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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

AMAGAMA AMATHATU (article first published : 2005-03-2)

Through their performance company, Arlecchino, Gisele Turner and Wendy Nel have created an entertaining programme for young people with Amagama Amathatu. Having already notched up a considerable number of performances in schools around the province, it is currently being presented in the Playhouse Loft as part of the Playhouse Company’s Senior Primary Schools programme.

Using a succession of skilfully-crafted puppets with wonderful faces, Mpume Mthombene and T-Bone Hlahane put in spunky and emotive performances either as themselves or as puppet handlers.

The message is indisputably about HIV/AIDS awareness and the scenarios are clearly drawn. There’s wheeler-dealer Baba Mthathu who is all for asking for payment in kind when one of his young cell phone customers can’t pay her monthly dues. She is mercifully saved by her brother who sends the rogue packing. However, he’s no knight in shining armour either as we see him in a later scene charming a teenager, eventually enticing her to have sex with him. You guessed it – he’s HIV positive and therefore infects her as well as making her pregnant and putting her unborn child at risk.

They are all there – the problems that make this horrifying pandemic so difficult to fight: the reluctance of men to be tested; gossip and misinformation about the subject; the belief that sleeping with a virgin provides a cure, and the spiralling cost of the increasing number of funerals.

Then there are the good news stories, like the soccer player who is living with HIV/AIDS but keeping himself fit and healthy through diet and disciplined living and the school teacher who has just been diagnosed HIV positive but is determined to continue passing on her skills for as long as she can.

Mpume was particularly good as a young girl who heads a household of little children and T-Bone’s funeral parlour owner was a chilling delight. There was also a scene explaining why people should use rubber gloves, even when cleaning a minor wound of an HIV infected child. The message was there without being too overt.

The costumes, particularly Mrs Shezi’s delightful outfit, are cleverly designed. The moulded resin faces of the puppets come alive under the stage lights and the most memorable for me was that of Mrs Shabalala, a widow who has lost all of her children to the pandemic. The production is designed to be performed in any space, indoor or outdoor, so there are no sets and very few props.

Apart from the schoolchildren in the audience, there were some senior citizens who occasionally looked a little alarmed at the frank and open nature of the material but – as Pieter Dirk-Uys has been saying for years – it’s never too early to save lives. The children responded with delight at characters and situations they recognised so, hopefully, they will retain the succinct messages the production offers.

Amagama Amathatu and Genesis - After the Storm (see review in Dance) are performed as a double bill. Shows are at 11h00 until March 11. Tickets R15 per learner, with one teacher per 30 pupils admitted free. To book call the Playhouse Box-office on 031 369 9555. - Caroline Smart




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