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

TEN BUSH (article first published : 2008-07-6)

Directed by Mncedisi Shabangu, the Market Theatre’sTen Bush is on the main programme of this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

It is a dramatic and intensely visual tale of witchcraft and intrigue where witches are set on fire and men can vomit up snakes and stones. Ten Bush is an isolated ancient settlement steeped in ancestral beliefs and internal power struggles situated close to Nelspruit and referred to as Tenbosch but known as “Ten Bush” by those who live there. To gather material for the storyline, Mncedisi and co-writer Craig Higginson met with chiefs and indunas as well as old women and men of the area and gleaned much of the history and culture of these Swazi communities.

The resultant production is riveting, with every nuance of expression clearly portrayed. Ten Bush relies heavily on props and these are skilfully utilised on Nduka Mntamo’s simple and movable set design which is effectively lit by Wesley France. It’s very much an ensemble piece and the actions of the actors are mirrored by sound effects from those who aren’t in the scene at the time – often with an interesting twist. A woman washes clothes, the others wash their faces. The horror of murderous actions are reflected by softer imagery, leaving the audience to imagine the full process.

There are beautiful performances all round. Sello Sebotsane is imposing as the philandering Simon and Hamilton Dlhamini switches comfortably from playing the laconic deposed chief’s advisor to a velvet-voiced manipulative spirit. As Martha, Simon’s wife, Tina Mnumzana particularly impressed as an embittered barren woman whose thoughts have turned to evil. It could easily have become stereotypical but her handling of the character made us both fear her and sympathise with her.

Zandile Msutwana is dignified and composed as Martha’s sister who Martha blinds when she discovers she is pregnant as a result of her relationship with Simon. The eventual child is Duduzile played with delightful sincerity and forthright humour by Lebogang Modiba. Xolile Gama is the young suitor, initially full of fervour for Duduzile, then proud and regal when he becomes chief.

In an interview with Leila Hall in Cue, Mncedisi Shabangu stated that he wanted the piece to be as “organic as possible”, smooth flowing without any “theatricalities”. He certainly achieved this aim. – Caroline Smart




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