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TOO LATE (article first published : 2006-02-11)

Widely recognised as the “Father of Township Theatre” and one of the greatest black playwrights out of South Africa, the late Gibson Kente left a legacy of impressive work that included plays, musicals and television dramas. He rose to fame in the early 70’s with his musicals of township life and his influence on the South African performing arts is incalculable. His work produced and nurtured top South African theatre names such as Peter Se-puma, Sello Maake Ka Ncube, Mbongeni Ngema, Brenda Fassie, Vusi Dibakwane, Nomsa Nene and Mabutho Kid Sithole.

Towards the end of his life, he announced that he was HIV-positive and it is believed that this act as well as his play, The Call which he staged in 2003, made a major contribution to the struggle against AIDS.

The Drama Studies Department at the Durban Institute of Technology is currently presenting “Bra Gib’s” Too Late at the Courtyard Theatre for a short run. Too Late is the only published work by Gibson Kente and was originally banned under Section 12 of Act 26 of 1963 of the Publications Control Board. Directed by Jerry Pooe, it is the first production of his work to be seen in Durban since his death at the age of 72 on November 7, 2004.

Jerry Pooe’s work is well-known in Durban – from his own Eager Artists theatre company and more recently at DIT where he is a part-time lecturer. Too Late is a particular challenge as it involves a cast of no less than 60 students, many of them among the unprecedently-large intake of first-years. A further challenge is the fact that the script of Too Late provides song titles but no musical score so he opted to use Kente’s music from How Long and Skhalo.

The story is about a township family that struggles to survive during the times of dompas laws in South Africa. As always, Jerry infuses a strong level of energy and vibrancy into his musicals and all cast members acquit themselves well. There’s much frenetic “business”: the taxis are always full; policemen are brutal and often corrupt; a priest tries to hold his flock together; a young man constantly fixes his bicycle, and a simpleton wanders around with a tyre. Everyone – whether in a major part or a smaller one – gives their all but sometimes the background activity needs to be more controlled in order not to pull focus.

Particularly good performances come from Siza Mthembu as the young man Saduva; Nobuhle Khanyile as his aunt Madinto, Oyama Mbopha as his girlfriend Totozi and Gugu Khumalo as the slain schoolgirl Ntanana. The scene of her death was especially moving. Special mention should be made of Sdumo Mtshali as the priest, Cebo Khumalo as the lovable rogue Offside, Freedom Ngema who came into his own in the prison scenes, and Musa Khumalo as the effeminate Diza. As the doctor and Pele Pele, Bonga Dlamini and Siphiwe Madlala tended to caricature their roles and were almost unintelligible at times which was a pity because their performances would otherwise have been very strong.

The influence of well-known singer/actress Patti Nokwe is very evident in the singing and in this context both Slindile Hlengwa and Sam Hlophe impressed with their numbers. Overall, I think a conductor needs to be brought in to keep the background chorus and music down when soloists are singing as too often they were overpowered vocally. Band members Siphesihle Mngwengwe, Bheka Mthethwa and Sibusiso Zondi provide good accompaniment and Mdu Mtshali’s choreography considerably adds to the authenticity of the production.

Too Late runs in the Courtyard Theatre from February 11 to 18. Enquiries and bookings through Pam at the Drama Department on 031 204 2194 during office hours. - Caroline Smart




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