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JUST DON’T (article first published : 2006-05-20)

K-Cap Alive Kids Productions present a first in their successful history. Just Don’t, currently running in the Playhouse Loft, offers no band, no dancing, no attractive costuming and no females in the cast … apart from a girl in a picture!

Having just returned from a two-week tour of the play in Leeds in the UK, Just Don’t is K-CAP’s first pure drama, with a cast of eight men. It is set in Westville Prison and tells the story of Fikile, effectively played by Wiseman Shabalala, a male prisoner (Prisoner #006) wrongly accused of rape. None of his fellow inmates know his story until one night he relives the whole court scene in a dream.

The play has immediate relevance in that it is Wiseman’s own story. He is an ex-prisoner from Westville Prison, as are the rest of the very talented cast who we will hopefully see more regularly in the future. Having undergone training assisted through Unilever, the cast have honed their dramatic skills under the careful eye of award-winning director Edmund Mhlongo who runs the Ekaya Multi-Arts Centre in KwaMashu (E-MAC) where K-CAP Alive Kids are based.

Edmund Mhlongo describes the production as a “story with a positive message of hope after prison and explicitly showing the hard life in jail, which they all experienced, challenges after prison and the passion to be good models for the other youth.”

The message that comes across loud and clear is: Just Don’t! … do crime!”

There are strong performances all round. As the Warder – also producing an amusing double as an inebriated translator – Siyabonga Meyiwa has to control a bunch of misfits who all have their own hidden agendas.

Prisoner #005 (Vumani Khumalo) is a bodybuilder who is not above informing on the rest of his group to the Warder while Prisoner #004 (Mfanafuthi Mzolo) ends up on the receiving end of the Warder’s anger. Prisoner #002 (Mlungisi Mkhize) is volatile and aggressive and plots the Warder’s demise. Much of the comedy comes from Prisoner #007 (Thembinkosi Buthelezi) and special mention must be made of his endearing performance as the little girl in the court scene, which could easily have slid into melodrama.

Prisoner #001 is S’thembiso Gumede, the new inmate who has to learn the hard way that seeming generosity from another - Prisoner #008 (Lucky Simayile) - holds more sinister intentions. The rape scene which they enact is well-handled and dramatic.

There are compelling scenes as the jockeying for positions of power work themselves through. The characters interact well with each other and are believable. While touting prison as a place for free home, free food, free clothes, free sleep – not to mention free sex! – they are all displaced and burn with jealousy when Wiseman receives news that his sentence has been reprieved.

Co-written by Edmund Mhlongo and the cast, Just Don’t runs from May 19 to 31 in The Playhouse Loft. Book at Computicket. K-Cap Alive Kids are to be congratulated on what is hoped will be the first of many good dramas to come. – Caroline Smart




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