The production examines many of the negative perspectives persisiting in schools in townships and previously disadvantaged urban areas. It is highly relevant in terms of recent reports of abuse and fatal violence in certain KZN schools and should be prescribed viewing for every single learner in KZN. There is a sardonic but all-too-relevant twist in the tale.

Notable performances came from Thomas Mpoeleng as Nkonyeni’s new principal as well as from Bhekani Biyela and Zinzi Nteyi as his much put-upon members of staff. All three displayed a commendable maturity of performance.The class troublemakers are well represented by Thabani Zuma (Prettyboy); Siyabonga Radebe (Fox) and Sithembiso Blose (Vulture) who were all excellent in their roles. Compliments are due to Lionel Majola and Sifiso Ntozake for handling their roles with sensitivity where they could so easily have “gone over the top”. I also liked Nonhlanhla Nzimande as Lovey and Mbali Ndebele who provided the opening narration.

My only gripe is that there were times when an all-important news bulletin relating the actual history of incidents coincided with narration. This rendered both inaudible and it would be better to restructure these scenes. Performers must also be careful not to talk over audience laughter as valuable lines are often lost.

Nkonyeni High School runs until March 7 at the Courtyard at the Durban Institute of Technology (formerly Technikon Natal). Bookings on 031 204 2194. – Caroline Smart




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