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

THE LAST MILE (article first published : 2000-07-31)

Jullian Seleke-Mokoto is the founder of the acclaimed Gauteng-based Abangani Theatre group. Now 15 years old, the company has performed all over South Africa as well as in other African countries and their work has been well-received wherever they performed.

Jullian Seleke-Mokoto brought his comedy The Last Mile to Durban last week where it had a short run in the BAT Centre. It’s a poignant and amusing look at a trio of aged misfits: the embittered asthmatic Frank (Daniel Montsho), the pipe-smoking Johnson (Jullian Seleke-Mokoto) with a cane bottle ever at his lips and Nosipho (Jabu Ntsele) who, complete with bible and wrap-around blanket, shuffles around scattering caustic comments amid fervent “Hallelujah”s.

Jullian’s skilful writing is sympathetic of old people and their problems and he is observant of their vagaries and actions. His characters wander through random thoughts, memories, improbable boasts and occasional tiffs. Their common bond is that they are somewhere they would rather not be – in an old home with the inevitable end not too far away.

Johnson is still grieving for his beautiful wife who could make any kind of salad under the sun but died in a car accident. Frank shows little sign of remorse for the treatment of his wife which led to the break-up of their marriage and eventually saw him making more than sexual overtures to the girl friends of his sons. He still considers himself something of a sports hero – “I’m too sexy for my shirt” he chortles before announcing that the old age home should organise a marathon – not a long one, just one mile. Unfortunately, he never gets to run that last mile.

The set is functional and attractive depicting either a garden or conservatory with a picket fence. It is situated in front of the toilets which have – an odd quirk – Victorian symbols for ladies and gents. These, however, make little impact as neither Johnson nor Nosipho seem able to recognise the difference and it is up to Frank to point them to the correct entrance. There are trees in pots and a park bench allows Johnson the space to spread himself – and his bottle – freely.

Drunk as Johnson may be, his outlook on life is much more pragmatic than that of his friend. “Just join the chorus and stop asking questions”, he advises Frank who mostly affects a strongly protruding lower lip and is clad in a dressing gown with the belt tied comically round his chest.

Frank’s asthmatic cough does tend to become more than a little distracting, often drowning the speech of others and breaking the flow of action. He also throws his tissues around with much abandon. Presumably this is a sign of rebellion against his circumstances but it seems illogical that he should waste his precious fading energy with such efforts.

The Last Mile is a well-spent hour of gently humorous entertainment and Frank’s death scene is extremely touching. Let’s hope we see more of Jullian Seleke-Mokoto’s work here in Durban.




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