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AZIBUYE ESEZADLULA (article first published : 2008-05-23; last edited : [an error occurred while processing this directive])

I understand that Azibuye Esazadlula marks the first directorial effort of Mapule B Mchunu. All I can say is that if the quality of this production is anything to go by, then we can expect to see much more of this attractive young lady on the theatre scene in the future.

Azibuye Esazadlula (Going Back to Our Roots) premiered last night in the Playhouse Drama and will run for another two performances as part of the Playhouse Company’s New Stages project. It is staged by the Isiqiniseko Performing Arts Project which comprises artists who attended Mbongeni Ngema’s theatre academy and eventually formed their own independent theatre group.

The Ngema stamp is there for all to see –disciplined performances, good articulation and professional focus. Literally translated, “Azibuye Sezadula” means “bring back the good old days” and the production looks at the traditional customs of respect and family unity as opposed to today’s trend towards a contemporary Western lifestyle which upholds gender equality but all too often sees the breakdown of the family unit.

Like many productions of a similar nature, it starts off in a rural setting – accompanied by the expected dance routines – but the production starts acquiring its own character when the dramatic component kicks in.

The story opens in the rural areas where we meet the main character, a young woman who is already questioning the status quo and the perceived subservience of their mother to their father. Sharp reprimands from both parents remind her that this is how things have always been done in their world. They then encourage her to take part in the Emhlangeni Reed Dance, an indigenous ceremony which celebrates the determination of young women to keep their virginity until marriage and – its more recent focus – to control the rampant spread of AIDS.

Our heroine meets a young man of the village by the river and the spark of romance is born. In another delightful scene, she joins in a game with the other young girls as they display their purity and availability by holding a piece of white material on a stick where she shyly allows him to take the stick from her.

However, higher education calls and, while promising her father that she will return to marry the young man, it’s off to Jozi for her to study. Here she encounters a strange, fast-moving and challenging world where women were trousers and high heels. She shares lodgings with a fashionable and modern-thinking miss who listens to her rural customs with cynicism but declares that they have much to learn from the other. There was a delicious moment when our heroine discovers a full-length mirror!

She visits her first nightclub and experiences the indignities of a body search at the entrance as well as the pounding invasion of the thumping music to her gentle senses. Continuing the theme of respecting age-old traditions in a modern society, a multi-denominational church service reminds the congregation that no matter what we call him/her, we all serve one god. Our heroine returns home as promised and weds her man in a traditional ceremony.

Azibuye Esazadlula could do with a bit of pruning in terms of repetitive choreography but last night’s audience loved it and responded vigorously to the humour as well as to the comments raised from the students in the scene where they discuss a religious question posed by a lecturer. The cast has good live musical backing from Siphesihle Mngwengwe, Thabani Kheswa and Bheka Mthethwa.

Topping the bill performance-wise for me were the delightful Nompumelelo Ndlovu (our heroine) and Sboniso Mdlalose who was equally effective as her arthritic father and a fervent minister. He is also a hot-shot drummer, by the way! Notable performances come from the narrator Rethabile Nkentsa (also one of the choreographers along with Zakhele Mbatha and Nhlakanipho Maphumo), Ntombenhle Hlongwane, Mpapa Majola, Skhonzile Jele and Bongiwe Mbhenise.

While effective in the main, the set contains the strangest shaped rocks I’ve ever seen – and when the action moves to Jozi, they look even stranger. Perhaps if they were clumped closer together they wouldn’t look so odd. I also had a problem that the same lectern that was used in the King’s kraal appears later in the inter-denominational church but this might have a deeper significance in that the words of a higher authority should be respected from wherever it comes?

Azibuye Esezadlula runs in the Playhouse Drama until May 24 at 19h30. Booking at Computicket or 03 369 9555. – Caroline Smart

I’m sorry to use this review as a vehicle to air my concerns on another matter that may or may not have affected the cast’s concentration tonight but it has become a major issue lately in the Playhouse and other theatres:

Even the most important movers and shakers in our society manage to survive without using their cellphones on an hour’s flight to Johannesburg or even an international flight of about 13 hours. Why do some people think their affairs are so important that they have to be conducted in a theatre auditorium? I was concerned tonight to see a member of the audience taking issue with the usher who asked her to turn her cellphone off. Please respect the authority of the Playhouse ushers –they’re doing a job and it’s for a very good reason.

Consider a performance in a theatre as a flight in an aircraft where you are not allowed to use cellphones because it interferes with the technology that keeps the plane on the correct flight path. It’s exactly the same for a live performance. Any interference – and that includes cellphone use, crumpling of sweet papers, fidgeting and excessive coughing – disturbs the cast’s “flight path” in terms of focus. After all, they are trying to take the audience on a journey – lifting them out of their seats and into the drama, music or dance programme they are presenting. Even leaving the cellphone on silent is not acceptable – the light that shines from a cellphone dial is as distracting as a spotlight – not to mention that it’s very disrespectful to both performers and audience.




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