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

CALAMITY (article first published : 2003-10-2)

In March 2002, the Johannesburg-based theatre company Mzini Productions presented its comedy production Calamity at the Windybrow Arts Festival. Since then the show has appeared at the Spoornet State Theatre in Pretoria, at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, Gauteng’s Ishashalazi Festival, Tshakalani Festival in Mpumalanga province and Linkfest “Eclipes” festival in Messina in Limpompo Province.

Calamity has now reached KZN and will have four productions in the Playhouse Theatre Loft from October 1 to 4.

As the story opens, a wife receives news that her husband has been killed when the bus on which he was travelling with other physically challenged friends was hijacked.

Wham! In the first five minutes the audience comes face to face with one of South Africa’s biggest problem issues – crime – and how it impacts on ordinary people. Tall and focused, Sbongile Ngwenya gives a beautifully controlled performance as the wife of the deceased. The next person to cope with the news is the brilliant teenage daughter Rethabie played by Sbongile Genu who is spunky and self-assured while still remaining endearing and vulnerable. Rethabie eventually comes up with an amusingly outrageous idea to solve crime in South Africa. Perhaps we should let her into Parliament, as the script suggests. The plan might just work. I’m giving no secrets away – just go and see the play!

Helping them through their grief is Pastor Maphanga, a good performance by Siphiwe Melo. The poor pastor’s patience is sorely tested when two men burst into the room, in traditional Lesotho blankets and hats. One is the dead man’s relative who sets about laying claim to the flat and everything in it, including mother and daughter, and the other is a sycophantic assistant whose loyalties change with the wind. And this is when the fun begins …!

Sandile Matsheni as the relative undoubtedly steals the show with his vigorous and hilarious portrayal. As his rather untrustworthy assistant, Petros Mhoni pulled in many of the laughs with his turncoat behaviour. Special mention must also be made of Phumzile Kubheka whose sangoma has a hidden agenda of her own! Dlozi Mabote and Kutsu Ndlandla handled their roles of the social worker and a schoolgirl with assuredness and credibility.

While the play can be viewed and enjoyed simply as a comedy, it has a skilfully woven subtext dealing with issues such as the appropriateness of tribal rituals in an urban society, the respect of traditional beliefs as opposed to the observance of Christian principles, and the customs of male dominance.

Calamity is written and well-directed by Duma Mnembe and my only criticism is that the set is under-dressed. Performances at 19h30 in the Playhouse Loft until October 4. Booking is at Computicket. For enquiries call 031 301 3673. – Caroline Smart




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