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

TO HOUSE (article first published : 2005-03-3)

Last night saw the world premiere at Catalina Theatre of To House, a new piece of South African theatre by Ashwin Singh. I’m not sure if Ashwin had his cast in mind when he wrote the play but if he didn’t, he’s chosen his performers well and each one gives an excellent performance. Mind you, the characters are already clearly defined which provides a good reference point, from the start.

To House is a good vehicle for the actors playing the two main protagonists: Michael Gritten’s well-articulated coiled controlled energy and Teboho “T-Bone” Hlahane’s mischievous demeanour which can switch to forceful physical anger. Presenting calmer and more thoughtful characters are Jayloshni Naidoo who brings her intelligent, centred clarity to her role and Koobeshan Naidoo who attracts the audience’s sympathy with his appealing vulnerability. Completing the cast – and making a welcome appearance on the mainstream theatre circuit - is Afzaal Khan who plays the fast-talking, manipulative uncle.

The storyline deals with five characters. Most of them live in a multi-cultural sectional titles development in a typical middle class Durban suburb. There’s the embittered Jason (Michael Gritten), newly-divorced, out of work, seething with prejudice and plotting revenge against the ambitious wheeling and dealing Sibusiso (T-Bone Hlahane). Aiding and abetting Jason, although not very vigorously, is struggling law student-cum-hotshot cook Sanjay (Koobeshan Naidoo) who finds himself being drawn to Sibusiso’s live-in girlfriend, Kajol (Jayloshni Naidoo). While pleased at her recent promotion, Kajol is much concerned about her ailing mother and her relationship with Sibusiso turns sour, with uncle (Afzaal Khan) fanning the flames of discontent.

To House which equally refers to “to accommodate” or “to return home”, introduces a refreshing new scripting and directorial style to the local theatre scene and Ashwin’s legal experience provides added input to the storyline. There are some nice comedy touches, great pithy lines and he doesn’t pull punches in regards to racist language. He defines the new cultural divide succinctly with Kajol’s inherent desire to keep the family unit intact as opposed to Sibusiso’s exhilaration in finally shaking off community living and being master of his own universe.

In an open discussion session after the production – nice to see a contingent of students from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, attending the performance – Ashwin Singh readily admits that while he may not have made alterations to the script, as a director he has made some judicious cuts in the text.

This is commendable as most writer/directors are too wedded to the script to see the flaws - and flaws there will always be in the early stages of any play produced for the first time. All energies are directed to getting it staged and once it is up and running, the writer/director should be able to step back and look at his/her work with a critical eye and embellish where necessary or bring out the pruning shears. My suggestion would be to re-look at the first half of the play and shorten the scenes or jump from one setting to the other more often.

Ashwin Singh is to be congratulated in producing a well-written, well-directed and well-performed new piece of South African theatre. I appreciate that the minimalism of the dual purpose set is possibly attributable to budget or time constraints but it would be nice to have a few different props in either Sibusiso or Jason’s lounge. Given the two characters - even though the one room is being newly-decorated and the other is losing furniture to the ex-wife, I think there would be the odd painting, wall-hanging, calendar or photograph to break the endless wall space! Also in the above scenario, a pot plant is more likely to be the last item to be introduced and, in the latter, the first to die through lack of care!

To House runs until March 13 at Catalina Theatre on Wilson's Wharf. Tickets R60 (R50 students and OAPs). During the run, there are buy-one-get-one-free shows on March 2, 6, 8 and 13. Bookings on 031 305 6889. – Caroline Smart

”To House” was a finalist in the 2003 PANSA (Performing Arts Network of SA) Festival of Reading of New Writing (the country’s foremost playwriting contest) and plans are afoot to stage the play in Johannesburg and Cape Town as well as overseas later in the year




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