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

TAXI JAM (article first published : 2008-08-16)

The musical Taxi Jam was a smash hit when it was created by and for the Kwasa Project in 1990, going on to win several regional and national awards in that year. Kwasa was an outreach community development and internship programme supported by NAPAC (now the Playhouse Company) and headed by actor, scriptwriter and director Themi Venturas.

Taxi Jam is back on the Durban scene - complete with wire craft vehicles – at the Durban University of Technology where Themi Venturas has chosen a strong cast of close on 50 students for a season in the Courtyard Theatre. If the response from tonight’s audience is anything to go by, it’s set for a good run.

The murder of one of Themi’s brightest and most dedicated students moved him to create a piece around the senselessness of killing and how politicians can use circumstances like these to create political gain. His inspiration was further generated by the way playwright Thornton Wilder dealt with life and death issues in his acclaimed Our Town. Some 18 years later, the issues are still alarmingly relevant and people’s lives are threatened every day.

This by no means that Taxi Jam is full of doom and gloom – nothing could be further from the truth. A vibey and intensely humorous piece, it’s pure South African, pure KZN and loaded with energy!

In the role of a storyteller, a gravedigger introduces us to a forthright youngster called Putha who’s had enough of his drunken mother and the steady train of “uncles” who end up in her bedroom. He leaves home and is befriended by the streetwise Bra Bheki who then introduces him to the good-hearted taxi owner Zakes. Putha finds a home in a shebeen run by Ma Dlamini who has a daughter Fikile and a drunken husband. He falls in love with Fikile but finds a dangerous opponent in Themba who tries to use his political affiliations to destroy him.

While all the roles are handled well and the whole cast is extremely well-disciplined, stand out performances are from Bandile Mkhize (gravedigger); a strong-voiced Philani Muthwa (young Putha), Brian Khawula (Old Putha); Lungelo Gwala (Bra Bheki); Andile Mdletshe (Zakes), Ayanda Sibisi (Ma Dlamini), Sanelisiwe Dlamini (Fikile); Menzi Mkhwane (Mr Dlamini); Ntando Mncube (Themba) and Vishendra Singh (the cop).

The end of the show features a highly amusing sequence where departed souls cynically observe the actions of those on earth. This scene, as Themi Venturas honestly admits, is directly inspired by the same scenario in Our Town. Shona Johnson is a delight and handled some delicious laugh lines with aplomb and excellent timing.

This is a production that can be enjoyed by young and old alike, whatever their community or background. Mdu Mtshali’s choreography is vibrant and the simple use of ladders and planks for the set was effective. Up on the bandstand leading a tight combo, it was a joy to see guitarist Tiki Nxumalo who worked side by side with Themi in Kwasa and co-composed Taxi Jam with him. Also a nice surprise to see Njabulo Hlongwane, former curator of the BAT Centre galleries, sitting behind the bass guitar.

Thank you, Courtyard Theatre, for your professional insistence on the non-use of cellphones and controlling people entering or leaving the theatre during a performance! The only problem with the show for me was insufficient projection from actors when speaking – particularly above the band in one of the earlier numbers.

Taxi Jam runs from August 14 to 22 at 19h00 at the Courtyard Theatre, Mansfield Road, DUT campus. There is secure parking at Gate No. 4 opposite the Courtyard Theatre. Tickets R15 booked through Ronicka Sirputh on 031 373 2194. – Caroline Smart

It should be noted that it is not possible to purchase refreshments of any kind at The Courtyard, not even bottled water.




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