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

YES MEDEM (article first published : 2002-07-3)

Walking into the theatre one expects a satirical look at the relationship between a “Madam” and her “Servant” especially with the production being advertised “for all ages”. Bongiwe Ngxoli’s play currently playing at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown is anything but suitable for youngsters. It is a rather shocking piece and I was aware of the children’s uncomfortable reactions throughout.

The small stage is effectively transformed into the staff quarters of Miriam, housekeeper of the childless Van Rensburg couple. The set also serves as the all-white upper luxury home of Miriam’s employers and the gym frequently attended by “Medem.” The director created synergy between a strong script and a talented young actress. Warona Seane allowed Bongiwe Ngxoli to showcase her diversity in a natural and smooth flowing performance.

Ngxoli impresses as she tells Miriam’s story with an abundance of humour and honest sensitivity. Jumping between iXhosa, English and Afrikaans she allows the audience to identify with both characters, leaving behind the realisation that people are people no-matter what their background.

The story of the employee and employer serves as a good setting. Miriam’s story within the household unfolds and her character grows in intensity as she reveals her past. Although a number of stereotyped protests are made, they only serve to strengthen the sub-text.

Skillfully the play moves from the humorous to the dramatic as both characters expose their own intimate secrets. Miriam’s rape scene is superbly portrayed: raw yet subtle. The stripping of oneself from one’s past is depicted through the actress’s removal of her clothes. Giving an extra edge to this mature piece of theatre is a no-holds-barred yet well-presented abortion scene.

A gem in its own right, this is intensely gripping and intellectual theatre that should not be mistaken as a black/white issue comedy. In its essence, despite the sexual connotations, the play is thought provoking but definitely not aimed at young children . – Thomie Holtzhausen




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