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EKHAYA POPPIE (article first published : 2001-10-19)

Jerry Pooe has impressed with the work of his well-disciplined Eager Artists Company for some time now. His last musical Peace in the Valley was an acclaimed success and he has formed a strong relationship with the Centre for the Arts at the University of Buffalo in New York which has hosted the Eager Artists on a regular basis over the last few years.

Jerry was a consultant during last year’s national centenary commemoration of the Anglo-Boer War and this involvement sparked the idea of writing a musical which looked at the war from the perspective of the black community of the time.

He maintains that he has tried to avoid “preaching” in his telling of the story and Ekhaya Poppie has succeeded to a fair extent. Obviously the production will have a strong slant, as any warfare seen from the viewpoints of either protagonists, victims or onlookers will vary in its narrative. At this very moment, we have such an example with America’s declared war on terrorism which has involved a large number of the nations of the northern hemisphere.

In war - who is right, who is wrong? Who are the victims, who are the victors? Or, indeed, are there any victors? And ordinary peace-loving civilians become drawn into the net and find themselves either forced into the action or made to take sides.

Under the musical direction of well-known musician Brian Thusi, Ekhaya Poppie tells the story of Poppie (Winile Majozi), who is sent by her village elders to go in search of the young men who have left their rural homes to work on the mines. In Johannesburg, she meets up with her home girl friend Jumaima (nicely played by Charmaine Mpofu). Life is tough and she sells her body in order to survive. The war breaks out and she persuades one of her clients, Josia (Vusi Mhlongo) who is in love with her, to help campaign for Blacks not to be part of the fighting. The news from the arena of war is filled with horrendous tales and when fighting ceases, Poppie has to sacrifice much to fulfil her promise of returning to her rural home.

Manu Ndlovu plays a moving cameo role as the mad woman while Buyani Shangase and Sizwe Sithole are consistently strong in their performances. Mbheki Mabhida and Mnatha Vika are delightfully entertaining and extract the fullest amount of humour from their characters. Also appearing are Xolani Hemema and Mbali Masinga.

The evening’s honours lie directly at the feet of Winile Majozi and Vusi Mhlongo, the latter being one of the music arrangers. I have watched Winile Majozi’s performance ability grow consistently in stature through a number of Technikon Natal’s drama productions and am delighted to see she can now hold a stage the size of the Drama with command and stage presence. It is Vusi Mhlongo who is the surprise. Better known as a musician, this is the first time he has attempted a dramatic role and, judging from his performance, it certainly won’t be the last. Watch him – he has the ability to go far!

The band reads like a “who’s who” of Durban musical talent – Brian Thusi, Baba Mokoena, Bongani Sokhela, Jerry Kunene, Nathi Ntshangase, Roland Moses and Xolani Msimana. Jerry Pooe has written the lyrics and Patti Nokwe has helped with voice coaching. There are some haunting songs, particularly at the opening of the second half.

For a musical of this stature, it’s a small cast – only ten performers - and I would dearly like to see Jerry having the opportunity of doing it one day with double the numbers. Then Ekhaya Poppie will really be a force to be reckoned with.

Irek Karamon has produced a workable, affordable and effective set and Dylan Heaton’s lighting is dramatic and atmospheric. Give yourself time to look at Not Only a White Man’s War, an accompanying exhibition which is on view in the Alhambra Room.

Ekhaya Poppie runs in the Playhouse Drama until October 28. Tickets R30 (R10 for schools booking) through TicketWeb.




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