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

NAF: THE ENCHANTED MOUNTAIN (article first published : 2005-07-3)

Directed by William le Cordeur, The Enchanted Mountain is a production by the Drama and Performance Studies of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.

This fascinating piece of theatre deals with an archivist from Johannesburg who is persuaded to leave his regular employment to record the testimonies of people who knew Isaiah Shembe, the founding prophet of ibandla lalmaNazaretha (The Shembe Church).

The programme notes describe it as a “musical snippet of this scribe’s life as he begins the process of writing and recording the oral narratives of the Church”. Supplying the music on guitar and drums is Gareth Kernick who would do well to loosen up considerably as he is often the main focal point of attention.

The part of the archivist Petros is well-played by Mbo Mtshali, supported by Thobeka Zimu as his long-suffering wife. First her husband goes to work in Johannesburg and she never sees him, then he comes home and is holed up in a hut by order of the village elders and only allowed to see those who have a story to relate about the prophet. It’s enough to make any wife attack an outsider, especially if she is outspoken, intrusive and her offer of payment seems untrustworthy.

That “outsider” is one Beatrix, an American journalist bent on including into her own writing some of the stories Petros has gathered. Gwen Tulin proves her pro-active energy, not to mention her strong singing talents in this role. Providing good supporting in a range of characters are Jabu Shange, Sne Makanya and Mandla Zondi.

The actors are drawn from the township programmes William le Cordeur works closely with and it is interesting to note that Mandla, Sne and Thobeka have very little theatre experience to date. In this case, I would suggest you watch their progress with interest!

William le Cordeur readily admits that the work is an experimental piece and not an accurate historical play about the Shembe Church or of any of its members. However, Petros Dhlomo is a true character who eventually was to become the secretary of ibandla lalmaNazaretha. He acted as a scribe for the church from 1949 and was responsible for recording a vast number of testimonies, along with other scribes.

I think that William le Cordeur has created an interesting eye-opener into the history of the Shembe church and I hope that he continues to explore this subject in terms of dramatic theatre. – Caroline Smart.




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