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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 GAME (article first published : 2008-08-1; last edited : [an error occurred while processing this directive])

I first saw Duma Ndlovu’s The Game all of eleven or so years ago in Grahamstown at the National Arts Festival. A tightly written and well-directed ensemble piece, it reminded me of his powerful Bergville Stories about an incident that took place in 1956 in his ancestral home of Bergville when 22 men were convicted of killing five policemen during a war over dagga fields.

Through the same process of keeping all the actors on stage and having them visit the past with their experiences – and in this case, grievous or alleged crimes – Duma Ndlovu tells the tale of eight women prisoners in a fictitious Middleburg jail.

It is 1993. Nelson Mandela and many political prisoners have been released and South Africa is speeding towards its first democratic election. Inside the prison walls, the women are required to carry out their own “democratic” election when they are informed that unconditional clemency has been granted to one of the women, resulting in her release. However, they have to choose the lucky one. They do this by playing a children’s game – innocent enough in its concept but here it carries a heightened and desperate importance. The winner makes it her plea that women should unite in order to face the future with strength and clarity of vision.

Duma Ndlovu can be justifiably proud of all members of his cast who come across as a close-knit group, as if they have indeed been incarcerated with each other for many long dreary years. His script pulls no punches, the language is explicit and the action tough. From the oldest to the youngest, these women are hardened to their situation. As their stories unfold, however, we come to get to know them and sympathise with their plight.

The star-studded line-up represents impressive careers on stage, screen and TV. It’s difficult to single out any one of these fine performances but their experience and solid theatre techniques – particularly in terms of vocal projection - put Mary Twala and Leleti Khumalo a cut above the rest. Following close on their heels are Londiwe Mthembu, Lucia Mthiyane, Simpiwe Ngema, Sindi Dlathu, Thandazile Soni and Phumelephi Mthombeni who contribute to a rich dramatic tapestry made up of emotions, poignancy and humour.

Their individual problems and backgrounds are skilfully woven into this tapestry so that snippets emerge at well-placed intervals during the action and it is only at the end that each woman’s story reaches its completion. If, like mine, your knowledge of isiZulu is limited, don’t let that deter you. You’ll miss a lot of the humour but this won’t mar your appreciation of this excellent drama.

The Game is the centrepiece and first production in this year’s South African Women’s Arts Festival presented by the Playhouse Company. Judging from the response (of both sexes!) in tonight’s audience - it has set the tone for a highly successful festival.

The Game can be seen in the Playhouse Drama until August 10. Performances are from Tuesdays to Fridays at 19h30, Saturdays at 15h00 and 19h30 and Sundays at 15h00. The show runs for over an hour and a half without interval. Tickets R80 booked at Computicket nationwide (083 915 8000) or on 031-369 9540 /369 9596. For discounted block bookings, call 031 369 9456/7. – Caroline Smart




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