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THULESIZWE (article first published : 2005-11-6)

Working from an original storyline by Heather Reynolds, Thulebona Mzizi has taken the quantum leap from dancer (as a member of the acclaimed Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company) to director with ThuleSizwe (Be Still, My People).

The production forms part of the Playhouse Company’s season of New Stages which has a short season over this weekend. In isiZulu and English, the musical deals with a familiar theme – violence and threats within a royal house, the flight of the heir apparent, Sizwe (Thami Zungu), to the big city, involvement on the mines and his return home on his maturity to claim his rightful place to lead his people.

In this production, equal focus is placed on the heir’s sister, Nozizwe (Phakamile Shezi), who is sexually abused by the regent. Carrying his baby, she flees her home but her life is dogged with tragedy. A suspended coffin constantly reminds us of the fact that in far too many cases, the quality of life is held to be very cheap.

Thulebona has worked with youngsters from God’s Golden Acre Performing Arts Academy and those around the Cato Ridge area. Two groups alternate for each performance and tonight I saw The Roots. For a group of youngsters in their first major theatrical roles, they acquitted themselves very well and their focus, discipline and commitment is to be commended. What they may lack in musical accomplishments, they make up for with enthusiasm and energy. Mention must be made of Similo Cele who has a pleasant voice and handled his songs with commitment.

Other notable performances came from Scelo Ngwane, David Mlaba, Maxwell Madlala and Malungiselelo Ntinga.

Apart from two songs: Yesterday and Hard to be a Woman, which were written some time back, Thulebona has written 15 songs for ThuleSizwe. He has also handled the choreography and the gumboot sequence in the mining scene was a delight.

As if he didn’t have enough to do, Thulebona is also responsible for the set which ranges from a rural scene set against the backdrop of the Drakensberg, a hostel dormitory, a colliery (very effective) and a railway station.

This is definitely a work in progress. The first half is too long and the opening sequences need judicious pruning as well as a stronger establishment as to who’s who in the storyline. The closing narrative needs to be clearer as to Nozizwe’s fate. I believe that many of the illogicalities and imbalances in structure will be attended to and a streamlined version will result in a far more viable vehicle. The dictum “less is more” needs to be strenuously enforced. Despite its shortcomings, Heather Reynolds and Thulebona Mzizi should be congratulated in achieving a full-length musical with non-professional and comparatively inexperienced performers.

ThuleSizwe has one more performance in the Playhouse Drama tomorrow (November 6) at 14h30. Tickets R20. Book through Computicket or 031 369 9555. – Caroline Smart




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