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RASHOMON (article first published : 2006-05-20)

What is reality and what is truth? Take a serious crime and ask four of the protagonists involved what actually happened and their view of the situation will invariably differ as they either embellish or manipulate the events to their own end, particularly if they have much personal status to lose in telling the truth.

This is the basis of Rashomon, a play by Fay and Michael Kanin adapted from the celebrated film by Japanese master Akira Kurosawa, who in turn adapted his script from two short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.

Currently running at the Courtyard Theatre, an impressive production of Rashomon mounted by the Department of Drama Studies at Durban University of Technology (DUT), formerly the Durban Institute of Technology, must rank as one of the department’s finest to date.

Director Debbie Lutge, choreographer Mdu Mtshali, musical director Madlen Tzankova and Dana Hadjiev who is responsible for the musical arrangement are all to be congratulated – as are the students themselves – for a sophisticated and well-performed presentation. One of the most challenging aspects of Japanese theatre is its quality of stillness and there are times when most of the cast are required to remain as still as statues with the smallest amount of movement. This they do with much self-discipline and the impact is highly dramatic.

The setting is Japan a thousand years ago and story starts out in the abandoned ruins of the great gate called Rashomon. A woodcutter (Simphiwe Ngidi) arrives to shelter from the thunderstorm to discover the priest (Duven Naidoo) who had disappeared that morning from the city following a sensational court trial, taking shelter as well.

Two wild creatures, The Wigmaker (Nkululeko Mosia) and his wife (Crystal Hodnett), press them to tell the events of the trial and this they do – following the various accounts of those involved. These were from the Bandit (S’Dumo Mtshali) who is accused of raping the wife (Khethiwe Hlatshwayo) of a samurai (Shaun Pearson) and of killing the samurai as well. The wife’s mother (Nellie Ncgongo) is intent on giving her version while the Deputy (Siza Mthembu) tries to keep both her and the Bandit under control. The dead samurai’s version of the incident is told through the mediums (Suiyen Valerie Smith and Jessica Jayde Jamison).

Rashomon places challenges on the roles of the Bandit, the wife and the samurai as each version sees the characters in a different light. All three acquitted themselves admirably but particular mention must go to Khethiwe Hlatshwayo who had to portray the biggest range of emotions.

Wendy Henstock’s costumes are attractive and her effective all-white set and its floor areas of sand and stone are well-lit by Tina le Roux’s design. Debbie Lutge is the stage combat director and S’Dumo Mtshali and Shaun Pearson’s fights (one very real and the other half-hearted, amusingly staged) brought strong response from tonight’s audience!

Moving bamboo, falling leaves, smoke, fluttering fans, paper butterflies and birds all add to the visual effects.

My one gripe is that the guttural, rasping voices affected by certain characters to create an impression of age or madness invariably made their speech unintelligible and, worse, may give them throat problems before the run is out. I also felt that the make-up of most of the singers was too heavy and out of balance with the overall stylish look.

Rashomon runs from May 20 to 27 (excluding Sunday) at 19h00 in the DUT’s Courtyard Theatre in Mansfield Road. Tickets R30 (R15 students and pensioners with cards). Bookings on 031 204 2532 or 031 204 2194 or at the door. – Caroline Smart




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