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GRAHAMSTOWN - DRAMA (article first published : 1999-07-4)

This is a potentially exciting production written by Mandla Langa and directed by Jerry Mofokeng with musical direction by Themba Mkhize. Composers and lyricists include Hugh Masekela, Motsumi Makhene, Sibongile Khumalo and Mokale Koapeng with choreography by Nomsa Manaka. Combined, they make an impressive creative team. The well-designed set was offset by good lighting from Denis Hutchinson. Kantse Mphahlwa handled a complicated sound system which had most of the large cast miked. Lyn Leventhorpe’s costumes were highly imaginative and suitably fantastical and the final scene was simply stunning.

Added to this you have a strong and experienced cast led by the incomparable Sibongile Khumalo and Gloria Bosman – two voices you’d have to go a long way to match; Owen Sejake with his impeccable diction and proud bearing; the casual professionalism of Mike Huff, and the strong acting talents of Sello Motloung, Tsepho Desando and Steve Mofokeng. And the band was one of the best.

The story line was interesting, based on the subject of land resettlement Joshua (Owen Sejake) is first identified as a mine worker elated at the news that the Land Claims Court has ruled in his favour and he is going back to his traditional home. His people, of whom he is the traditional leader, suffered forced removal of the area during apartheid.

The next time we see Joshua he is frail and dying, cared for by spiritual healer Nozizwe (Sibongile Khumalo). He wishes to see his daughter Zodwa (Gloria Bosman) before he dies. Zodwa is studying to be a lawyer and not enamoured of the call to return “to the bush”. Encouraging her to grant her father’s wish is Horwitz (Mike Huff) which whom she once had a relationship. Her father’s anger at her choice of partner is possibly the cause of the rift between the three of them. Pull into the story line an embittered ex-MK member, a demented devil, some greedy vultures and a power-hungry uncle and it all makes for a darn good drama set to music.

So, what’s wrong? Why didn’t it work? For me, anyway.

It’s too `bitty’ and episodic, for a start. The programme notes state that the collaborative nature of the work intended to build on the outstanding talent of the creative team. True enough, but collaborations don’t always work unless there’s a strong and ruthless `editor’ at the head of the team. Despite a three and a half-year development process, Milestones still contains sufficient material and ideas to produce at least two musicals of this nature.

Unnecessary scenes were given too much importance while those which offer valuable information were insufficiently developed. Only in the second act does the audience begin to get a clear idea of who’s who and where they all fit in the story sequence. Mike Huff’s character offered the occasional welcome narration but the use of this technique was inconsistent. Musical numbers covered styles from maskanda, gumboot and township jive to smooth jazz and isicathamiya. No problem there in principle but often it seemed that numbers happened just for the sake of their inclusion.

What’s missing is that indefinable something that holds a production together and carries it along like a single wave-form, taking cast and audience with it from beginning to end. Where Milestones seems to fall down is that the originators have tried to do too much, introduce too many styles, too many dimensions. I think drastic re-construction (not re-writing) and editing is required before this production can take its rightful place among top South African productions.


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