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

NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (article first published : 2002-07-14)

As the 2002 National Arts Festival was drawing to a close, and after seeing some really top class work, the standard of excellence was continued with John Kani’s debut as a playwright in Nothing but the Truth.

What an exciting evening it turned out to be! As my colleague Thomie Holtzhausen put it, we have now reached a true post-“new South Africa” culture. A time when the leading creative forces in the arts have placed apartheid, the struggle, protest theatre and a fledgling democracy in their proper historical context and are producing work that doesn’t need to fly political banners to be strong and relevant.

Nothing But the Truth is simply about three people – a father, his daughter and his niece. Sipho, beautifully played by John Kani with subtle acknowledgement to the character’s age, awaits the arrival of his niece from London with the body of his brother who, according to his wishes, is to be buried at his ancestral home. With his strong respect of traditional customs, Sipho is concerned that everything should be done correctly.

When Mandisa arrives - a spirited and vigorous performance by Pamela Nomvete - she turns out to be a highly opinionated and outspoken young fashion designer who finds herself at odds trying to balance traditional customs against her emancipated upbringing in the United Kingdom. Growing up not distinguishing skin colour, she throws back at her uncle’s pithy remark: “He was white!”, the reply: “He was English!”

Placed in the middle of these two volatile protagonists is the steadying influence of Sipho’s dutiful and obedient daughter Thando, played with grace, dignity and charm by Dambisa Kente. With her consistently serene composure, she gave a nice edge to the woman excited by her cousin’s lifestyle but experiencing a sense of insecurity when a door is opened to an exciting world outside of her own rather restricted one.

Sipho’s situation is not helped by the fact that Mandisa brings, not her father’s body but his ashes thereby creating a major problem for her tradition-bound uncle. With burial grounds around South Africa fast reaching saturation point and cremation being advised wherever possible, despite its conflict with traditional burial beliefs, the introduction of this subject was a timely one.

The closing scene is particularly brilliant as Sipho launches into his own one-man truth and reconciliation process, burying his jealousy of his brother and emerging triumphant with the commitment to create a living and practical memorial to the struggle.

The text is full and strong with many touches of delightful humour. Certainly issues such as freedom fighters, exiles, the struggle and affirmative action are there – it wouldn’t be a South African story it they weren’t - but they make up the threads of a strong and entertaining play. The moods are skillfully placed and the play is so wide-reaching emotionally that it almost comes as a shock to be reminded at the curtain call that there are only three performers.

Sarah Roberts’ set is just right, offering two playing areas comprising a tidy but cramped kitchen with all mod cons and a larger living room. It is homely, comfortable and believable.

Having won numerous awards for his work in film and theatre and with a name that is entrenched in contemporary South African history, John Kani has firmly reasserted his position as one of South Africa’s top actors. Under Janice Honeyman’s tight direction and editing, Nothing But the Truth emerges as a riveting, amusing, well-written and presented play that will appeal to all tastes. Certainly the younger members of the Grahamstown audience responded with as much, if not more, enthusiasm as their older counterparts. – Caroline Smart




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